This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The engraving on the preceding page makes it easy to explain what is meant by the very old and most enduring fashion of the plateau or central ornament of the dinner table. The table shown has no plateau strictly so called, but it has something in the place of it - a bank of moss and flowers. The plateau is, very often, a mirror laid flat on the table to represent a lake, and there must be - that is to say, there used to be - a rock castle or chateau, or monastery or temple, or something of the sort, in the center, with bo its, swans, etc., around, and the edges of the mirror covered in any fanciful way to represent the shores of the sheet of water. This form is by no means abandoned. Sometimes now the fashion takes the shape of real water, with a fountain playing and live fish. Only so recently as President Cleveland's inauguration dinner - to be found mentioned further on - there was a large mirror laid flat upon the table, with at each end a ship built of flowers, and a sea-piece of the cook's make was set afloat on the mirror. Another thing to be noted is the large number of glasses at each plate.
For several years now perhaps eight or ten - it has been the fashionable rule to place a different glass for every kind of wine all on the table at once before the dinner began, as seen in the picture. As indicating, a change of this fashion there comes to hand, while this book is in preparation for the press, a letter from the premier of all catering correspondents, the Paris correspondent of of the London Caterer, in which he remarks of "a dinner at the house of one of the richest financiers in France, and the dinner was worthy of the host:
"This dinner was served throughout on crockery representing the best old Rouen period. The glasses to each cover were numerous, though it is now the fashion in Paris to put one glass to each cover, and to change the glass at each fresh service of wine. It is also fashionable to change the Bet of plates with each course, that is to say, to have a plate of a different pattern of porcelain for each new dish. The decoration consisted of a large epergne full of flowers, dishes of fruit, dessert, etc.
Potaee Cretne Princesse.
Rissoles a la Pompadour.
Filet de Boeuf a la Godard.
Poularde a 1'Ivoire.
Croustade de Foie Gras Charvio.
Gateau a l'Officier de i'Acadeime.
" The filet de boeuf A la Godard was an English sirloin served with trimmings of truffles boiled in cognac, mushrooms and cockscombs. The poularde a l'ivoire apparently owed its name to the beautiful whiteness and firmness of the fowl's flesh. The quartier de chevreuil, which was most delicious, was served with red currant jelly, a very great improvement, suggested to her, as my amiable hostess said, by the English fashion. The croustade de foie gras was a large timbale of most delicious crust. The gateau a l'officier de l'academie was a sponge-cake decorated with cream. Its name was a topical allusion to the recent decoration of one of the guests, the most popular actor at the Come'die Fran-caise. As for the glace revenez-y (or come-back-to-the-ice), it was a tutti-frutti bomb of particular excellence.
"The wines served at this dinner were claret, champagne of two kinds, hock, and, with the foie gras, some most delicious Romance Conti. This was served cold, after the fashion in Burgundy, and being cold made an excellent substitute for the mid-prandial sorbet, or iced punch, which, as will be seen, was wanting in the above menu. As a rule I prefer all burgundies at normal temperature. I found the Romanee Conti, however, on this occasion perfect, though cold. The above menu was written on rough-edged paper, with crossed spoons in the left-hand corner, the guest's name being written obliquely in the right-hand corner. Gaudy menus are out of fashion in Paris just now, and I am glad of the change".
"At s dinner lately given by Mrs. Mackay (wife of the American 'silver King') the flowers were arranged in this star-shape, the center a heart of flame, and the rays shading to the palest tint as they tapered off. The places for the guests are laid just in between these rays; and the effect, as may be imagined, is exceedingly good".