Emergency Luncheon for the Unexpected Guests

This is the fourth article in January of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Jan 22, 1905, and is a longer article in Marion’s series called Familiar Talks with Cottagers and Flat-Dwellers on what you can do when you have unexpected visitors and your maid is away or sick.

School for Housewives – Emergency Luncheon for the Unexpected Guests

Let that most trying of all times come around, the time when your maid, who has been with you for years, and knows your every like and dislike, has been taken up sick and is obliged to give up, and immediately a score of friends and relatives descend upon you, each with the laudable intention of “spending the day” with you! Perhaps four or five at once (your table can’t possibly seat more than three additional guests) drop in, and bring a couple of children along, by way of adding to the general turmoil.

Now, it’s an understood thing that you’re hospitable, but no one can blame you, if the first feeling you have is the blankest kind of dismay or a wild desire to fall dead on the spot.

But you “come to,” and the dear old aunt and uncle who’ve come up from the country to visit a few days, and who have counted largely on having a day with you in your home, never know how near a little thing came to upsetting an honest welcome.

You make them comfortable with books and things, and then fly to inspect the kitchen and dining room. The table is your first anxiety; no matter how you contrive, you can’t possibly seat all those people around it. Then a bright idea strikes you; you rush frantically up the back stairs (or “Trip lightly” up the front, humming a careless little song, your very manner calculated to show your guests how extremely well at ease you are), seize your sewing table, and, with a carver’s doily, transform it to a miniature of the big one.

There you put your “little china” – coffee cups instead of tea cups (thank fortune, you’ve enough tea cups for the big table), fruit plates instead of dinner plates, “piecing out” whatever you run short of with the odd gift plates you’ve kept before for decoration.

All these things brighten the picnic air of the little table, and set off the more careful arrangement of the big table.


Chairs, next, to suit that little table – you’ve enough for the big without robbing every bedroom, or asking your guests to each bring his own chair from your parlor. But nothing is low enough for the other table – you bring in your shirt-waist boxes, and fling over them a gay slumber blanket, or an afghan. It’s a trifle bizarre, but only adds to the picnic character.

By this time you look at the clock – you’ve only been fifteen minutes getting this much done, and your rapid resolving of chaos into order is an inspiration in itself. On to the kitchen and victory, although you seem to have to wrest it from defeat!

Your heart sinks again – you’ve plenty of cold roast lamb and quantities of bread, but the bread’s none too fresh and they seem to be the most extensive things your larder boasts. But you make a brave beginning, slice the meat daintily, arrange it upon you pretties platter and then study the bread question. While you’re studying it you’re busy whisking together quick biscuits, and by the time you’ve cut out the last one and popped it in the oven you’ve solved your problem, and decided to turn that bread into tomato toast, to be eaten with the cold meat.

You pare the crusts from the slices, toast and dip it in boiling milk, salted. Then pack it in layers in a pudding dish, salt and butter each layer, and pour over it a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, strained and seasoned with sugar, butter, pepper, salt and a few drops of onion juice. When the dish is full, you turn more sauce over all; cover and set for ten minutes in a quick oven. You should have enough tomato sauce to make the toast very wet.

Then you discover a lot of cheese, and Welsh rabbit flashes in your mind – it will “make” your luncheon, and needn’t keep you from you guess, because it can be made at the table. But grate your cheese, and see that the lamp to your chafing dish is filled before you go to the table, that there may not me the incessant jumping up and down that is the most annoying habit a woman, whose maid is away, can acquire.


And when you are all seated, put a cupful of milk and one of cream into your saucepan, with a bit of soda the size of a pea. When the boil begins add two cupfuls of soft, mild cheese (American) with a teaspoonful of made mustard, a saltspoonful of paprika, and a well-whipped egg. Pour upon rounds of buttered toast, each of which has been moistened with a teaspoonful of hot cream, or upon crackers.

This is a very simple form of “rabbit,” but perhaps you’re such a master hand at evolving things that you’re ambitious – prefer to make a more elaborate sort, a “buck.”

If you do, see that the bread is toasted, and the milk heated in a double boiler in the kitchen before you announce luncheon, and soak the cracker crumbs in it. At the table, heat together a tablespoonful of butter, a saltspoonful, each, of dry mustard and of salt, with a pinch of cayenne. When well mixed and boiling add a cupful of hot milk (heated with a bit of soda no larger than a pea) in which have been soaked a half cupful of cracker crumbs and a cupful of grated cheese. Cook all together three minutes, or until smoking hot; add two well-beaten eggs, stir one minute – no more – and heap upon rounds of buttered toast.

Then, if you’ve lettuce, get out your prettiest bowl, and arrange the crisp, fresh leaves prettily in it, and make a simple salad dressing at the table, according to directions given last week. You won’t have much time for your own luncheon, but you can congratulate yourself on the appetites of your guests, which seem whetted by your skillful preparing of good things before them.

For dessert, if you’ve oranges and bananas in the house, cut them up together, and serve them in your lemonade glasses, moistening them well with the orange juice, and sprinkling them with powdered sugar. With coffee, and your warm biscuits and butter, you’ve a delicious luncheon, and one sure to be well appreciated.

At the children’s table, for, of course, that was why you took such pains to make it gay, intending to put them (and your own family’s overflow to look after them) there, such things as Welsh rabbit and coffee won’t be allowed.

Cold meat they may have, and the tomato toast, although, if you had time to make the some baked toast, they’ll probably like it much better. If you have time, make it this way: Toast the bread; have ready in a double boiler a quart of hot milk, slightly salted and with a tablespoonful of butter stirred into it. Butter a deep dish, dip each slice of the heated toast in hot milk and pack in the back dish, salting and buttering each layer. When all are in, pour the boiling milk over the toast, cover and bake for ten minutes. Uncover and brown lightly. Serve in the bake-dish.


Serve the salad to the children, too, and give them something sweet – honey, preferably, or some of the jam or preserves you put up last summer. Have that as a special dish for them, just as the Welsh rabbit is for the grown-ups, and they’re less likely to create a disturbance (if they’re not overly well trained) by asking for things they can’t have.

Give them milk to drink, or, if your milk supply has given out under he generous demands you’ve made on it, give them some of the grape juice you bottled yourself – they’ll feel that they are having a real party. Instead of cutting up their fruit, have a bowl of fruit in the centre of their table – it will save you work and time, and they’d rather have their oranges or bananas – or both – separately.

Your luncheon will have taken you a good while to prepare, yet no one dish will be troublesome and everything will be homely and restful as you could wish. You will have succeeded in “making a mighty lot out of a mighty little,” which is a tribute to your ingenuity, and proves you worthy to rank with a dozen other inventors.

After luncheon shut your mental eyes resolutely to visions of washing dishes and clearing up, and shut your door upon those same dishes. Give yourself over to your guests for the rest of their stay, and, if possible, forget all about the work that must be done later.

And then, when everybody has gone, proceed leisurely to set everything in order again. You’re very tired, and a little bit bewildered, but secretly rather proud of the way you got through, and glad, too, that you gave a hearty welcome instead of the half-hearted one you felt inclined to give at first.

Marion Harland


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