Bills of fare are generally written in French. It is a pity that our own rich language is inadequate to the duties of a fashionable bill of fare, especially when, perhaps, all the guests do not understand the Gallic tongue, and the bill of fare (menu) for their accommodation might as well be written in
Choctaw. I will arrange a table with French names of dishes for the aid of those preferring the French bills of fare. I would say that some tact might be displayed in choosing which lan-guage to employ.
Dîner du 15 Février.
Hors - d'œuvres.
If you are entertaining a ceremonious company, with testes for the frivolities of the world, or, perhaps, foreign embassa-dors, use unhesitatingly the French bills of fare; but practical uncles and substantial persons of learning and wit, who, perhaps, do not appreciate the merits of languages which they do not understand, might consider you demented to place one of thèse effusions before them. I would advise the English bills of fare on these occasions.
7th. The attendants at table should make no noise. They should wear slippers or light boots. "Nothing so distinguishes the style of perfectly appointed houses from vulgar imitations as the quiet, self-possessed movements of the attendants."No word should be spoken among them during dinner, nor should they even seem to notice the conversation of the company at table.
8th. The waiter should wear a dress-coat, white vest, black trousers, and white necktie; the waiting-maid, a neat black al-paca or a clean calico dress, with a white apron.
9th. Although I would advise these rules to be generally followed, yet it is as pleasant a change to see an individuality or a characteristic taste displayed in the setting of the table and the choice of dishes as in the appointments of our houses or in matters of toilet. At different seasons the table might be changed to wear a more appropriate garb. It may be solid, rich, and showy, or simple, light, and fresh.
10th. Aim to have a variety or change in dishes. It is as necessary to the stomach and to the enjoyment of the table as is change of scene for the mind. Even large and expensive state dinners become very monotonous when one finds everywhere the same choice of dishes. Mr. Walker, in his "Original," says: "To order dinner is a matter of invention and combination. It involves novelty, simplicity, and taste; whereas, in the generality of dinners, there is no character but that of routine, according to the season."
11th. Although many fashionable dinners are of from three to four hours' duration, I think every minute over two hours is a "stately durance vile." After that time, one can have no appetite; conversation must be forced. It is preferable to have the dinner a short one than a minute too long. If one rises from a fine dinner wearied and satiated, the memory of the whole occasion must be tinged with this last impression.
12th. There is a variety of opinions as to who should be first served at table. Many of the haut monde insist that the hostess should be first attended to. Once, when visiting a family with an elegant establishment, who, with cultivated tastes and years of traveling experience, prided themselves on their savoir faire, one of the members said, "Yes, if Queen Victoria were our guest, our sister, who presides at table, should always be served first." The custom originated in ancient times, when the hospitable fashion of poisoning was in vogue. Then the guests preferred to see the hostess partake of each dish before venturing themselves. Poisoning is not now the order of the day, beyond what is accomplished by rich pastry and plum-puddings. If there be but one attendant, the lady guest sitting at the right of the host or the oldest lady should be first served. There are certain natural instincts of propriety which fashion or custom can not regulate. As soon as the second person is helped, there should be no further waiting before eating.
13th. Have chairs of equal height at table. Perhaps every one may know by experience the trial to his good humor in finding himself perched above or sunk below the generai level.
l4th. The selection of china for the table offers an elegant field in which to display one's taste. The most economical choice for durability is this: put your extra money in a hand-some dessert set, ail (except the plates) of which are displayed on the table ail the time during dinner; then select the remain-der of the service in plain white, or white and gilt, china. When any dish is broken, it can be easily matched and replaced.
A set of china decorated in color to match the color of the dining-roorn is exceedingly tasteful. This choice is not an economical one, as it is necessary to replace broken pieces by having new ones manufactured - an expense quite equal to the extra trouble required to imitate a dish made in another country.
By far the most elegant arrangement consists in having different sets of plates, each set of a different pattern, for every course. Here is an unlimited field for exquisite taste. Let the meat and vegetable dishes be of plated silver. Let the épergne or centre-piece (holding flowers or fruit) be of silver, or perhaps it might be preferred of majolica, of bisque, or of glass. The majolica ware is very fashionable now, and dessert, oyster, and salad sets of it are exceedingly pretty. A set of majolica plates, imitating pink shells, with a large pink-shell platter, is very pretty, and appropriate for almost any course. Oyster-plates in French ware imitate five oyster-shells, with a miniature cup in the centre for holding the lemon. There are other patterns of oyster-plates in majolica of the most gorgeous colors, where each rim is concaved in six shells to hold as many oysters. The harlequin dessert sets are interesting, where every plate is not only different in design and color, but is a specimen of different kinds of ware as well. In these sets the Dresden, French, and painted plates of any ware that suits the fancy are combined.
A set of plates for a course at dinner is unique in the Chinese or Japanese patterns. Dessert sets of Bohemian glass or of cut-glass are a novelty; however, the painted sets seem more ap-propriate for the dessert (fruits, etc.), while glass sets are taste-ful for jellies, cold puddings, etc., or what are called the cold entremets served just before the dessert proper.
But it seem s difficult, in entering the Colamores' and other large places of the kind in New York, to know what to select, there are such myriads of exquisite plates, table ornaments, and fairy-lands of glass.
I consider the table ornaments in silver much less attractive than those in fancy ware. There are lovely maidens in bisque, reclining, while they hold painted oval dishes for a jelly, a Ba-varian cream, or for flowers or fruit; cherub boys in majolica, tugging away with wheelbarrows, which should be loaded with flowers; antique water-jugs; cheese - plates in Venetian glass; clusters of lilies from mirror bases to hold flowers or bonbons; tripods of dolphins, with great pink mouths, to hold salt and pepper.
If a lady, with tastes to cultivate in her family, can afford el-egancies in dress, let her retrench in that, and bid farewell to all her ugly and insipid white china; let wedding presents con-sist more of these ornaments (which may serve to decorate any room), and less of silver salt-cellars, pepper-stands, and pickle-forks.
Senator Sumner was a lover of the ceramic art. His table presented a delightful study to the connoisseur, with its different courses of plates, ail different and recherché in design. Nothing aroused this inimitable host at a dinner party from his literary labors more effectually than a special announcement to him by Marley of the arrival from Europe of a new set of quaint and elegant specimens of China ware. He would repair to New York on the next train.
15th. I will close these suggestions by copying from an En-glish book a practical drill exercise for serving at table. The dishes are served from the side-table.
"Let us suppose a table laid for eight persons, dressed in its best; as attendants, only two persons - a butler and a footman, or one of these, with a page or neat waiting-maid; and let us suppose some one stationed outside the door in the butler's pantry to do nothing but fetch up, or hand, or carry off dishes, one by one;
While guests are being seated, person from outside brings up soup;
Footman receives soup at door;
Butler serves it out;
Footman hands it;
Both change plates.
Footman takes out soup, and receives fish at door; while butler hands wine;
Butler serves out fish; Footman hands it (plate in one hand, and sauce in the other);
Both change plates.
Footman brings in entrée, while butler hands wine;
Butler hands entrée;
Footman hands vegetables;
Both change plates,
"The carving of the joint seems the only difficulty. How-ever, it will not take long for an expert carver to cut eight pieces."