How to Entertain at a Dinner

This is the first article in May of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on May 5, 1907, and is the second last discussion on entertaining at meals.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of The Washington Times.

How to Entertain at a Dinner

A DINNER is the stateliest if social functions. The acceptance of an invitation to dine should be regarded almost in the light of a vow. We are all familiar with the dictum of a modern arbiter elegantiarum, who was also a wit: “Accept an invitation to dinner with care. When you have accepted, go, if you are alive. If your die, let your executor go in your place.” It is ill bred, because inconsiderate to the verge of unkindness, to send a regret, unless for reasons that would hinder you from the fulfilment of a business engagement of extreme importance.

The law is based like the majority of social rules upon common sense. In making up her company, the sophisticated hostess selects the component parts as she would compound a cake, considering the effect of each ingredient upon the finished product. I called attention to this fact last week, in our 1uncheon talk. The composition of a dinner party is yet more important on account of the longer time passed at table. The orderly progress of an eight or ten course dinner occupies from an hour and a half to two hours. To be tied to one’s chair when one’s next neighbor has not an idea in common with one, and sometimes no ideas whatever, so far as his companions can discover, is purgatory, not pleasure-making. Invite people who would enjoy meeting their fellow-guests, making sure to have one or more good talkers, who will act like leaven in keeping up general liveliness. So well is the expediency of this ingredient in the social loaf understood that some hostesses who do not number many brilliant conversationalists upon their visiting lists, go outside of the pale of personal acquaintanceship for what may be classed as good table talkers. The subject of table talk is one that has engaged the thoughts and pens of able writers. It is full of interest. With it we have nothing to do today.

Eight the Perfect Number.

Some one has called eight “the perfect number for dinner.” One additional leaf in the family board will usually grant all the room needed for that number. One word on this head may be useful, Avoid crowding chairs together to an extent that will make seating the guests a matter of difficulty, or bring their elbows into contact in the course of the business of the meal. Leave room for the waitress to pass plates to and from each place. But avoid, as the other extreme, wide reaches of cloth that impart to the air of a waste and dreary wilderness. Without crowding the decorations and the dishes of olives, salted nuts, celery, etc., that are catalogued as “hors d’oeuvres,” see to it that no ghastly expanses of white damask make the feast seem scantily set forth. These are minor details, but disregard of them has marred the symmetry of many a dinner.

Dinner is announced by the butler’s or maid’s appearance in the door of the drawing room, with a bow to the hostess, and “Dinner is served.” Have I ever told in this column the anecdote of the new maid who had been duly instructed her employer as to the proper form of announcing the several meal? When told the cook to let company know that all was in readiness for eating, she horrified that mistress by droping her Old World courtesy in the doorway, and voicferating at a pitch that turned all eyes to ward her:

“Please, ma’am, breakfast is on; luncheon is ready; dinner is served.” The matter of her lesson was correct. In manner and in discrimination of times and seasons she was woefully astray.

Your dinner, then, is served. You have already signified quietly to each man woman he is to take into the dining room. The woman takes his right arm, the party moves toward the entrance, the host leading the way with the guest of honor, or the oldest women present or the greatest stranger This question is between host and hostess in advance In unofficial Amen can circles there is no Axed law of precedence in these matters.

Setting the Table.

At each plate is the “service-plate,” and at the right of it as many knives as will be needed before dessert is served, each with the sharp blade turned toward the plate. Outside of the knives lies the soup spoon, with the inner side of the bowl upward. At the left of the plates the forks are arranged. Both knives and forks are laid in the order in which they are to be used, beginning with that farthest from the plate and working inward. If there be raw oysters, the oyster fork is placed at the right of the soup spoon or across the oyster plate itself. The tines of the forks are turned upward.

Spoons and forks intended for the sweets and for Roman punch or sherbet usually accompany the plates, saucers or cups containing these.

A glass of water stands just beyond the extreme tins of the knives. If wines be used, the first wine glass is between the knives and the tumbler of water, and the others are arranged in a curved line beyond the plate. Sauterne or some other light, sour wine goes with the fish; sherry with the roast, or other piece de resistance, and claret with game. If but one wine be served, it is usually sherry or claret. The waitress fills the glasses after each course from a bottle, about the neck of which a napkin is wound.

The table is lighted with candles in “fancy” sticks, or set in candelabra. If you have not enough of these to give sufficient light, supplement it by shaded gas or electric burners.

