Breakfast in bed. The idea of it evokes relaxation and indulgence. I have never really given the practice much thought and then the other day we were reorganising some of the household china in the servery and we came across the muffin dish and lid or muffiner as some lexicons reference them. To the casual glance and perhaps unknowingly, these items, leftovers from the Victorian fervour to create utensils and plates for every possible purpose (grape snips, ice cream slices, butter forks, aspic spoons, cake crumbers, bon bon scoops, bacon forks, tomato spoons), one thinks the domed plate alarge butter dish, but that is incorrect.

This is the muffin dish with lid, and it was a must have in any well appointed home where breakfast was had (aka served) in bed. The idea of the presentation was that the muffin, crumpet, scone, would be warmed in the kitchen and the household maid would present the item on the breakfast tray still warm. Julian Fellows captures the art of the breakfast tray with wonderful wit, candour and subtlety in all his period pieces, and rather than go on about Downton Abbey, yes a favourite of mine, I would like to reference a scene in his earlier country house presentation Gosford Park. Ignore the narrative, just watch the tray presentation. You will get to it at about the :24 mark.

In 1922 Emily Post had a great deal to say about the Breakfast Tray and how it should be presented; please take note of the covered dish, ”


The advantage of having one’s guests choose breakfast upstairs, is that unless there is a separate breakfast room, a long delayed breakfast prevents the dining-room from being put in order or the lunch table set. Trays, on the other hand, stand “all set” in the pantry and interfere much less with the dining-room work. The trays are either of the plain white pantry variety or regular breakfast ones with folding legs. On each is put a tray cloth. It may be plain linen hemstitched or scalloped, or it may be much embroidered and have mosaic or filet lace. 90 Every bedroom has a set of breakfast china to match it. But it is far better to send a complete set of blue china to a rose-colored room than a rose set that has pieces missing. Nothing looks worse than odd crockery. It is like unmatched paper and envelopes, or odd shoes, or a woman’s skirt and waist that do not meet in the back. 91 There is nothing unusual in a tray set, every china and department store carries them, but only in “open” stock patterns can one buy extra dishes or replace broken ones; a fact it is well to remember. There is a tall coffee pot, hot milk pitcher, a cream pitcher and sugar bowl, a cup and saucer, two plates, an egg cup and a covered dish. A cereal is usually put in the covered dish, toast in a napkin on a plate, or eggs and bacon in place of cereal. This with fruit is the most elaborate “tray” breakfast ever provided. Most people who breakfast “in bed” take only coffee or tea, an egg, toast and possibly fruit”

Emily was so very adamant about the breakfast tray appearance, she included a picture for the well informed woman to follow.

Breakfast trays were exclusively a female practice and rarely did men order a breakfast tray unless they were in bed ill or recovering from an injury. Emily Post references who and how the tray arrives in her 1922 etiquette edition, “Breakfast trays for married women guests are usually carried to the bedroom floor by the butler (some butlers delegate this service to a footman) and are handed to the lady’s maid who takes the tray into the room. In small houses they are carried up by the waitress.” ( Note to reader: single women eat at the Breakfast Table)

Anthropologist Kaori O’Connor has looked at the practice of English men not receiving breakfast in bed, and she has this theory, “For the British well-to-do male, this buffet-style meal ( the Parkwood Breakfast Room demonstrates this) was fortification enough for a day of country pursuits, hunting, shooting, or fishing.” She continues to look at the emergence of the English Breakfast, “A breakfast of this size at 9 in the morning allowed men to spend the rest of the day on horseback following hounds, shooting game, or fishing for trout or salmon (the famous trio, hunting, shooting, fishing, pastimes of the country gentleman). All they needed was a picnic. Dinner became an evening meal.”

Back to the Parkwood Muffin dish with lid, because I know I shall be asked. The pattern is called Shelley Blue Rock and is bone china. The hallmark on the back suggests a production date between 1940 and 1966, so certainly 20th century, and certainly a lovely set to eat ones breakfast from while in bed.

How does your breakfast tray hold up against Emily Post’s requirements of 1922?