•• With a few friends, and a few dishes dine, And much of mirth and moderate wine."
A dinner of twelve or more covers, to which formal invitations have been sent, should consist of eighl to twelve courses, rather less than more. Careful attention should be given to the selection of each course that it will so harmoniously blend with the others that the result may be a gastronomic symphony.
Although violent contrasts must be offered to pique the appetite, the dinner should rise from a mild beginning, gradually increasing in force until the piece de resistance, or roast, is reached, then should daintily descend to the dessert: and with the coffee and cordials will come the satisfaction to the diner that he has been gloriously entertained, but not repleted.
The fastidious individuality of the hostess should always be en evidence, and one with many servants may, with propriety, make this a most elaborate affair ; but with a little forethought in selecting a menu containing dishes which may be prepared in advance, some even the day before, the inexperienced house-keeper will be able to offer her guests a dainty repast, pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate, with a small number of assistants - one to cook, one or two to serve, and one to lend a hand will be all that are necessary. The experienced house-keeper, however, will be equal to the occasion with even less assistance if she will give her attention to a few well-selected courses cooked to perfection and daintily served. Avoid ostentation ; remember that simplicity is the ruling spirit of the day. There have been so many excellent books written giving directions for the care of the dining-room and its accessories that many details will not be mentioned here.. The writer's intention is only to suggest to the young house-keeper the best and simplest methods of arranging a table and of serving and removing each course.
The cover and arrangement of the table are of the utmost importance, as the slightest departure from mathematical regularity and immaculate cleanliness is slovenly and must not be tolerated by our hostess of to-day.
A round, square, or oblong table covered with a thick cotton-flannel cloth or pad under a fine linen damask without crease or wrinkle, and the best you can afford, is the first requisite. On rare occasions this cloth may be of satin damask or of handsome lace over satin, but if this is attempted, all of the table appointments must be equally "smart," and the dinner itself must be an epicure's dream. Whether this cloth be simple or sumptuous, it must hang over at least a quarter of a yard on side.
The place for each guest and the necessary plate, knives, forks, glasses, etc., constitute the cover.
The next consideration is this cover or place for each guest. Allow at least twenty inches for every person, and more, for elbow room, if you can spare it. At each cover place the best ten-inch plate you have ; this is called the service-plate and should be placed on the table before dinner is announced, to be left on until the fish or first hot course after the soup is served. It is now considered good form always to have a plate in front of each guest until dessert, but this is an unimportant detail and depends somewhat upon the number of servants ; the hostess should suit her own convenience. The service-plate should be placed exactly in the middle of the space allotted to each person, and about an inch from the edge of the table. Place at the right of the service-plate as many knives as will be required before the dessert, each one with the sharp edge turned toward the plate and in the order in which they will be needed, beginning at the extreme right. At the right of the knives place the spoon for soup, which should be a table-spoon or soup-spoon, with the inside of the bowl turned up ; then the oyster-fork or small fork for canapes. At the left place as many forks as will be needed before the dessert, unless you are to have many courses, when too much small silver would look like display. Place forks in the order in which they are to be used, the fish-fork at the extreme left and the entree fork next; then the fork for the roast, which, of course, should be the largest; then the fork for game or salad, all with the tines turned up, the last fork close to the plate. If sherbet is served it is a temptation, if you have choice spoons, to place them on the table from the beginning, but it is in better taste to have them on the plates with the sherbet. If on the table they should be outside of the oyster-fork, or for a luncheon in front of the service-plate, as there are not so many glasses to take the room. If more knives or forks are required, they may be quietly placed at the covers just before the course needing them is served. If there are not many courses, the dessert fork and spoon may be on the table from the beginning. Place fork next to the plate with the other forks, and the spoon in front of the plate beneath the sherbet-spoon if it be used.
At the upper right hand of the plate, near the cen-tre, place a goblet for water; then place the wine-glasses in the order in which they are to be as beginning near the points of the knives, reaching the goblet in a semi-circle. If many wines are a double semi-circle may be formed, beginning with the sherry-glass and ending with the _ diagram of cover.)
The napkins should be large and of fine quality. They should be folded in ironing four times : then when ready to use fold them once with the hand. slipping between the folds, but in sight, a dinner-roll, bread-stick, or piece of bread cut two inches long by one and a half thick. Place the napkins at the . of the forks if there is space, otherwise place them on the service-plate.
If dinner-cards are used, and they usually are f<>r conveniens in seating the guests, they should be placed upon the napkin. These cards may be plain and small, with only the name of the guest written upon them, or they may have also in the upper left-hand corner or centre the monogram or initials of the hostess, or a dainty hand painting; any of these are correct and in good taste.
An allowable exception to the general rule of "no furbelows"* is the name of the guest in silver or gilt lettering on the end of a ribbon. This ribbon may be narrow and tied around a bunch of flowers, or it may be broad and laid flat between the covers, the other end connected with a basket or bunch of flowers, these bunches or baskets forming the centre-piece, which, of course, is demolished when the repast is over. Let it be thoroughly understood, however, that these favors are only for ladies.
Menu-cards are seldom used at small dinners, unless there is an artistic or amusing feature to be illustrated ; men and women are expected to be sufficiently entertaining to require no literary or childish aids to conversation. The practical object of the menu-card is to give guests an opportunity to save capacity for specially delectable courses, but this will not be necessary in the dainty dinners which our hostess will give.
