"And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon": Mythical Foodscapes in Children's Literature
Part II: Bunbury
The last post from this series examined the kingdom of Utensia, described in The Emerald City of Oz (1910), the sixth book in L. Frank Baum's chronicle of the Land of Oz. In the next chapter (Chapter 17), Dorothy happens upon yet another marvelous foodscape in Bunbury, where she finds a society totally composed of dough. While Utensia may be noted for its abundance of utensils and lack of food, Bunbury is an enclave where everything, including the inhabitants, is edible (and quite delicious).
"How They Came to Bunbury"
After leaving Utensia, Dorothy, her dog Toto and the hen Billina come to a fork in the road. One road leads to "Bunnybury" and the other to "Bunbury." Dorothy suggests they follow the latter as it "sounds like something to eat," and they are still very hungry, having eaten nothing in Utensia. Once there, they see houses made of crackers and breadsticks, and villagers in the shape of buns. In fact, quite a variety of buns:
Some were thin and others fat; some were white, some light brown and some very dark of complexion. A few of the buns, which seemed to form the more important class of the people, were neatly frosted. Some had raisins for eyes and currant buttons on their clothes; others had eyes of cloves and legs of stick cinnamon, and many wore hats and bonnets frosted pink and green.
While at first she is relieved to find so much to eat, Dorothy has difficulty gaining the trust of the villagers who imagine she will eat them. Indeed, their suspicions are confirmed when Dorothy proclaims her hunger and asks if there is anything to eat. One bun states, "Everything in Bunbury is eatable to ravenous human creatures like you. But it is to escape being eaten and destroyed that we have secluded ourselves in this out-of-the-way place, and there is neither right nor justice in your coming here to feed upon us." They settle upon a solution, however. Dorothy is allowed to eat some unwanted items including a crisp waffle fence, an old cracker wheelbarrow, and a rarely used piano made of shortbread. The tension between the edible buns and the hungry mammals comes to a head however, when Toto mischievously gobbles up three crumpets and a salt-rising biscuit. With this unforgivable trespass, Dorothy and her friends are forced to to leave Bunbury, cast out in Garden of Eden fashion.
It is interesting that Baum characterized his bread characters with the class distinctions found in many human societies. The phrase 'upper crust,' commonly used in reference to elite society, is the obvious corollary in a land of bread. One villager introduces himself as C. Bunn, Esquire. He elaborates: "'C' stands for Cinnamon, and this place is called after my family, which is the most aristocratic in the town." To which another bun adds, "Oh, I don't know about that...the Grahams and the Browns and Whites are all excellent families, and there is none better of their kind. I'm a Boston Brown, myself." As in Utensia, Bunbury's villagers are named with tongue in cheek. A Mr. Over, known as Pop Over, for instance, is described as "a big, puffed-up man, of a delicate brown color." There is also a Mr. Johnny Cake, who is described to Dorothy by the class conscious Mr. Over as "a trifle stale...but he's a good mixer and never gets cross-grained." Baum creates a droll parallel between Bunbury and many human societies. Perhaps this is because bread is so closely tied to human nourishment. For many people, bread is a staple, symbolic of civilization itself. Indeed, when Dorothy and her companions read the signs "Bunbury" and "Bunnybury," Billina the hen remarks, "this looks as if we were getting back to civilization again."
To view "The Emerald City of Oz" in an online page-by-page format from the 1910 first edition, visit the University of Minnesota digital library. Chapter 17, "How They Came to Bunbury," can be found by entering page 200.
Illustrations for "Hey Diddle Diddle" nursery rhyme from Mother Goose, illustrated by William Wallace Denslow (1856-1915). Denslow also illustrated The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Part I: Utensia
Coming next: Part II: Raggedy Ann's Wishing Pebble, Part III: Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land
On New Year's day I sometimes like to have a tea party, using a few of my favorite porcelain and silver pieces to serve a variety of sweets and savories. The day's tea menu rests on an English porcelain menu stand, a charming 6" high table accessory from the 19th century. Although neither menus nor such accompanying stanchions are used in domestic settings today, these were once useful articles of dining that revealed the coming meal, and its inherent social expectations, to guests. Menu stands first appeared after 1870 in England and America, correlating with revisions to established dining rituals.
At Table: Using Menus in the 19th Century
Handpainted Porcelain Menu Board, C.T. Maling, England, 1875-1908.
At Table: Using Menus in the 19th Century
Whether in elite or middle-class homes, eating at the 19th century Euro-American dining table involved a delicate negotiation of prevailing class mores-- a social drama enacted between the hosts and their guests. The handling of utensils and food was subtly observed and critiqued with regard to prescribed decorum. Dining manuals were published regularly, describing the correct procedures for hosts and guests to follow. It was not until the third quarter of the 19th century that dining fashions shifted in England and America, catching up with continental European trends.
Until the 1870s, the longstanding English dining custom had followed service à la francaise, in which the entire meal was first placed on the dining room sideboard, a brilliant, conspicuous display that unfortunately also meant one's food was usually cold by the time it was served at table. Service à la russe was introduced in France in the early part of the century, via the Russian court, and finally caught on in England and then in America after the 1860s. In this manner of presentation (most closely resembling today's) diners are seated at a table, often extravagantly decorated with floral and sweetmeat arrangements. Dishes are brought out and served in individually apportioned courses once they are prepared, and the serving pieces and food-specific eating implements are duly changed in anticipation of the next course's requirements.
Despite the advantages of service à la russe, diners were initially reluctant to change styles. As Esther Aresty frames the argument in The Exquisite Table: A History of French Cuisine (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1980), "how could one judge what quantity to eat of a dish, not knowing what was to follow-- and even more important, how could one adequately measure the bounty of a host?" (101). With these thoughts in mind, the daintily rendered menu card and its stand provided diners with a literal preview of the meal to follow. An entry in one 19th century treatise on domestic management reads:
Menus, or Bills of Fare.-- These are generally placed by the side of each individual, so that he may know at once what is to be set before him, and may partake of that which he most approves. A small menu stand, containing the bill of fare, may be placed before each guest, and most beautiful and artistic cards are sold upon which the order of the dinner can be written. The task of drawing up the bill of fare is generally undertaken by the mistress of the house or by the experienced cook to whom she trusts the execution of her orders. Knowledge, taste and judgment are called for in its accomplishment, and the crowning honor of a successful banquet certainly belongs to the person who conceived the idea of it...Menus may be made as souvenirs by the hostess, being either hand-painted or embroidered.
--Scammell's Universal Treasure-House of Useful Knowledge: an encyclopedia of valuable receipts in the principal arts of life, 1885, published by H.A. Hess of Salt Lake City in 1889.
Several sample menus are then provided, of which the seasonal tea menu is shown below:
By the turn of the century, menu stands became a common feature at dinner gatherings and silver menu stands were often presented to guests at commemorative events.
Silver Menu Stands, Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co. Catalogue, 1899, London.
Eating out came into fashion in the latter part of the century in relation to new dining habits, and table menus and stands became a feature of restaurant establishments. This novel requisite of the table provided a platform for invention as seen in an 1883 patent for a napkin ring cum menu holder, below.
Indeed, the menu stand took on a few uses beyond the obvious. As one column in the periodical "Table Talk" quips, "The inventor of the menu-holder, with mirror back, was undoubtedly a woman. She understood the value of a sly look at hair, flowers and complexion. It is such a tonic to wit and conversation to be assured one is looking their best. ("Table Talk," Vol. 7, 1892)