When ‘John’ Brings a Friend Home to Dinner

This is the first article in April of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Apr 2, 1905, and an article about how a housewife should stay calm when their husband brings a guest over for dinner unexpectedly.

School for Housewives – When ‘John’ Brings a Friend Home to Dinner

Imprimis – John has a right to expect this privilege. Your bachelor is a hospitable animal, and business customs foster the virtue. The very reprehensible habit of “treating” is an outgrowth of the instinct of hospitality. The merchant, being a man, comprehends that his customer and fellow-man will be more amenable to reason if his stomach be at peace with itself and the rest of the body. The stereotyped, “Suppose we step out and take something,” is a preliminary to negotiation and sale.

When the “something” includes luncheon, it is yet more assuasive to the inner man, which sets the pace for action in the outer man. Acceptance of a dinner almost seals an important bargain. Sometimes “the house” stands treat, if a customer or client be a particularly fine fish, richly worth the trouble demanding.

Apart from his business training, John, in his bachelorhood, liked to play the host. There is much in the disposition that prevails all over the world – to break bread amicably with one’s kind. I have though sometimes that it is a recognition – as a subtle as it is strong – of the universal brotherhood of man. We live by eating. Eating in friendly companionship acknowledges a common need and a friendly disposition to promote the common ground.


Be this as it many, it is certain that one element of the pleasure with which John has looked forward to having a home of his own was the anticipation of seeing his friends at his table. A glow of prideful proprietorship in that home warms his heart at the thought of saying to his old schoolfellow, Tom, or his business acquaintances, Dick and Harry, “Come around with me and take a family dinner, won’t you?” The glow permeates his whole being and pride becomes exultation if he can meet the civil demur of the proposed guest with “My wife is always glad to have me bring a friend home. You will take us as you find us, old man!”

It is your duty as his wife, the keeper of his house and the maker of his home, to prove his words true – every time.

Madame Recamier, whose beauty and charm were the marvel of her generation, was asked how she had become so graceful as never to betray awkwardness in the slightest motion. She replied: “By always acting in private as if the eyes of the court were upon me.”

The house that is always well ordered cannot be thrown into confusion by an unexpected guest after the morning’s work is done and matters have settled into the groove of daily routine. When your luncheon or dinner table is laid for John, it should be also ready for any guest he may bring with him. I was so happy as to be a listener the other day to an able paper upon “American Hospitality” read before and discussed by a woman’s club. In the course of the debate one plain-spoken member asked: “What of yesterday’s coffee stain and this noon’s grease spots upon the cloth when your impromptu guest comes in, and you can’t afford a clean cloth every day?” A practical housewife answered: “There should be neither stain nor spot. Cleanliness must be had at any price.”

Lest our young housewife should be discouraged by this dictum, let me drop a homely hint or two. Coffee and tea stains may be washed out after each meal while fresh, with the corner of a napkin and a little cold water. Have a bit of white chalk at hand for chance grease spots. Rub it well upon them, and leave thus until next day, when you can brush out chalk and grease together. Attention to these trifles will give John (and the chance guest) a clean tablecloth in all circumstances. Another hint: Have your damask ironed on both sides, and give it a “French wash” when one side is beginning to look grimy. Laundry bills are a serious item in the family expenses. As our plain-spoken woman says, “You cannot afford a clean cloth every day.”

The cloth laid, and smoothly, see to it that the table furniture is befitting the honored master of the home. Give him bright silver and glass and dainty china. The practice of spreading the family board with coarse napery, common crockery and plated silver, worn brassy at the edges, is, to put it candidly, a vulgarity, when there are stores of fine china, cut-glass and sterling silver in closet and sideboard reserved for “company.” The appointments for the table should be the same for John when he “comes marching home” solus, as when you are certain that he will being a visitor with him.

I do not deny that the dear fellow has a fatal facility for inviting Tom, and even Dick and Harry, on washing day, and even during housecleaning week.

One tactless householder, having given the invitation and received a ready acceptance, delivered himself of an afterthought on his way home:

“I say, old fellow, we are always glad to see you, you know; but I’m afraid you won’t have anything for dinner today but a confounded dressmaker.”

The most serious objection in Mary’s mind to the exercise of impromptu hospitality on John’s part is the risk of insufficient provision for the increased number. Housekeepers do not need to be reminded that, while what is enough for two will serve three, an adequate supply for three is not always enough for four. The small roast or a single fowl will suffice for five or six, because the caterer counts upon “left-overs.” But the small steak – quite enough for John, Mary and Bridget-Thekla – or the four English chops, or the bit of fish on Friday, with a couple of vegetables, a salad and a sweet, with a demitasse of coffee, which would suffice for the four, looks miserably insufficient – Mary would say “skimpy” – when a six-footer with a full-grown appetite joins the band of eaters.

All the same, put a cheerful courage on, gird up the loins of your ingenuity and face the situation womanfully.

I hope you have what I have elsewhere called “An Emergency Pantry.” While John conveys Tom or Dick or Harry to his (John’s) room to brush off the dust and wash his hands, open a can of soup. If it be mock turtle, add a glass of wine, the juice of half a lemon, a pinch of sugar and a small cup of boiling water. Your cook will warm it up in five minutes. If a chicken soup, beat a raw egg into a small cup of milk, add a tablespoonful of butter stirred in a frying pan to a “roux” with the same of flour, mix with the soup and boil up once. Set on olives and salted nuts, and a dish of bonbons to fill out empty spaces on the table. Add crackers and cheese to the salad course, and follow with pudding with nuts and raisins. If Bridget-Thekla be well trained, and you keep your head, the meal will not be ten minutes later on account of these additions. The guest must be made to believe that his coming involved no more work than the laying of an extra plate, knife, fork and tumbler.

Above all, and through all, and in spite of all, keep cool! Do not let the first, the second, the third and the fourth course be Roasted Hostess!

Our next talk will be upon “A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE TYRANT PORATO.”

Marion Harland

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