This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
It is not necessary to possess wealth in order to set an attractive table. The background is the table itself. If it has a polished top, it is often more convenient to use runners or doilies, instead of tablecloths. They may be used at all three meals, although to be strictly correct they should appear only at breakfast, luncheon or supper. If doilies or runners are used, the table-top should be waxed, not varnished, as the former finish is more durable, may be easily renewed, and does not show the marks of hot dishes or liquids that may be spilled.
Runners should be from twelve to eighteen inches in width, and should be long enough to extend to the edge of the table. In setting the table for four, two runners are used. In setting the table for six, a long runner is placed lengthwise of the table, and two shorter ones are laid across it.
All-white doilies and runners are more satisfactory for hard use than colored ones. If doilies are to be used constantly, choose several sets alike, so that if some of the pieces are soiled there will be fresh ones of the same design to replace them. For practical use a center doily, about eighteen inches, and plate doilies, from nine to twelve inches in diameter, are all that are necessary. Small doilies may be provided for the tumblers, if desired.
For dinner it is customary to use a full-sized cloth over a silence cloth. But the woman who has to count laundry should feel at liberty to use on the dinner table whatever covering she wishes. It is surely easier to wash out a doily at a time than a whole tablecloth. But if a cloth effect is desired, a yard, or a yard and a quarter square of plain linen or damask may be bought readymade, or may be fashioned at home, and used for the dinner table. In case colored squares are desired, there is nothing prettier than the Japanese cloths, which may be obtained from fifty cents up.
There is some excuse for cheap dishes, but there is no excuse for handleless cups, and cracked or nicked plates and saucers, for, besides being unsightly, they are unsanitary and carriers of disease. Dishes are only a background for food, so quiet, simple patterns should be chosen. Well-polished glass lends an atmosphere to the table that almost nothing else can give, and unpretentious glass dishes may be made to look very attractive. Plain tumblers for water may be obtained almost anywhere for five cents apiece, and small glass bowls and cream pitchers, small dishes for relishes, lemonade cups and simple sherbet glasses may be purchased at correspondingly low prices.
The silver should be the best one can afford, but no matter how beautiful it may be the whole effect of the table will be marred, if it is not well-polished. It takes considerable time to clean silver, if it is allowed to become tarnished; but if it is always washed in water containing a little ammonia, and if badly tarnished pieces are cleaned at once, the discoloration is not difficult to remove. In case the plate wears off, any article may be re-plated at a reasonable price.
The table service is greatly facilitated by placing all the silver used by each individual at his or her place. The various articles should be arranged in the order of use, the spoons and knives at the right, and the forks at the left in the order of use from outside toward the plate. If space is limited and the meal is informal the teaspoons may be placed above the plate but this is not strictly "good form." Salt and pepper shakers should be provided for each two people. Water glasses belong at the tips of the knives, and butter dishes, or bread and butter plates with butter spreaders, should be placed just above the forks. The napkins should be folded square, and laid at the left of the forks.