An animated controversy for a long time existed as to the best mode of serving a dinner. Two distinct and clearly de-fined styles, known as the English and Russian, each having its advantages and disadvantages, were the subject of contention. It is perhaps fortunate that a compromise between them has been so generally adopted by the fashionable classes in En-gland, France, and America as to constitute a new style, which supersedes, in a measure, the other two.
In serving a dinner a la Russe, the table is decorated by placing the dessert in a tasteful manner around a centre-piece of flowers. This furnishes a happy mode of gratifying other senses than that of taste; for while the appetite is being satis-fied, the flowers exhale their fragrance, and give to the eye what never fails to please the refined and cultivated guest.
In this style the dishes are brought to the table already carved, and ready for serving, thus depriving the cook of the power to display his decorative art, and the host of his skill in carving. Each dish is served as a separate course, only one vegetable being allowed for a course, unless used merely for the purpose of garnishing.
The English mode is to set the whole of each course, often containing many dishes, at once upon the table. Such dishes as require carving, after having been once placed on the dinner-table, are removed to a side-table, and there carved by an expert servant. Serving several dishes at one time, of course, impairs the quality of many, on account of the impossibility of keeping them hot. This might, in fact, render some dishes quite worth-less.
And now, before giving the details of serving a dinner on the newer compromise plan, I will describe the "setting" or arrange ing of the table, which may be advantageously adopted, what-ever the mode of serving.
In the first place, a round table five feet in diameter is the best calculated to show off a dinner. If of this size, it may be decorated to great advantage, and conveniently used for six or eight persons, without enlargement.
Put a thick baize under the table-cloth. This is quite indispensable. It prevents noise, and the finest and handsomest table - linen looks comparatively thin and sleazy on a bare table.
Do not put starch in the napkins, as it renders them stiff and disagreeable, and only a very little in the table-cloth. They should be thick enough, and, at the same time, of fine enough texture, to have firmness without starch. Too much can not be said as to the pleasant efïect of a dinner, when the table-linen is of spotless purity, and the dishes and silver are perfectly bright.
Although many ornaments may be used in decorating the table, yet nothing is so pretty and so indicative of a refincd taste as flowers. If you have no épergne for them, use a compotier or raised dish, with a plate upon the top, to hold cut flowers; or place flower-pots with blossoming plants on the table. A net-work of wire, painted green, or of wood or crochet work, may be used to conceal the roughness of the flower-pot. A still prettier arrangement is to set the pot in a jardinière vase.
At a dinner party, place a little bouquet by the side of the plate of each lady, in a small glass or silver bouquet - holder. At the gentlemen's plates put a little bunch of three or four flowers, called a boutonnière, in the folds of the napkin. As soon as the gentlemen are seated at table, they may attach them to the left lapel of the coat.
Place the dessert in two or four fancy dessert - dishes around the centre-piece, which, by-the-way, should not be high enough to obstruct the view of persons sitting at opposite sides of the table. The dessert will consist of fruits, fresh or candied, preserved ginger, or preserves of any kind, fancy cakes, candies, nuts, raisins, etc.
Put as many knives, forks, and spoons by the side of the plate of each person as will be necessary to use in all the different courses. Place the knives and spoons on the right side, and the forks on the left side, of the plates. This saves the trouble of replacing a knife and fork or spoon as each course is brought on. Many prefer the latter arrangement, as they object to the appearance of so many knives, etc., by the sides of a plate. This is, of course, a matter of taste. I concede the preferable appearance of the latter plan, but confess a great liking for any arrangement which saves extra work and confusion.
Put a glass for water, and as many wine-glasses as are necessary at each plate. Fill the water-glass just before the dinner is announced, unless caraffes are used. These are kept on the table all the time, well filled with water, one caraffe being sufficient for two or three persons. All the wine intended to be served decanted should be placed on the table, conveniently arranged at different points.
At opposite sides of the table place salt and pepper stands, together with the different fancy spoons, crossed by their side, which may be necessary at private dinners, for serving dishes.
Select as many plates as will be necessary for all the different courses. Those intended for cold dishes, such as salad, dessert, etc., place on the sideboard, or at any convenient place. Have those plates intended for dessert already prepared, with a finger-bowl on each plate. The finger-glasses should be half filled with water, with a slice of lemon in each, or a geranium leaf and one flower, or a little boutonnière: a sprig of lemon-verbena is pretty, and leaves a pleasant odor on the fingers after pressing it in the bowl. In Paris, the water is generally warm, and scented with peppermint.
Some place folded fruit - napkins under each finger-bowl; others have little fancy net-work mats, made of thread or crochet cotton, which are intended to protect handsome paint-ed dessert-plates from scratches which the finger-bowls might possibly make.