This section is from the "The New Home Cook Book" book, by Ladies Of Chicago Et Al. Also available from Amazon: The Home Cook Book: Tried, Tested, Proved.
Directions for a ceremonious dinner naturally include those for the family table, as much form in serving being kept as may be convenient.
The number of guests for a state dinner, even such as are given by the President and Secretary of State, at Washington, rarely exceeds twelve.
Written invitations are always complimentary and in finer style than any other for small parties, but persons who entertain often, have engraved cards with blanks left for the name of guest, and date, for convenience. The following is the form adopted by Tiffany & Co. for dinner cards, a large, nearly square form being used:
Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Hoyt, Request the pleasure of
_____________________________________date and No.
The favor of an answer is requested, (or) R. s. v. p.
For a gentleman's party the host's name alone appears on the invitation. An early answer must be sent in all cases, either to accept or to decline. Not to do so, is the grossest rudeness.
Invitations are always sent to persons in the same town by private messenger. Outside envelopes are necessary only when sent by mail to another city. No particular excuse need be sent. It is enough to say
"Mr. and Mrs.
------regret that they are unable to accept Mr. and Mrs.
------ kind invitation for the date named." When the dinner is to meet any particular guest or distinguished person, it is made known by the words, " To meet So and So," at the head of the invitation, or after the name of the invited person before the date.
Written invitations are on note sheets of mill-finished paper with side fold, the fancy rough and the highly glazed papers of eccentric shapes and fold being out of use. The large envelope, nearly square, allows the sheet to be doubled once to fit. Cards have the same finish, neither dull, nor highly polished. The cipher of initials entwined is preferred to the monogram, and occupies the corner of the note sheet
Guests arrive at any time during the half hour before dinner, and after leaving wraps in the dressing room, are met by the host and hostess at the door of the drawing-room. Introductions follow if the guest is a stranger. If the party is given in honor of any distinguished person, or favorite visitor, the other guests are brought up to him or her, and presented. It is an omen of success for her evening if the hostess can make conversation general before dinner. To this end, have some novelty at hand, either in the shape of a personage whom everybody wants to meet, or a new picture, a grotesque group, a rare plant in the drawing-room, the latest spice of news to tell, or a pretty girl to bring forward. Whatever the attraction, bring it on at once, to prevent that very stupid half hour. At the hour, the servant comes in and tells the hostess dinner is served. The arranging of the guests has all been considered beforehand. If she wishes people to think her dinner a pleasant one, the hostess will see that the likings of her guests are consulted in pairing off for the table. Host and hostess intimate to the gentlemen whom they are to escort. "Mr. Lance, will you be kind enough to take Miss Dart in to dinner? Mr. Curtis, be so good as to see to Mrs. Vane. Jermingham, I know you'd prefer Miss Olney, she's such a good listener. Mr. King, if you want to finish telling that story to Mrs. Capron, suppose you give her your arm," and so on. If the guest to be honored is a lady, the host offers her his arm and goes out first, the hostess last. If a gentleman, he escorts the hostess and the host follows the company. Before dinner is announced, after the guests have arrived, the host has the names of each person written on a card and laid on the plates at the place where he or she is to sit. This does away with that awkward moment when the guests are in the dining room waiting to be told their places. The method long used at public dinners is now adopted for private ones in the best circles here and abroad.
The standard size for dinner tables is four and-a-half feet wide, by any length desired. Round tables for gentlemen's dinners, where all are wanted in the conversation are made seven feet across. For the costly dinner parties given in his white marble mansion, Mr. A. T. Stewart has a dining table five feet by twenty, and there are one or two larger held by dinner givers in the city. For his intimate parties, Mr. William Butler Duncan has a round table seven feet across, and we hear of English tables of twelve feet, the napery for which has to be woven to order. Dining chairs should have cushioned seats covered with fine leather, but no arms, or very low ones that will not impede the flow of ladies' dresses. People who make a study of entertaining are particular on such points. Each gentleman offers his right arm to the lady he takes to dinner and seats her on his left, which gives occasion for a pretty piece of attention on his part. On reaching their places, he draws out her chair for her, and as her hand leaves his arm he takes the tips of her fingers and hands her to her seat, relinquishing his touch with a slight bow or glance of acknowledgement. Of course, the honored guest, if a lady, takes the right hand of the host; if a gentleman, he is at the right of the hostess.
