The Secret Mindfulness Tool Hiding In Your Kitchen
Do you lay the table or do you serve from the hob and then grab cutlery, glasses, the salt, etc., in random increments as you attempt to eat?
I ask because I put myself firmly in the latter camp. Even though I should know better.
It was my German granny who taught me how to lay the table. She would do so with proper linen napkins in napkin rings. But my granny had an advantage- laying a nice table was in her blood. They even have a word for it in German. It’s called “Tischkultur”.
We don’t have an equivalent in English- the word literally means table culture. The French have the term Art de la table but this lends it a more sophisticated air. Tischkultur describes the everyday domestic scene which is accessible to everyone.
On a recent visit to Berlin to see family friends I was invited round for “Kaffee and Kuchen” – coffee and cake.
On arrival the table was already laid with cups and saucers. There was a beautiful platter of cakes – custard tarts and apple pies- with a silver cake slice on hand. This wasn’t a formal meal. We sat round in the kitchen and children ran in and out on the way to the garden. But care had been taken. Coffee came in a porcelain coffee pot and milk in a matching jug . This may be why it tasted so good, despite the fact that I later discovered the coffee was instant (gasp!).
My host, a grandfather straight out of the Werthers Original Ad, may have learnt his appreciation for making a nice table at school. Right up to the 1960s it was part of the German curriculum to learn how to lay a table properly.
This influence came from the "Deutscher Werkbund”, an organisation of architects, artists and artisans founded in 1907. It was tasked with integrating Germany's traditional craft industries with emerging mass production techniques to help it compete on the world stage.
The guiding principle of the Werkbund was that knowledge of what made good design or “good form”, was something that could be taught.
The Werkbund developed box sets for schools containing all the essentials for cooking and dining. It was thought that by studying these carefully curated items, the students could develop an eye for good form- or the shape of good design. Somewhat controversially, the Werkbund believed that setting a table properly could encourage a stable family life.
Whether or not a well laid table encourages family unity it does signal a pause in the day's events, an occasion (not necessarily special). A sign that people should gather and show appreciation - for the cook and also for each other. It's a powerful mindfulness tool that has been with us all along- without the need for a course in meditation. I'm also pretty sure it makes food and drink taste better. And that has got to be a good thing.