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Some Thoughts About Napkins


weinoo
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Shel, where do you stand on napkin rings? If you use them, do you only use them only on a clean napkin, or do you store the used napkin with the ring on for the second and possibly subsequent uses?

No napkin rings at either house.

 ... Shel


 

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My southern grandmother's table had sterling napkin rings with each family member's name engraved on them--you got your own cloth napkin and they were re-used for a couple of meals before being laundered. Each person knew which napkin was his/her own, so no worries about getting other people's crud.

I like white cloth (preferably linen) napkins--wash on hot with the (white only) towels and they'll come clean. No one should be blotting their lipstick on cloth napkins, or wiping at their makeup. Food stains & organic grease are easily removed---it's the petroleum stuff in makeup that's pernicious. But the well mannered know to dab at their lips with a cloth napkin, not rub away as though polishing silver. Anyone who leaves you a big ol' wad of Max Factor can forget a return invitation to a formal event--put 'em on the "paper napkin" event list, LOL.

Seriously, blowing your nose at the table? Gives me the shivers to think about it, and I live with a man allergic to his own house cat. Surely you can step into the powder room for a minute of privacy. Napkins aren't tissues.

Now, if we're talking about crawfish boils, crab-peeling, eating ribs, etc: the Bounty Select-a-Size paper towels are soft, absorbent, and conveniently perforated into smaller pieces.

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Seriously, blowing your nose at the table? Gives me the shivers to think about it, and I live with a man allergic to his own house cat. Surely you can step into the powder room for a minute of privacy. Napkins aren't tissues.

No, napkins aren't tissues, certainly not cloth napkins. The poster was, IIRC, talking about paper napkins, and he was describing a situation with his wife. Couples who've been together a while needn't stand on ceremony. OTOH, such behavior at a dinner party might be considered rude or boorish, but then again, it depends on the people involved.

One thing about eGullet that's so nice is the ability to glance into people's lives and preferences. There's such a wide diversity of people here. We all have different customs since we hail from different backgrounds. I love it.

I'm from NYC, and I wipe my nose on my sleeve. Don't need no stinkin' napkin. Ya got a problem wit dat <LOL>

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 ... Shel


 

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Ages ago, it was tradition in Jewish delis to throw one's napkin on the floor when you left, so that it couldn't be reused. At least that was the theory.

I'm from "ages ago," and I'm from NYC, and spent many hours and ate many meals in Jewish delis. In all my years in NY, and with all the deli I ate, I never saw that done. Never saw it done in Montreal, San Francisco, Berkeley, St Louis, San Francisco, or Chicago. New one for me ... learn something new every day.

 ... Shel


 

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"Ages ago" would be around the turn of the 20th century when paper napkins were a thing of the future. Now, obviously I have not witnessed this personally, but it has been mentioned in a number of histories of early 20th century NYC, prior to the incorporation of the 5 Burroughs.

I have sterling silver napkin rings that I use on the holidays and for birthday dinners and fine linen napkins (with a monogram) that also only put in an appearance when the napkin rings are used. I have lots of cotton/poly blend napkins for everyday (that we also never use) and lots of paper napkins from Vanity Fair.

Hubs prefers paper towels.

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"Ages ago" would be around the turn of the 20th century when paper napkins were a thing of the future. Now, obviously I have not witnessed this personally, but it has been mentioned in a number of histories of early 20th century NYC, prior to the incorporation of the 5 Burroughs.

That is interesting to know ...

 ... Shel


 

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"Ages ago" would be around the turn of the 20th century when paper napkins were a thing of the future. Now, obviously I have not witnessed this personally, but it has been mentioned in a number of histories of early 20th century NYC, prior to the incorporation of the 5 Burroughs.

That is interesting to know ...

Yes, isn't it. I'd love to know which histories you're referring to. The main thing I'm wondering: why would this tradition (if that's what it was) have occurred in Jewish delis only? If it was meant to prevent the napkin from being reused, it would make sense for it to catch on everywhere. This is a very interesting "history."

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My understanding is that this practice was one used in Jewish delis at that period in time because the delis were keeping kosher and did not wish to reuse napkins that were used in meat inclusive meals in later dairy only meals. Perhaps this was before there were dairy only delis? I don't know for a certainty and I am a Catholic, myself so would be the wrong person to ask about this.

