DEAR MISS MANNERS: A popular lunchtime meal is soup in a bread bowl: a small, round loaf of sourdough bread that has its center carved out and filled with soup, often clam chowder.
The etiquette problem comes when you have finished the soup portion. Are you then supposed to use a little plastic knife and fork to cut up the bread? Metal utensils are usually not available at establishments that sell this type of meal. Or is tearing it apart with your pinkies aimed skyward permissible? Sourdough bread is tasty, and it seems a waste to leave it behind.
GENTLE READER: The purveyors of bread bowls are not the first etiquette wags to entertain themselves by making the guests eat the packaging. Ice cream cones are a summertime example, while desserts served in edible marzipan cups date to at least the 18th century. The proper -- indeed, the only -- procedure is to consume the container in a way that does not leave the contents all over one’s clothes.
In the case of a bread bowl, this can be done after the soup is finished either with real utensils (i.e., not plastic) or hands, depending on the formality of the meal. Miss Manners would not attempt to cut soup-soaked bread with a plastic knife even if she owned a skirt with a clam chowder pattern.
But please stop making cracks about pinkies. As a practical way of holding a hot, handleless china cup in the 18th century, it is an anachronistic way to suggest snobbery.