How to Entertain at a Luncheon

This is the final article in April of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on April 28, 1907, and is a discussion on how to entertain at a luncheon.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of The Washington Times.

How to Entertain at a Luncheon

IF IT be not the most delightful of modern social functions, it is likely to be one of the stupidest. As a rule, women are not gourmands. That her own share in what is cooked and served in her home is a matter of comparative indifference to the housemother has passed into a proverb. Where you meet with one woman who is addicted to the pleasures of the table, and like Watt’s sluggard.

“Talks of eating and drinking,”

you may count a hundred who, if each lived alone, would not have a regular meal cooked once a month. The epicure is a curiosity to her acquaintances. I was talking the other day with one of the gentlest and most charitable of her sex of the illness of her sister.

“The case is the more obstinate because the dietary is strict,” she remarked, lowering her voice, to a confidential pitch. “And” —here she glanced over her shoulder to make sure there were no eavesdroppers— “you know the poor dear loves good eating!”

What a Woman Enjoys.

The admission was a slur upon an otherwise well-bred kinswoman. Therefore, the enjoyment of a woman’s luncheon party depends largely upon the choice of one’s guests, and the disposition of the same in seating them at the table. When I find myself wondering secretly during the third course of the meal why I was invited to meet these people, and why, when there, I was seated next to a woman with whom I have not one idea in common, and who evidently is having hard work in the lame effort to be interested in what I am forcing myself to say—that party is to us two a dismal failure, no matter how elegant the appointments of the table, or how delicious the food.

It was a saying in my girlhood that passe belles had arrived at the “supper stage.” That is, that they consoled themselves with salads and sweets at parties where they used to enjoy the homage of admirers too much to care what they ate or drank.

The average woman of society gives the menu a third-rate place in her reflections upon dinner, supper or luncheon. Her husband easily consoles himself for the stupidity of his neighbors at dinner by devoting himself more unreservedly to the capital dishes for his acceptance. If the soup be clear and savory, the fish fresh and piping hot and served with tied right sauce; the ducks done to a turn and the venison tender and juicy; if the entrees be toothsome, and the coffee complies with each of Talleyrand’s stipulations, John is measurably compensated for temporary boredom. When he reports the affair to his wife on his return home he begins with a recital of the menu, and, this done, observes incidentally that “there was a somewhat dull lot of people there.” He “wonders where Smith-Jones picked up so many fellows who can’t talk.” Or—“A rattling good set of fellows, too!” as the sequel of the tale.

The Opposite of Men.

A woman tells, first, who were at the luncheon, how they talked and dressed; what good stories and lively chat went around the board; then, how the rooms and tables were decorated—finally, and casually, what they had to eat.

Too many guests at a luncheon party, or at any other function in a private house where all must sit down to table, is a mistake. I shall dwell upon this point when we talk of the dinner party. Twelve are not too many if the elements composing the company are congenial in tastes and in the same rank of society. To bring together the vulgar rich and the refined poor is a fatal blunder. I do not imply, of course, that a majority of the newly rich are vulgar, any more than I would intimate that most of the many who have not suitable luncheon gowns are refined. But you, the hostess, will be more at ease if no plainly attired woman suffers inward mortification from the contrast with the superb costumes of the rest of the party.

Hats Are Not Removed.

It should not be necessary at this day to observe that hats are not removed at a luncheon. Yet I have in memory sundry incidents that show the expediency of fixing this freak of fashion in the mind of the unsophisticated guest. The hostess and her daughters and the guest whose visit in the house us the occasion of the function are the exceptions to the rule.

Punctuality is absolutely obligatory upon the guests. It is ill bread to the point of rudeness to be a minute behind the hour named for the luncheon. It is also awkward to anticipate that hour by more than ten minutes. The butler, or the parlor maid, announces that “luncheon is ready” from the door of the drawing room, addressing the mistress pointedly, more in dumb show than audibly. The appearance of the man in correct attire, or of the maid, in her neat uniform of black gown, apron and cap, is the signal for a general rising—the hostess setting the example. She marshals the party in a pleasant, off-hand manner, coupling them as she has arranged thorn in her own mind, bringing up the rear with the guest of honor.

It is no longer the fashion to have decorated place cards. A simple card with the name of the guest written on it lies at her place.

How to Use Flowers.

In decorating the table, avoid strongly perfumed flowers, and, if possible, carry out a color scheme so well as to give harmonious character to the display. The boutonnieres laid beside the plates must be alike, and accord with the low bowl of flowers in the middle of the cloth.

If your dining room be well lighted by the natural illumination of day, do not, I beg, follow servilely a fashion introduced by dwellers in closely built blocks, where the blessed sunshine is unknown by the seeing of the eye after one leaves the street. If the rooms in which you entertain your friends open (?) upon shafts and courts, you must, perforce, light the luncheon table with candelabra, supplemented by gas or electric burners overhead. Shade all with silk or paper screens corresponding with your color scheme.

Cream of Celery Soup.
Fried Smelts with Lemon Sauce.
Stuffed Potatoes.   Broiled Sweetbreads.
Asparagus a la Creme.
French Chops.   Green Peas.
Tomato and Lettuce Salad with Mayonnaise.
Crackers and Cream Cheese.
Strawberry Mousse.   Cake.   Coffee.

Coffee and Bonbons.

Small dishes of olives, celery, salted nuts, and bonbons are on the table throughout the luncheon until the ice cream is brought on. Then all are removed except the bonbons. Coffee may be served at table or in the drawing room In the latter case the bonbons are also taken into the drawing room or into the library.

All the carving and serving is done from the kitchen—nominally, from the butler’s pantry. With a little training a tolerably competent waitress will learn to garnish such dishes as are to be passed for the eaters to help themselves, and to arrange tastefully the individual portions to be set down before them. For instance, the salad of this simple luncheon—which is easily within the ability of any housewife of moderate means and experience—is put on the chilled plates thus: A cluster of three crisp lettuce leaves is the bed on which half a tomato of medium size is laid. Just before the salad goes to the dining room a great spoonful of mayonnaise is poured upon the tomato. Minced chives are a piquant addition to mayonnaise, or to French dressing.

A sauce of butter, beaten to a cream with lemon juice and colored with finely minced parsley, is put into the emptied halves of lemons and set in ice until the fish is served. A half lemon accompanies each portion of fish.

Watercresses garnish the sweetbreads, which are passed on the dish, no carving being necessary. Asparagus is the accompanying vegetable, as the stuffed potatoes go with the fish, and green peas with the chops. Celery and olives go around in a desultory fashion at any stage of the luncheon after the fish course; crackers and cheese attend the salad.

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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