One cardinal rule in serving a dinner is that a plate must be in place in front of each person from the first to the last course. The soup plate is set down upon the service plate, and is taken up with it; the soup plate, in turn, is superseded by that containing fish, and so on. All the serving is done from the kitchen and side table, now called the “service table.”

The waitress sets down the full plate at the left of the guest and takes the emptied plate from the right. She also sets down clean plates from the right.

In serving, she begins first at the right, then goes to the left of host, or the right and then to the left of the hostess, thus going down, or up, until the master or mistress is reached last. Some still persist in the custom of serving the hostess first of all, but the fashion is passing away. The only excuse for it was that if there were anything wrong wish dish or serving, the blunder might be rectified before the food reached the guests.

Clear Table for Sweets.

Just before the sweets are brought on the relishes, salt and pepper are taken off on a tray covered with a napkin, that the removal may be noiseless, and the crumbs are brushed off with a folded napkin. For creams, etc., plates bearing doilies and finger bowls are set on from the right of the eaters. The are one-third full of lukewarm water. The doilies are transferred to the table by the guests, and the bowls set upon them, leaving the plates clear for dessert.

The water in the finger bowl is usually slightly scented, sometimes by a bit of lemon verbena or rose gerainum left floating in it, on which the fingers may be lightly rubbed. At a recent well-appointed dinner the finger bowls contained liqueur glass in which were a few drops of essence of wintergreen, which, just before handing the bowl to the guest, the waiter deftly tipped into the finger bowl.

Coffee is taken into the drawing room for the ladies. They withdraw from the dining room at a signal from the hostess, the men rising and remaining standing until their fair companions disappear, after which they will sit down for coffee and cigars.

If liquers, creme de menthe, benedictine or wild cherry are the sequitur of the dinner, they are passed in tiny glasses to the women in the parlors, to the men at the table.

It is not form for the latter to protract the sitting over “walnuts and wine,” coffee and cigars, beyond the conventional half hour of separation. Nor is it considered “the thing” to linger late in the hospitable mansion after a dinner party. If the hour for dinner be half-past 7, carriages should not be ordered for a later hour than half-past 10.

Menu for a Spring Dinner.
Clams     Cocktails
Consomme a la Russe
Baked Shad with Sauce Tartare
Fried Potatoes and Cucumber Salad
Sweetbread Croquettes
Crown Roast of Lamb with Mint Sauce
Green Peas     Asparagus
Roman Punch
Broiled Spring Chickens Lettuce and Tomato Salad
Strawberry Ice Cream (with the fruit frozen in)     Cakes
Crackers and Gorgonzola Cheese
Black Coffee

N.B. —Full dress is imperative at a dinner party. Sack coats, Prince Alberts, and skirts of walking length are inadmissible.

Family Meals for a Week
Housemothers’ Exchange

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.

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The Housemothers’ Exchange

How to Entertain at a Breakfast

This is the third article in April of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on April 21, 1907, and is a discussion on how to entertain at a breakfast.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of The Washington Times.

How to Entertain at a Breakfast

“THERE would seem to be no leisure-class in this country of yours,” said an Englishman to his American host.

“What do you mean by a leisure-class?” asked the other.

“Oh, men who have no profession—no stated—ah—ah—employment. Who may dispose of their time as they like—ah—with no beastly sense of duty unperformed—don’t you know?”

“Oh, yes! we have plenty of that kind with us,” with an enlightened look. “But we call them loafers over here!”

For the lack of any other class of men who have time to take their pleasure early in the working day, the breakfast party is a rare function with us except on holidays, and in the summer vacation. That which I shall describe was given on Decoration Day by the happy possessors of a country house within an hour’s journey by rail from a great city.

As a matter of course, each of the two dozen guests who alighted at the station at 11 o’clock A. M. had had a light breakfast before leaving town. Equally as a matter of course, the last days of May were the hottest of a hot season. A thundershower had missed hopes of better things the previous afternoon, but, after the manner of May storms, had done its work in a half-hearted style. The air teemed with moisture on Decoration Day, and the moisture was steam.

