Nursery Supper

[Editor’s Note – I alluded to this last night, here it is in its entirety…and it’s mostly for Julia, who needs to have supper on a tray by the fire tonight, while Nanny irons the handkerchiefs.]

Nursery Supper is the meal one partakes with the nanny, in the nursery, while the adults of the household dine in state downstairs.  I cannot seem to arrange this in my own household…probably because I’m one of the adults and I can’t be in pajamas in the nursery while my children dine in state.  I simply haven’t the servants required.

The closest I came to this concept was Playroom Supper, back before house renovations and we had this nifty room off the living room that the kids played and watched TV in.  To all intents and purposes it was a nursery, less the sleeping quarters, and though I would not change a thing about the new configuration of the house…I find that I do miss that little room.  It was cozy, cheerful.  Christmas lights were tacked around the windows all year long.  The kids’ artwork hung on the walls.  It had a wicker couch and a little table and chairs, and on nights when Jeeps was working late in the city, I would serve Playroom Supper, and we’d eat at the little table and watch Rachel Ray or House Hunters (this was back when I had control of the TV).

Moreoften than not, what we ate at Playroom Supper was scrambled eggs.  Because Rosamunde Pilcher said so:

[Diana] came to settle herself in the corner of the nursery sofa, close to the fire.  ‘Do you girls want to come down for dinner, or do you want to have nursery supper with Mary?’

“‘Do we have to change if we come down for dinner?’ Loveday asked.

“‘Oh, darling, what a silly question, of course you have to.’

“‘In that case, I think we’ll just stay up here and eat scrambled eggs or something.’

“Diana raised her lovely eyebrows.  ‘What about Judith?’

“Judith said, ‘I love scrambled eggs, and I haven’t got a dress to change into.’

“‘Well, if that’s what you both want, I’ll tell Nettlebed.  Hetty can carry up a tray for you.’  She reached into the pocket of her pale-grey cardigan and produced her cigarettes and her gold lighter.  She lit one and reached for an ashtray.  ‘Judith, what about that beautiful box you brought with you?  You promised you’d show it to me after tea.  Bring it over here and we’ll look at it now.'” (–from Coming Home)

I, too, love scrambled eggs, not only for myself to enjoy but as my favorite fall-back for dinner on those nights when I can’t think of a thing, or the kids just seem too tired to contemplate anything more complicated than eggs and toast.  When I hear friends tell of children who don’t or won’t eat scrambled eggs, I try not to look horrified.  No judgement on them, it’s just that I don’t know what I’d do. Cold cereal, I guess.  Bread and milk?  My very dear friend Francie served waffles and fruit salad for dinner the other night.  She’s one of my food heroines.

In Home Cooking, Mrs. Colwin devotes an entire chapter to nursery food, which I could happily transpose here and force you to read.  But I won’t do that, I will just put it in a china plate with the letters of the alphabet around the rim, and spoonfeed you the brilliant essence:

A long time ago it occurred to me that when people are tired and hungry, which in adult life is most of the time, they do not want to be confronted by an intellectually challenging meal:  they want to be consoled…

Of course I do not mean that you should feed your friends pastina and beef tea (although I would be glad to be served either).  But dishes such as shepherd’s pie and chicken soup are a kind of edible therapy.  After a good nursery dinner you want your guests to smile happily and say with childlike contentment: ‘I haven’t had that in years.’

Children cannot resist this kind of food because, I feel, it is trustworthy.  It is solid, dependable and, most of all, recognizable. There are no tricks with a scrambled egg.  Nothing fishy about a meatball on top of pasta.  And if it is a perfect bite-sized meatball for their little mouth, so much the better.  In fact, with kids, the smaller the food, the better.  They are born noshers.  If life could be served on a cracker or picked up with a toothpick, what a wonderful world it would be.

Last night’s lid potatoes illustrate this perfectly.  When I serve my kids nursery food, their manners materialize, unprompted and impeccable.  They turn downright lovey.  “Oh, Mom, this is delicious, I love this dinner.  Thank you.”

Who can resist?

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2 comments on “Nursery Supper

  1. Francie says:

    Oh, my friend, I am honored and humbled. You are a food heroine, I am just a plebe who grew tomatoes on her front porch and is often lazy about dinner.

  2. Julia says:

    Reading this post was as satisfying and delightful as a nursery supper, served by the hearth, with a warm cup of tea. My mother, being British of course, knew exactly how to create the ultimate nursery supper, with a pot of tea waiting for us under a tea cozy. And when she served soft boiled eggs they were always in a porcelain egg cup and she cut off the top with her egg scissors. We even had tiny, silver spoons to eat them with! Thank you for writing this–your well-crafted and witty posts are refreshing in a time when most writers hand us the equivalent of a kleenex to ease our troubled minds, rather than the carefully ironed handkerchief with the author’s initials humbly embroidered in the corner.

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