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Messy Food Etiquette: In Summertime the Rules Change


In summertime, messy foods make and entrance and manners go out the back door and into the yard

Etiquette leaves little confusion when there is an indoor setting - or "sitting." If you have rows of knives, forks, and spoons, you simply work your way inward with each course. No fingers touch the food and the napkin is used genteelly to dab away any stray drips. That's not to say we don't mess up on occasion but, for the most part, it's pretty straightforward.

Summertime, however, brings up situations where messy foods such as juicy peaches, sauced ribs, and corn on the cob bring on a different set of rules - it all suddenly becomes finger food, with the same amount of drips and dangers - without the aid of the hordes of utensils.

The proper host will, of course, provide plenty of napkins and extra silverware (count on plastic, of course) for those who choose not to dive in with both hands. However, part of the fun of an outdoor event is living a little loose with the rules, while not stepping outside the boundaries of complete impropriety.

Corn on the Cob
Corn holders (these are the little shaped objects with prongs that go in each end) are sometimes offered. Attach them before offering to guests. If grilling or cooking corn in the husk, remove the silks beforehand. Then all that's needed is to pull back the husks and leave them attached at the end to catch drips. If they are huskless, provide extra large dinner napkins (or loads of paper towels). These can be used to grip the ends or the base. Apply butter as needed. Whether you choose to eat in a circular fashion or with a typewriter action is left up to individual tastes.

Chicken
Again, if it's outdoors, feel free to use fingers, regardless of the cooking method (i.e., fried or loaded with barbecue sauce). Let's face it, chicken is never easy to maneuver with a knife and fork, anyway, so enjoy doing what comes naturally.

Ribs
They're messy, there is simply no way around it. Most rib snobs would never douse their meat in sauce, but the rest of us love to drizzle the barbecue sauce on with abandon. It's going to end up on both cheeks, a chin, under the nose, and perhaps on a shirt, skirt, shorts, or legs. Again, this is where loads of napkins come into play. The good host will have them available. Even better, he or she will have a load of old washcloths steeping in a bowl of lemon water for efficient grease-removing cleanup afterwards.

Strawberries
They're chunky enough to hold up well in the fingers and can be eaten in one or two bites. Not the juiciest to worry about, either. If a dipping sauce is offered, please spoon out a little onto your plate and never dip the fruit directly into the main serving bowl. We should not have to discuss double-dipping, right?

Watermelon
This is one instance where adults will probably not enjoy food "by the slice." Leave that for the kids if they're wearing swimsuits and there's a sprinkler system in place. The host should chunk the watermelon and remove as many seeds as possible. If that's not the case, and you're presented with a rind - use a knife and fork to chunk it yourself. Plunk out the seeds with a knife. If one gets stuck in your mouth, simply remove it with your fingers or a spoon. It's that simple. No embarrassment needed.

Peaches
Slices are nice, but sometimes it's more fun to set out a bowl of really ripe, juicy peaches and go for it. Big napkins are in order and be sure to lean over, because there is going to be juice.

If you're hit with surprise foods that are unfamiliar, just wait until the host or hostess takes a bite to see how it's done. After all, that is sometimes the key to a great party - introducing a "new" food into the mix.

Otherwise, if it's firm and crisp (yes, even asparagus stalks) and there are no utensils in sight, just grab a napkin and enjoy.

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