The warm dishes - not hot dishes - keep in a tin closet or on the top shelf of the range until the moment of serving. A plate of bread should also be on the sideboard.
Dinner being now ready, it should be announced by the but-ler or dining-room maid. Never ring a bell for a meal. Bells do very well for country inns and steamboats, but in private houses the ménage should be conducted with as little noise as possible.
With these preliminaries, one can see that it requires very little trouble to serve the dinner. There should be no confusion or anxiety about it. It is a simple routine. Each dish is served as a separate course. The butler first places the pile of plates necessary for the course before the host or hostess. He next sets the dish to be served before the host or hostess, just beyond the pile of plates. The soup, salad, and dessert should be placed invariably before the hostess, and every other dish before the host. As each plate is ready, the host puts it upon the small salver held by the butler, who then with his own hand places this and the other plates in a similar manner on the table before each of the guests. If a second dish is served in the course, the butler, putting in it a spoon, presents it on the left side of each person, allowing him to help himself. As soon as any one has finished with his plate, the butler should remove it immediately, without waiting for others to finish. This would take too much time. When all the plates are removed, the but-1er should bring on the next course. It is not necessary to use the crumb - scraper to clean the cloth until just before the dessert is served. He should proceed in the same manner to distribute and take off the plates until the dessert is served, when he can leave the room.
This is little enough every-day ceremony for families of the most moderate pretensions, and it is also enough for the finest dinner party, with the simple addition of more waiters, and distribution of the work among them. It is well that this simple ceremony should be daily observed, for many reasons. The dishes themselves taste better; moreover, the cook takes more pride, and is more particular to have his articles well cooked, and to present a better appearance, when each dish is in this way subjected to a special regard: and is it not always preferable to have a few well-cooked dishes to many indifferently and carelessly prepared ? At the same time, each dish is in its perfection, hot from the fire, and ready to be eaten at once; then, again, one has the benefit of the full flavor of the dish, without mingling it with that of a multiplicity of others. There is really very little extra work in being absolutely methodical in every-day living. With this habit, there ceases to be any anxiety in entertaining. There is nothing more distressing at a dinner company than to see a hostess ill at ease, or to detect an interchange of nervous glances between her and the servants. A host and hostess seem insensibly to control the feelings of all the guests, it matters not how many there may be. In well-appointed houses, a word is not spoken at the dinner between the hostess and attendants. What necessity, when the servants arc in the daily practice of their duties ?
If one has nothing for dinner but soup, hash, and lettuce, put them on the table in style: serve them in three courses, and one will imagine it a much better dinner than if carelessly served.
Let it be remembered that the above is the rule prescribed for every-day living. With large dinner parties, the plan might be changed, in one respect, i. e., in having the dishes, in courses, put on the table for exhibition, and then taken off, to be carved quickly and delicately at a side-table by an experienced butler. This gives the host time to entertain his guests at his ease, instead of being absorbed in the fatiguing occupation of carving for twelve or fourteen people.
These rules in France constitute an invariable and daily custom for private dinners, as well as for those of greater pretensions. Every thing is served there also as a separate course, even each vegetable, unless used as a garnish. In America and England this plan is not generally liked, although in both these countries it is adopted by many. Americans like, at least, one vegetable with each substantial, a taste, it is to be hoped, that will not be changed by the dictates of fashion. Then, if dishes are to be carved at a side-table, the one - vegetable plan causes the placing of the principal dish on the table before carving to appear more sensible.
When the butler places a dish on the table, and tarries a moment or so for every one to look at it, if it does not happen to be so very attractive in appearance the performance seems very absurd; but when, after putting on the substantial dish, he places a vegetable dish at the other end of the table, his taking the substantial to carve seems a more rational proceeding.
I would suggest, when there is only one dish for a course, which is to be taken off the table to be carved, that the dish should be put on first; then, that the butler should return for the plates, instead of placing the plates on first, as should be done in all other cases.
At small dinners, I would not have the butler to be carver. It is a graceful and useful accomplishment for a gentleman to know how to carve well. At small dinners, where the dishes can not be large, the attendant labor must be light; and, in this case, does it not seem more hospitable and home-like for the gentleman to carve himself? Does it not disarm restraint, and mark the only difference there is between home and hotel dinners?
In "Gastronomie," M. M. believes in a compromise on the carving question. He says, "There were professional carvers, and this important art was anciently performed at the sound of music, and with appropriate gesticulations. We wish our modern gourmands would follow the very good example of Trimalchio in this respect, and, if they must have their viands carved on the sideboard by servants, take care that, like his carvers, they are trained to his art. We shall take the opportunity of entering our protest against an innovation which is going too far. That some of the more bulky pieces, the pièces de résistance, should be placed on the sideboard, well and good, though even to this Addison objected, and not without reason; but that the fish and the game should be both bestowed and dis-tributed, like rations to paupers, by attendants, who, for the most part, can not distinguish between tbe head and the tail of a mullet, tbe flesh and fin of a turbot, etc., is enough to disturb the digestion of the most tolerant gastronome. We must say that we like to sec our dinner, especially tbe fish, and to see every part of it, in good bands."