Scare quoting history seems to imply that I am making this up. I cannot recall the book I read this in so it may very well be false, but I doubt it.

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Costco paper napkins for everyday, also used in lieu of full size paper towels for small bits of wiping up in the kitchen. Costco paper towels for napkins when picnicking. Vanity Fair for holiday meals. We quit messing with cloth napkins for holiday meals about 15 years ago.

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My understanding is that this practice was one used in Jewish delis at that period in time because the delis were keeping kosher and did not wish to reuse napkins that were used in meat inclusive meals in later dairy only meals. Perhaps this was before there were dairy only delis? I don't know for a certainty and I am a Catholic, myself so would be the wrong person to ask about this.

Scare quoting history seems to imply that I am making this up. I cannot recall the book I read this in so it may very well be false, but I doubt it.

Doesn't make sense. If it was a kosher meat deli, it's unlikely that they would serve dairy products at all. I don't doubt that you read it somewhere, but I'm very skeptical about the accuracy of the information.

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Like I said, I can't recall the book. It seems I bought it in Manhattan or in DC at the Smithsonian bookstore. It was some time ago.

Would a kosher deli in, say 1900, not have two kitchens in order to keep kosher? If it can be done in the home with one kitchen, surely it could be done in a commercial space in a Jewish neighborhood.

Maybe Pam R. or another who keeps kosher could help?

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Like I said, I can't recall the book. It seems I bought it in Manhattan or in DC at the Smithsonian bookstore. It was some time ago.

Would a kosher deli in, say 1900, not have two kitchens in order to keep kosher? If it can be done in the home with one kitchen, surely it could be done in a commercial space in a Jewish neighborhood.

Maybe Pam R. or another who keeps kosher could help?

If you google "napkin throwing" you will discover it is a well-loved Greek tradition. Could your memory have slipped as mine so often does?

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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More than likely, Anna. I often find myself getting upstairs and thinking "What did I come up here for again?"

I remember when I get downstairs again, of course.

I recently heard a poem about having reached the age of "relay" errands. One person goes downstairs to the requisite area, while the other person waits at the top of the stairs to yell down the answer to "what did I come down here for?"

Back to the business of cleaning napkins: I have found that some of the "cotton twill" napkins I've purchased for their color and low price take grease stains that I haven't gotten out with standard washing. As far as I can tell they're from food grease: maybe vegetable or olive oil, maybe something more solid at room temperature. They're fine for our home use but not for company, unless I can get the spots out. For those of you who do use cloth, do you have a preferred stain remover?

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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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For daily use we use cloth napkins. 100% cotton seems to wash out fresher and cleaner than a poly blend. I also use tablecloths on my kitchen table, and cotton dish towels, so I have many opportunities for the napkins to get washed. Most all these and the napkins as well are older and not considered valuable by any stretch of the imagination. All are patterned--checks or stripes; solids are begging for trouble as far as I'm concerned. After a meal I fold up the napkins. If there is obvious food staining they get tossed in the laundry. If perfectly clean, they get a pass. Sometimes a napkin gets a pass several days. My husband and I use and reuse our own napkins, we don't share. To launder all kitchen or dining cloths I like to add a little extra hot water. Once in a while I will use a few drops of bleach in the machine and that seems to help keep linens clean.

I don't have huge parties. At most there may be ten people at the dining room table on special occasions. I do have one nice dining table cloth and one nice set of a dozen napkins to go with. They usually get washed after each dinner party. For hors d'oevres in the living room or for messy meals like BBQ cheap Ikea napkins do the trick, but I try to use paper products judiciously. I use bar mops for most spills or counter cleanup, old cloths for squeezing out wet lettuce or veggies, and have a venerable collection of cotton dish towels that I use liberally when cooking.

As for blowing noses in napkins, well, that's not something I do or want to see anyone else do, especially not at my house. People who tend to blow their noses after spicy foods or whatever should carry around a hanky or a kleenex. For the very rare times I need a stain remover, it's Zout.

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As far as I can tell they're from food grease: maybe vegetable or olive oil, maybe something more solid at room temperature. They're fine for our home use but not for company, unless I can get the spots out. For those of you who do use cloth, do you have a preferred stain remover?

