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Bread and Butter: The Art of Thank You

Receiving a thank you note on stationery that feels like fine, crisp linen, will make anyone's day brighter.

Receiving a thank you note on stationery that feels like fine, crisp linen, will make anyone's day brighter.

Growing up in the South, in my case Georgia, you learn at an early age that a note expressing gratitude for an act of generosity is not only appreciated but required. Besides saying thank you to the person who brought you a gift of homemade pickles they canned themselves, you must follow up with a handwritten note, preferably on quality stationery.

The term "Bread and Butter" has been around for over 200 years and is thought to have originated in England. It refers to the handwritten note declaring one’s appreciation for another’s generosity in providing lodging and/or food. In the United States, its meaning has expanded to a general thank you for an overnight stay, a special dinner or food brought during illness or death.

Every person, whether male or female, should always have a set of note cards on hand. In today’s world, you have thousands of options ranging from extremely expensive handmade linen paper to the inexpensive massed produced note cards found at the local drugstore. I pick stationery up everywhere I go including big box stores, drug and grocery stores, and unique paper boutiques. Due to the endless supply, there is no excuse for not showing gratitude through a tangible card. It matters not the style, but that it is stain and wrinkle free. The ink used should always be black and never, ever, scratch through words and continue. Get a new card and start over.


Generosity Must Be Acknowledged

During illness, people rally around the sick with flowers, dinners, phone calls and prayers. If someone has sent a tangible gift such as food, flowers or grocery staples in a time of illness, a note must be sent to recognize the generosity. The infirmed may find writing a healing and productive way to spend down time. It is also perfectly acceptable for a relative, say a child or spouse, to write the notes if the patient is not able to do so. Showing gratitude from the entire family for the act of kindness toward the patient is much encouraged.

Each dish brought to the home of the bereaved must be acknowled in writting.

Each dish brought to the home of the bereaved must be acknowled in writting.

Funerals: Being in Mourning is No Excuse

I remember my mother first using the term “Bread and Butter” to refer to thank you notes around the time of my grandfather’s death. In the South, we like food and a lot of it. Funerals are an excuse for women to break out their mother’s recipes and polish off dusty kitchen skills. Yes, in this modern day many people do stop by the grocery store on the way to the house of the bereaved and pick up a pound cake. Such cakes are welcomed but always are put to the back of the dessert table behind the homemade delights. Others, many more than you would imagine, find this an opportunity to shine with a dish that would make Paula Deen proud.

Whether the food received was homemade or store bought, a thank you note must acknowledge the comfort the dish provided to the mourners. If the food tasted well or not, is of no matter when writing; you are acknowledging the effort made in honor of your loved one.

The funeral home delivers what is known as the food book, along with the guestbook, to the home where the family is receiving guests. The food book has places for each guest’s name, address and the specific food item they brought. This book is essential when writing thank you notes correctly. You must mention the specific food, by name, which the guest brought. You can be as elaborate or brief as you desire, but you must recognize their kindness, effort and thoughtfulness with a handwritten acknowledgement. No emails, no facebook posting, not even a phone call can take the place of receiving gratitude in the post.

The bereaved may take up to two months to write the Bread and Butter notes; a few may take longer. An unexpected death, such as a suicide or accident, may place the family of the deceased into such shock that etiquette will understandably be suspended. In such cases, the bereaved should take as long as needed to heal without feeling guilty.

Hospitality should always be recognized.

Hospitality should always be recognized.

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Being A Guest Has Its Responsibilities

A note of thanks should always be mailed shortly after being a guest in someone’s home. Whether you were there for a casual dinner party or an overnight stay, a detailed note must be in the post within 48 hours. Weekly family gatherings or accompanying your best friend to a fast food restaurant is excluded from such formality.

As a guest in someone’s home, be aware of the details of the evening which the host has paid particular attention to and include it in the note. You may acknowledge a beautifully decorated table or decadent wine glasses with unique charms to keep people from drinking after each other. The food might have been prepared entirely by the host and taken all day in a hot kitchen. Make sure to notice the effort by the host to ensure the evening was a complete success.

When staying overnight as a guest, pay attention to what your host has done to make your stay enjoyable. Did they purchase new towels just for your arrival? Is the room sparkling clean and smelling of fresh laundered linens? Listing the detailed effort made in your correspondence means you did not take the work of your host lightly.

No matter the occasion, a funeral, a dinner, an overnight stay, a note of thanks will never be met with disdain. Gratitude is a gift, no matter how society evolves, that will never go out of style.

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Old Fashioned Pound Cake

A homemade pound cake will always be devoured long before the store bought option. 

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

1 hour

1 hour 30 min

2 hours 30 min

12 servings


  • 1 1/2 Cups Shortening
  • 3 Cups White Sugar
  • 6 Large Eggs, Room Temperature
  • 1 Cup Whole Milk
  • 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch tube pan. Sift together the flour and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, making just until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla extract. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 90 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

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About the Author

Catherine Dean is a freelance writer, gardener, quilter, and blogger. Her professional background includes nonprofit program development, grant writing, and volunteer management. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from Georgia College & State University.

Her blog, Sowing A Simple Harvest, chronicles a modern couple trying to live a simplistic, sustainable life. To explore Catherine's professional credentials, visit her website. She can also be followed on Google+.


Catherine Dean (author) from Milledgeville, Georgia on February 05, 2015:

That is always the case, isn't it?

Catherine Dean (author) from Milledgeville, Georgia on February 19, 2013:

Thanks EZ! They should be a standard for everyone.

Kelly A Burnett from Southern Wisconsin on February 12, 2013:

Thank you notes are a necessity and through your efforts will not become antique. Beautiful article in presentation and thought. Thank you!

Voted up!

Catherine Dean (author) from Milledgeville, Georgia on August 19, 2012:

I am sure your handmade cards are treasured. What a special way to say thanks. Thanks for stopping by.

frogyfish from Central United States of America on August 19, 2012:

I make my own cards for 'Thank you' expressions and enjoy the making and the sending. I have never made pound cake but will have to do your easy sounding recipe. Will wait til weather is cold though as we are 'baking' enough in summer heat. Enjoyed your delightful hub, thank you. :-)

Catherine Dean (author) from Milledgeville, Georgia on August 06, 2012:

Thank you for the kind words and voting up vespawoolf! Pound cakes are my mother's favorite cakes and one of the easiest to make, in my opinion. Thanks for commenting!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on August 06, 2012:

What a beautiful hub! I'd never heard the term "bread and better" used for thank you cards, but I definitely feel it's a good practice and try to show my gratitude to others. I enjoyed reading about the etiquette surrounding a death in the family. Very interesting! How nice to include a pound cake recipe as well. Voted up and shared!

Catherine Dean (author) from Milledgeville, Georgia on August 01, 2012:

I think so too!

carol stanley from Arizona on August 01, 2012:

It doesn't matter how you say it, do it or cook it..A thank you is always welcome. Somehow some of this is often lost today.

Catherine Dean (author) from Milledgeville, Georgia on July 29, 2012:

Thank you pippap for commenting. Yes, I do believe it is not lost but we have to make sure we are sharing these required traditions with the younger generations.

pippap from Surrey, BC on July 29, 2012:

It's refreshing to hear that the art of gratitude is not completely lost. I was brought up in a time when thank-you notes were a must. I think they should still be used where appropriate.

Joseph Dean from Macon, Georgia on July 28, 2012:

We should all try to show appreciation, regardless of where we are from or currently residing, for any acts of kindness that has been bestowed upon us.

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