This section is from the book "Practical Cooking And Serving", by Janet McKenzie Hill. Also available from Amazon: Practical Cooking and Serving: A Complete Manual of How to Select, Prepare, and Serve Food .
"Dainty ways of serving food have a usefulness beyond their aesthetic value. Every one knows that a feeble appetite is often tempted by a tastefully garnished dish, when the same material carelessly served would seem quite unpalatable. Furthermore, many cheap articles and 'left overs' when well seasoned and attractively served may be just as appetizing as dearer ones, and will usually be found quite as nutritious." - W. O. Atwater, Ph.D.
A dish is garnished for two reasons. The garnish is either to make the dish more attractive to the eye, as when a sprig of parsley and slice of lemon is laid upon a chop or bit of fish; or, to add to the food value and at the same time to the looks of the dish, as when macaroni in tomato sauce surrounds a dish of tenderloin cutlets. In garnishing a dish, two things must be kept in mind: the garnish must be appropriate to the article served, and it must be so disposed as not to interfere with the service. One third of the serving dishes should be left clear even of the garnish. Edible articles are more appropriate than are those which are used simply for looks. Utility is a prime consideration. As a rule sweets are not used with savory dishes; an exception is made of candied and maraschino cherries, preserved whole currants, or strawberries, and small pieces of sweet pickle. These are occasionally seen in a wreath of parsley or water-cress surrounding a roast of beef or mutton, broiled chickens or birds. Four or five cherries accompany each portion. Pistachio nuts are also used for both sweet and savory dishes. Flat croquettes of chickens or sweetbread are particularly adapted to decoration with this nut. The use of full-blown roses, buds or petals, is confined to sweet dishes, while nasturtium leaves, blossoms and tendrils are appropriate for meats, salads, etc. Parsley is preferred with fish, and cress with beef and mutton.
Toast in any form is out of place on the same dish with potatoes, or shapes, cut from puff-paste. Bread for toast garnish should be cut before toasting. Triangles, pyramids, diamonds, cutlet shapes, cubes and cases are the usual forms. Variety can be given these by the use of toasters with wires differently arranged, or by dipping the edges or a portion of the toast in fine-chopped parsley. These are used principally with creamed dishes or dishes served in connection with a sauce.
Julienne, Saratoga, or French fried potatoes look and taste well with croquettes, cutlets, steaks and chops and do not preclude the use of a slice of lemon and a few sprigs of cress.
Potato or pea "roses" are very attractive with almost any meat or fish dish. Diamonds of mashed or duchess potato, with a spoonful of peas in cream sauce in the centre, are a favorite with baked fillets of fish. Their use, however, necessitates disposing the fish sauce in a dish apart.
Garnishes made from hard-boiled eggs are numerous. These may be cut in quarters, or eighths, lengthwise, in rings or in half rings; or the whites may be chopped fine and the yolks sifted. The pointed end may be cut off and the white, from which the yolk is removed, fastened with liquid gelatine to the pointed end resting on a plate, and these vases may be filled with capers or mayonnaise dressing. The white and yolks, beaten and poached, separately, may be cut in thin slices, from which various figures may be stamped. As a border to enclose a salad, the ends of lengthwise eighths of egg may be cut to stand evenly and fastened to the plate with liquid gelatine, to form a crown.
Figures, cut from slices of pickled beet and laid upon slices of lemon, give a suggestion of color often desirable. The same effect is secured with radishes cut in various ways without removal of the outer skin.
Slices of lemon, with rind complete or notched, dipped into fine-chopped parsley, make a change from the plain slice. Fine-chopped parsley is always effective sprinkled on potato balls or the top of a dish of creamed or mashed potato. The edge of timbale cases (pastry) used for creamed dishes, especially of fish or oysters when dipped in beaten white of egg and then in chopped parsley, present an especially festive appearance. In addition to the garnishes above enumerated, the following for special dishes deserve mention.