Cornstarch works wonders. Sprinkle straight cornstarch liberally onto a greasy spot of cloth, rub it in with your fingers. Let it sit for a few hours (or even a few days), and the cornstarch will absorb the oil. Brush away the cornstarch and launder as usual. Works great for silk, too.

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"Ages ago" would be around the turn of the 20th century when paper napkins were a thing of the future. Now, obviously I have not witnessed this personally, but it has been mentioned in a number of histories of early 20th century NYC, prior to the incorporation of the 5 Burroughs.

Do you know when paper napkins and towels came into use? The boroughs were created around 1898 during what was called "consolidation," when the city's current boundaries were established, so your time line is right.

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 ... Shel


 

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For those of you who do use cloth, do you have a preferred stain remover?

Cornstarch works wonders. Sprinkle straight cornstarch liberally onto a greasy spot of cloth, rub it in with your fingers. Let it sit for a few hours (or even a few days), and the cornstarch will absorb the oil. Brush away the cornstarch and launder as usual. Works great for silk, too.

Any thoughts about making a slurry with cornstarch and detergent?

 ... Shel


 

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Any thoughts about making a slurry with cornstarch and detergent?

I don't think it would work very well. The liquid in the detergent would use up some of the cornstarch's absorbing power, when what you want is the cornstarch to be concentrated on the oily stain. A two-step process seems necessary.

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For daily use we use cloth napkins. 100% cotton seems to wash out fresher and cleaner than a poly blend. I also use tablecloths on my kitchen table, and cotton dish towels, so I have many opportunities for the napkins to get washed. Most all these and the napkins as well are older and not considered valuable by any stretch of the imagination. All are patterned--checks or stripes; solids are begging for trouble as far as I'm concerned. After a meal I fold up the napkins. If there is obvious food staining they get tossed in the laundry. If perfectly clean, they get a pass. Sometimes a napkin gets a pass several days. My husband and I use and reuse our own napkins, we don't share. To launder all kitchen or dining cloths I like to add a little extra hot water. Once in a while I will use a few drops of bleach in the machine and that seems to help keep linens clean.

I don't have huge parties. At most there may be ten people at the dining room table on special occasions. I do have one nice dining table cloth and one nice set of a dozen napkins to go with. They usually get washed after each dinner party. For hors d'oevres in the living room or for messy meals like BBQ cheap Ikea napkins do the trick, but I try to use paper products judiciously. I use bar mops for most spills or counter cleanup, old cloths for squeezing out wet lettuce or veggies, and have a venerable collection of cotton dish towels that I use liberally when cooking.

As for blowing noses in napkins, well, that's not something I do or want to see anyone else do, especially not at my house. People who tend to blow their noses after spicy foods or whatever should carry around a hanky or a kleenex. For the very rare times I need a stain remover, it's Zout.

My Mom has a set of wooden napkin rings that are all different shapes. When the whole family is over for a few days during the holidays, we all pick a napkin ring and our napkin stays in that ring for the duration of the the visit, so we don't cross-contaminate each other. During a typical meal where one is using a fork and knife to eat, napkins barely get used. If we were eating items where one uses their hands (fried chicken, ribs) paper napkins or paper towels would be provided.

At home, I use paper towels when it is just me. But I have a nice set of cloth napkins that I am looking forward to using for the first time during next week's Thanksgiving meal.

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Any thoughts about making a slurry with cornstarch and detergent?

I don't think it would work very well. The liquid in the detergent would use up some of the cornstarch's absorbing power, when what you want is the cornstarch to be concentrated on the oily stain. A two-step process seems necessary.

Exactly--the dry, powdery nature of cornstarch allows it to absorb the oil. You can also use chalk (the soft, blackboard kind) or talcum powder to the same effect. I just happen to have cornstarch handy, and bath/talcum powders often have scents or other ingredients that aren't necessarily clothing-friendly. Cornstarch is also cheap. It will pick up lighter oils from concrete/masonry, too.

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Ah, the inimitable and wonderful Miss Manners! As always she's amusing and insightful. I'm surprised she didn't raise the question of why her son, who presumably grew up used to her ways, is now grossed out by them. Maybe the answer is obvious. I've been put in my place, however: the only time I use napkin rings is as a decoration, for guests! :laugh:

Edited by Smithy (log)

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

Follow us on social media! Facebook; instagram.com/egulletx; twitter.com/egullet

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)
"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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