The Odd Asparagus Etiquette People Followed In The 1950s

A traditional springtime vegetable, people have enjoyed the delicate taste of asparagus for centuries. The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks were partial, and even Roman emperors were strangely fascinated by asparagus. But do you know the correct way to eat it?

Etiquette rules tend to suggest that using cutlery is generally preferable to using fingers to eat most foods when dining, especially in public settings, such as in restaurants or at dinner parties. But asparagus does not necessarily conform to the rules and is commonly seen as one of the foods that it's okay to pick up and eat with your hands. And back in the 1950s, the etiquette was even more complicated, involving first cutting asparagus in half before picking it up to eat it.

Emily Post's 1975 "The New Emily Post's Etiquette" suggests that the issue back then lay with the "ungraceful appearance" of a soft asparagus spear falling into the mouth (via The New York Times) — along with the risk of any liquid or sauce dripping from it. So cutting a spear in half before eating it with the fingers was considered the proper way to consume the vegetable in public, to avoid any social faux pas, as well as reducing any potential mess.

The change in how we prepare asparagus

The 1950s idea of cutting an asparagus stalk in half before picking it up to eat it essentially comes down to the size of the asparagus spears and how they have been prepared. "The New Emily Post's Etiquette" from 1975 reveals concerns about the spears being limp, or bending, when they are picked up. But perhaps this has more to do with how asparagus was cooked in previous decades since — these days — most people tend to prefer fresh asparagus just cooked until al dente and still nicely firm, with a little snap. Indeed, overcooking the vegetable is commonly considered a mistake when it comes to asparagus.

In more recent years, the Emily Post Institute has stated that the best way to eat asparagus depends on how firm it is, and whether or not it is served with a sauce. Other guides advise that the correct etiquette also depends on how and when the asparagus is served; for example, it is fine to pick up asparagus if it is an appetizer, but cutlery is best if the vegetable is served as an accompaniment to a main meal. And even if you are eating an asparagus appetizer with your fingers, there's an etiquette for that, too.

Modern etiquette says asparagus can still be eaten with fingers

Most modern etiquette guides, including famous British etiquette bible Debretts, suggest that asparagus that is not served in a sauce may be eaten with the fingers. Though using cutlery is acceptable, the practice of eating the vegetable by picking it up is considered the correct etiquette for the upper classes and royalty. But it's still not quite as simple as just picking a stalk up and devouring it all.

First up, the asparagus should be picked up using the left hand, rather than the right, which should be kept clean for handling a wine glass, or in case the need arises to shake somebody's hand. It can then be dipped in the accompanying sauce, traditionally a basic hollandaise sauce. And though it's fine to double-dip the spear in your own individual serving of sauce, this should be avoided if it's in a communal vessel to be shared with others.

While the tougher end of the asparagus is a useful way to hold the asparagus when dipping and eating it, this part should not actually be eaten. Instead, the untrimmed part can be discarded on the plate. Back in the 1950s, this would not have been an issue since the asparagus would not be served to guests with the hard, untrimmed end still present. These days, we're a little more relaxed about serving it – but eating asparagus still retains an etiquette all of its own.