• Deborah Yaffe

Laying the table

From time to time, a particular news item brings a snippet of Jane Austen’s wisdom forcibly to mind – such a snippet as, say, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” And so it was for me the other day when I learned for the first time about the Oregon State Fair’s very, very popular . . . table-setting competition.


Every year, it seems, the twenty teams or individuals lucky enough to survive the fair’s cutthroat first-come-first-served registration process win the chance to showcase a table they have decorated in accord with one of the year’s themes.


This year, entrants in the Formal Dinner category were asked to portray “a Regency holiday dinner” for two, while strictly following rules that included placing the flatware and plates one inch from the table-edge and ensuring that the dessert spoon was no larger than a teaspoon. (“A deduction will be made if the dessert spoon is a soup spoon,” the event handbook warned sternly.)


And all this for a top prize of a blue ribbon – plus, of course, “honor and glory,” as fair official Nanci Keatley told The Oregonian newspaper.


The Regency theme was chosen, Keatley suggested, because of the recent popularity of the hit Netflix series Bridgerton, as well as the eternal popularity of Our Jane. “Are you a Bridgerton fan? Do you long to be a Jane Austen Heroine?” the handbook asked. “Now is the time to have sense and sensibility as you decorate a formal dinner table.”


Appropriately enough, second place in this year’s competition went to an entry titled “A Christmas Dinner at Enscombe" (see slides 1, 5, 8-11, and 14), which featured cut-glass stemware, green-and-gold china, and place settings earmarked for Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. No word on whether the menu included roast pork from Hartfield or Donwell Abbey apples.

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