“Breakfast in the garden, I suppose?” murmured an elderly bachelor on the drive from station to house. “The correct thing, I suppose. When I was a boy, my sister used to sing a song that expressed my sentiments concerning al fresco feastings. It was called ‘Tea in the Arbor.’ and told of

“Roses and posies to scent up your noses,
Lilies and billies, and daffydowndillies,”

and how spiders fell into a fellow’s cup and caterpillars crawled down his neck, and all that. This eating under the trees, and sprawling on the grass, with a teacup in one hand and a sandwich in the other, is a relic of savage feasts—of the stone age and cliff dwellers.” “Didn’t you enjoy picnics when you were yo—a boy?” queried a girl, her change of intention in framing the reply so evident that everybody smiled.

“Never did!” protested the bachelor, stoutly. “Give me civilized food eaten from solid mahogany, with knives and forks, and not with fingers and gnawed as the noble red man takes his victuals. It is a notable fact in this connection that your rural citizen never eats his meals in this barbaric fashion except when he has visitors from town. He knows better than to swelter in the hot outer air, tormented by flies and mosquitoes, when he could be comfortable in a shaded room with screens in every door and window. Of all modern humbugs, the playing at ruralizing is the most absurd. For we all know it isn’t rural at all!”

Had they been less oppressive an argument might have ensued. As it was, silence, felt by more than one to be depressing, lasted until the carriages discharged their respective loads at the foot of the steps leading up to the vine-shaded veranda.

The grumbler may have had the grace to feel ashamed of his unmannerly tirade when the company assembled in the great central hall through the wide folding doors of which the interior of the dining-room was visible. He made no sign of penitence unless that his admiration of the aforesaid interior was more pronounced than that of some of his fellow-guests.

A goodly sight was that framed in the arched doorway. Shadows that were faintly green and softly gray, and all cool, filled the long room. The blinds were bowed, and the light that found its way through the spaces left at the bottom and top of each window, was tempered before it entered, by vines and trees. The wistaria, enshrouding the house with draperies of pale mauve that looked like wreaths of fleeciest chiffon, lent perfume to the whole atmosphere.

With rarely fine taste, the hostess had banished other flower odors. No dying agonies of blossoms suffocated by the noonday heat and human breaths, would taint our food. The exquisite suspicion of wistaria-scent was sufficient unto us. The same just taste had ordered that the trailing vines relieving the snow of the table-covers should have their stems in water. The smell of withered smilax and ferns is especially disagreeable as the meal progresses and appetite is jaded.

The tables were round and of varying sizes. Some were laid for four, some for six, none for an odd number of eaters.

There were six waitresses, dressed in white from crown to toe—all attentive, and all so quiet that their gliding to and fro was like the passing of shadows through the gray-green spaces separating the groups of revelers.

Glasses, filmy with iced dews, and with a celestial compound of minced fruits, prepared parched palates for coming dainties. We named it “Decoration Day Ambrosia” on the spot, and by this name it is still known among those who tasted it then for the first time. Jellied chicken bouillon followed, accompanied by Virginia wafers, that melted in the mouth.

By now, appetite awoke to the appreciation that it craved something substantial at high noon after a thirty-mile trip on the railway, even on the hottest day of the (alleged) spring. Salmon timbales, masked by bechemel sauce, “did not,” as one connoisseur murmured to another, “mar the unities of the scheme.” Finger rolls went around with them. Cold tongue, embedded in tomato aspic, was the next course.

Then glasses of Roman punch revived the digestion for the more serious business of broiled spring chicken and the attendant asparagus a la viniagrette, laid within crisp lettuce-hearts. Cassava biscuits and cream cheese—homemade and delicious—intervened before strawberries, that had been gathered that morning — each a very paragon of its species in size, color and spicy lusciousness—were set before us. They were eaten in the English fashion—one we would well to adopt as a habit. Caps and stems had not been removed, and, holding the stems as handles, we dipped the beauties into fine sugar and made two bites of each. For beverages, we had iced coffee, tea a la Russe.

When we arose from table, we were at peace with digestions and the rest of the world and—stranger still! no hotter than when we sat down. I have eaten other summer breakfasts at which nothing hot was served. She was a wiser caterer who judged that one or two freshly cooked dishes appeal to the taste of really hungry people. She recollected, too, that some stomachs do not assimilate chilled food as readily as they accept warm; also that there is still with us a fair percentage of old-fashioned folk who do not affect “made dishes,” and account the serving and the eating of them as unpatriotic truckling to foreign tricks and manners.

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