One of the most important acquisitions in the routine of daily life is the ability to carve well, and not only well but elegantly. It is true that the modes now adopted of sending meats, etc. to table are fast banishing the necessity for promiscuous carving from the elegantly served boards of the wealthy; but in the circles of middle life, where the refinements of cookery are not adopted, the utility of a skill in the use of a carving knife is sufficiently obvious.
It must not be supposed that the necessity for this acquirement is confined to the heads of families alone, it is as important for the bachelor visitor to be familiar with the art, as it is for the host himself; indeed he is singled out usually for the task of carving a side dish, which happening to be poultry of some kind, becomes a task most embarrassing to him, if he should happen to be ignorant of the modus operandi of skilfully dissecting a fowl. He may happen to be on the right hand of the lady of the house, and at her request, very politely conveyed, he cannot refuse; he rises, therefore, to his task as though one of the labours of Hercules had been suddenly imposed on him; he first casts around him a nervous glance to ascertain whether any one else is carving a fowl, in order to see where they insert their fork, at what part they commence, and how they go on; but it generally happens that he is not so fortunate as he desires, and therefore he is left to get through the operation as well as he can.
He takes up his knife and fork desperately, he knows that a wing is good, a slice of the breast is a dainty, and that a leg is a gentleman's portion, so he sticks his fork in at random, and slashes at the wing, misses the joint, and endeavours to cut through the bone; it is not an easy task, he mutters something about his knife not being sharp, essays a grin and a faint jeu de mot at the expense of the fowl's age, and finding the bone will not sunder by fair means, he puts out his strength, gets off the wing with a sudden dash which propels the mangled member off the dish upon the cloth, sends the body of the fowl quite to the edge of the dish, and with the jerk splashes a quantity of gravy over the rich dinner dress of the lady seated next to him, much to her chagrin at the injury to her robe, and her contempt for the barbarous ignorance he has displayed. He has to make a thousand apologies for his stupidity, which only serve to make his deficiency more apparent, he becomes heated, suffused with blushes and perspiration, continues hacking and mangling the fowl until he has disjointed the wings and legs, and then, alas ! the body presents itself to him as a terra incognita, what to do with it he is at a complete loss to imagine, but it must be carved, he has strength of wrist, aid he crashes through it at the hazard of repeating the mishaps he commenced with.
His task over, he sits down confused and uncomfortable to find his efforts have caused the rejection of any portion of the fowl he has wrenched asunder by those who have witnessed his bungling attempt, he is disgusted with the fowl, himself, carving, and everything else; loses all enjoyment for his dinner, and during the remainder of the evening cannot recover his equilibrium.
He will possibly too have the very questionable satisfaction of witnessing an accomplished carver dissect a fowl, he perceives with a species of wonder that he retains his seat, plants his fork in the bird, removes the wings and legs as if by magic, then follow merry thought and neck bones, then the breast, away come the two sidesmen, and the bird is dissected; all this too is accomplished without effort and with an elegance of manner as surprising as captivating; the pieces carved look quite tempting, while there is no perceptible difference in the temperature of the carver, he is as cool and collected as ever, and assists the portions he has carved with as much grace as he displayed in carving the fowl. The truth is, he is acquainted with the anatomy of the bird, he has felt the necessity of acquiring the art, and has taken advantage of every opportunity which has enabled him to perfect himself in the requisite knowledge to attain the position at which he has arrived.
Ladies ought especially to make carving a study; at their own houses, they grace the table and should be enabled to perform the task allotted to them with sufficient skill, to prevent remark or the calling forth of eager proffers of assistance from good natured visitors near who probably would not present any better claim to a neat performance.
Carving presents no difficulties; it requires simply knowledge-All displays of exertion or violence are in very bad taste; for, if not proved an evidence of the want of ability on the part of the carver, they present a very strong testimony of the toughness of a joint or the more than full age of a bird: in both cases they should be avoided. A good knife of moderate size, sufficient length of handle, and very sharp, is requisite; for a lady it should be light, and smaller than that used by gentlemen. Fowls are very easily carved, and joints, such as loins, breasts, fore-quarters, etc, the butcher-should have strict injunctions to separate the joints well.
The dish upon which the article to be carved is placed should be conveniently near to the carver, so that he has full control over it;. for if far off, nothing can prevent an ungracefulness of appearance, nor a difficulty in performing that which in its proper place could be achieved with ease.
In serving fish, some nicety and care must be exercised; here lightness of hand and dexterity of management is necessary, and can only be acquired by practice. The flakes which, in such fish as salmon and cod are large, should not be broken in serving, for the beauty of the fish is then destroyed, and the appetite for it injured. In addition to the skill in the use of the knife, there is also required another description of knowledge, and that is an acquaintance with the best. parts of the joint, fowl, or fish being carved. Thus in a haunch of venison the fat, which is a favourite, must be served with each slice; in the shoulder of mutton there are some delicate cuts in the under part. The breast and wings are the best parts of a fowl, the trail! of a woodcock on a toast is the choicest part of the bird. In fish a part of the roe, melt, or liver should accompany the piece of fish served; the list, however is too numerous to mention here; and indeed the knowledge can only be acquired by experience. In large establishments the gross dishes are carved at the buffet by the butler, but in middle society they are placed upon the table.
In the following directions accompanied by diagrams.We have endeavoured to be as explicit as possible; but while they will prove as landmarks to the uninitiated, he will find that practice alone will enable him to carve with skill and facility.