1) Does one make a brocha on fruit cocktail eaten as an appetizer in front of the meal? 2) At the end of the meal -- as a dessert? How about cake at the end of the meal--aren't desserts nowadays part of the 'meal' if one is expeting it? How about coffee at the end of the meal? 3)We saw a concept in the Gem. that a guest relies on the host re: whatever will be brought is part of the meal--why not for dessert?
1) Yes, since it is not considered to be part of the meal.
2) Although the Mishnah Berurah writes that one should recite a blessing on dessert, it is said that he changed his mind in the end of his life as a result of the changes in modern dining habits, whereby people began eating fruits regularly at the end of their meal as dessert (Rav Yehudah Landy pointed out that he heard that this applies only to cooked fruits. Also, it does not seem to be the common practice today; we do make a Berachah.)
The modern books on the Halachos of blessings point out that although something that a person eats at the end of his meal for the sake of leaving a nice taste (and not as part of the meal), including cake, requires a new blessing, nowadays it is rare that a person is so full before the dessert that he eats it only to leave a nice taste in his mouth; he also eats it to fill himself up, and therefore it is considered as part of the meal (written in the name of Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg, shlit'a).
Coffee usually does not come as part of the meal (that is, one cannot say that most people drink coffee as part of their meal), and therefore it would require a blessing at the end of the meal, unless, of course, one drinks it in order to aid the digestion of his meal and not for the taste of the coffee itself. (See Corrections, in a later mailing)
3) The concept that a guest relies on whatever the host brings to the table applies only to things that come as part of the meal, since even the host himself does not have in mind things that are not part of the meal.
Are you therefore saying, that according to Rabbi Scheinberg, one should not make a Bracha on dessert?
When the dessert is cake and is one of the doubtful categories of Pas ha'Ba b'Kisnin (see Insights 42:1), it is a doubt if its blessing is covered by the ha'Motzi at the beginning of the meal, and therefore one does not make a blessing. If the dessert fulfills all three conditions of Pas ha'Ba b'Kisnin, then it is definitely not bread and requires a blessing -- but this is only if it is being eaten for its good taste alone. If it is being eaten to satisfy one's hunger and to fill him up, it is considered part of the meal and one does not recite a blessing. This is what has been written in the name of Rav Sheinberg (see, for example, Sefer v'Zos ha'Berachah, p. 74).
As far as non-grain desserts, such as fruit, ice cream, chocolate, etc., the Halachos are different and there are differing opinions and we recommend that you ask your local rabbinical authority.
Dear Rabbi Kornfeld,
You mention the suggestion of eating bread with melon or grapefruit to obviate the need to make a brocho. In a shiur in Ketzad Mevorchim which I am privileged to attend weekly, I heard that if the melon needs a brocho because it is not machmas haseuda then eating it with bread does not make it machmas haseudah. This would therefore not prevent having to get a psak on whether or not to make a brocho.