Much attention should be given to the selection of guests and placing of name-cards at the covers to insure a successful and harmonious entertainment. There should be good listeners as well as fine talkers, and here the tact of the hostess is called into play to avoid anything like a contretemps. The hostess should either tell each gentleman, as he is received, the name of the particular lady he is to take out to dinner, or the name should be written on a small card and placed in an envelope addressed to the gentleman and put in a conspicuous place in the dressing-room ; R. or L. in corner of card designating the side of table on entering room. When dinner is announced, the host offers his arm to the lady for whom the dinner is given, or the one who is to be seated at his right, followed by the guests, the hostess closing the procession with the gentleman to be honored or the one whom she intends seating at her right hand.
A few hints regarding the decoration of the table must be given here, though the fashion of to-day may be out of date to-morrow. Perhaps one feels inclined to be in touch with the latest whim, especially if it has a raison d'etre. Extreme simplicity, and a desire for artistic effect combined with the practical, is the order of the day. The appearance of millinery must be avoided, consequently lace and ribbon furbelows are not used for the adornment of the table. A centre-piece of fine linen, or the flowers in the pattern of the table-cloth, exquisitely and delicately embroidered - or a fine linen, with insertion and border of heavy altar-lace, and glass or silver bowls and vases filled with an artistic arrangement of flowers and vines - are a sufficient embellishment for the most elaborate feast, although small bunches of flowers, or single flowers placed at each cover, are a delicate attention much appreciated by the ladies, and in perfectly good taste. Let the hand of madame be manifest, and beware of the wiles of the florist. Small silver or glass dishes, containing relishes, bonbons, and salted nuts, are usually placed on the table, though fashion decrees now that their place is on the side-table; but with the possession of antique silver and Venetian glass one may dare to be a little less up to date. The same may be said of choice decanters and coasters - one can hardly be expected to put them out of sight. It is scarcely necessary to say that butter-plates should not be placed on the table at a formal repast. It is supposed that care has been taken to supply each course with all requirements in the way of seasoning and sauces, and condiments are served as they are needed.
An important feature of the entertainment is the illumination, and it requires more serious consideration than is usually given it. Unless the hostess is in the first flush of youth, and her guests are all equally fortunate, she should eschew all abominations in the way of glaring, unshaded ceiling lights, whether of gas or electricity. The most effective and artistic illumination is a soft light from candles or lamps, not higher than the head of the tallest guest, and if this is not sufficient, it should come from the sides of the room, or from a low, shaded centre chandelier, and never from near the ceiling, high over the heads of the guests. Such a light, which always throws sad shadows upon the faces of beautiful women, makes mournful the most joyous occasion.
There are two ways of serving a formal dinner, both equally "good form," and the one chosen should depend upon the convenience and taste of the hostess. The most formal way, and perhaps the most convenient, if there is the helping hand in the butler's pan-try, is to serve each course from the pantry neatly arranged on individual plates, the butler or waitress having the tray in the left hand, putting the plate containing the portion upon it, taking it to the right side of each guest, and with the right hand placing it upon the service plate until after the soup or bouillon course which is removed with the service plate, then it in front of the guest and close to the edge of the table. Then, if anything is to be served with the course, it should be placed on the tray and passed the left side of each guest, being held low enough enable the guest to help himself with his right hand.
If it is desired to follow the fashionable method always having a plate before each guest until dessert, then the tray should be dispensed with in placing the course. Remove from the right with the left hand and place the following course or empty plate with the right hand also from the right. Guests should be served in rotation. beginning alternately at the right and left of the host and hostess, going in opposite direction for each successive course.
The other and more simple way of serving is to have the course artistically arranged and cut in small pi< on a large dish or platter, accompanied by the neces-sary serving-spoon, knife, or fork, and put on a tray, or. if too large, held in the hands carefully and offered to the left of each guest - of course, after plates, knives, or forks for the course have been placed. To remove each course, wait until everyone has finished, then take the tray in the left hand and with the right hand remove the plate from the right, placing it on the tray. If the knife or fork is accidentally left on the table by a thoughtless guest, it should be taken up quietly and put on the plate on the tray. Do not remove more than one plate at a time, or all belonging to the course at each cover. It is very bad form to pile one plate on top of another when clearing the table. If it is not convenient to take so much time, dispense with the tray and take one plate in each hand, thus removing two at a time. Remember this is the formal dinner, and there is supposed to be plenty of time and numerous servants.
Wine should be poured into the glasses from the right, and should follow the serving of each course.
Black coffee in small cups, followed by cordials in tiny glasses, is the last course, and should precede the finger-bowls, unless the fashionable method is observed of serving coffee and cordials to the ladies in the drawing-room, while the gentlemen are left at the table to become anecdotal over their cigars and their liqueurs ; then the finger-bowls should be placed before the ladies leave the table.
It is considered quite " smart" in some social circles to serve cocktails just before dinner is announced or immediately after the guests are seated at table, and this appetizer is a twin to the fashion of cigarette-smoking during the dinner and after by the ladies ; but our hostess of to-day will lose no friends by excluding this pair of bohemians from her dinners and luncheons.
There are two things to remember - that guests are invited for social intercourse, and that the machinery of serving should run so smoothly and quietly that there will be no interruption to the conversation. The most successful entertainment is the one that is so simply and quietly served as to be beyond criticism. The natural desire to exhibit rare possessions of silver and glass should be the only excuse for departing from the fashion of the hour, which, let me repeat, is simplicity.