Small can-shaped pitchers of engraved crystal, holding about a quart, are placed with ice water between each pair of guests. The napkins are folded flat, with a thick piece of bread on each, a cruet-stand and silver salt cellar is at each corner, and a silver butter dish at each end. The small individual salt cellars and butter plates, have an air of hotel arrangements which it is desirable to avoid at home dinners, though entirely admissible and convenient at breakfast. If wax lights are used, there should be as many candles as guests, according to the old rule. These are in branches held by Sevres and Dresden figures, above the heads of the guests. Nor are wax lights by any means the extravagance they seem. Dinner napkins are from three-quarters to seven-eights of a yard square, and should match the cloth, for which Greek, Moresque, and Celtic filigrees and diaper patterns are preferred to large arabesques and fruit pieces. French napkins of fine fringed damask, with crimson figures of lobster and crawfish woven in the centre, are sometimes used at first and removed with the fish. Decorations must be choice and used with discretion. Flowers should be fine but few, for cultivated senses find their odor does not mingle pleasantly with that of food. All artificial contrivances, like epergnes and show-pieces, tin gutters lined with moss and filled with flowers for the edges of a table, or mirror plates to reflect baskets of blossoms, are banished by the latest and best taste. The finest fruit grouped in the centre of the table, set off with leaves, the garnished dishes, the lustre of glass and silver, and the colors of delicately painted china, need no improvement as a picture. A low silver basket of flowers at the sides, and a crystal bouquet holder with a delicate blossom and leaf, sparingly introduced, are all that is allowed for ornament's sake. Large dinner services of one pattern are no longer chosen. The meats and large dishes are in silver or electrotype ware, the sweets come in heavy English cut crystal, and each course brings with it plates of a different ware.
The order of wines is sometimes perplexing, and the novice should remember that Chablis or Sauterne comes with the small oysters before soup, and that Sherry is drank after soup and with fish. Claret may be taken by those who prefer it during a whole dinner with entire propriety. Champagne comes with the roast, and Burgundy with game. The French and Germans reserve champagne for a dessert wine, but we drink it with both roast and dessert. After dessert comes coffee, which with us is served at table, not in the drawing-room. Fingerbowls with warm water are placed on the napkin on the dessert plate, and removed by the guest to the left, to be used by dipping the fingers in lightly and drying them on the d'oylay. When the ladies are quite through with dessert the hostess catches the eye of each or raises her gloved hand slightly, as a signal, and they leave the table, the oldest lady going first, the youngest last, followed by the hostess — the youngest gentleman, or the one nearest the door, taking it on himself to hold the door open. After half an hour a guest is at liberty to withdraw, but a dinner party rarely breaks up till half past ten or later, if cards and dancing follow.
As to the individual etiquette of the table, on seating himself a guest draws off his gloves, and lays them in his lap under the napkin, which should be spread lightly, not tucked in the dress. The raw oysters are eaten with a fork; the soup, only a ladleful to each plate, is sipped from the side of the spoon, without noise, or tilting the plate. The head should never stoop toward the plate or cup, but the shoulders be kept straight and the food lifted to the mouth, the head being naturally bent a little. A quiet celerity in eating is preferable to the majestic deliberation which many people consider genteel. Bread should be broken, never cut at table, and should be eaten morsel by morsel, not crumbed into soup or gravy. Food should not be mixed on the plate. Sweet corn is brought on, tied in its husk by a strip of leaf, and should be eaten from the cob, breaking the ear in two, and holding the piece in the left hand. Asparagus should not be touched with the fingers, but the tender part cut up, and eaten with the fork. Fish is eaten with the fork, asssisted by a piece of bread in the left hand. Maccaroni is cut and taken with the fork, unless served with the tomatoes, when a teaspoon is allowed, as with green peas, and stewed tomatoes alone. Cheese is crumbled with the fork and eaten with it, never touched by the fingers. Pastry should be broken by the fork without the aid of a knife. Game and chicken are cut up, never picked with the fingers, unless in the indulgence of a family dinner, when the bone may be held in one hand and eaten. Pears are held by the stem to be paired, and then cut and eaten like apples, beginning to remove the skin at the blossom end. Oranges are held on a fork while peeled and divided without breaking the skin. Cherries in pie, or natural, should have the stones passed to the napkin held at the lips and returned to the plate, and grape seeds and skins are disposed of in the same way. Salt is left on the edge of the plate, not on the table. Ladies take but a single glass of wine, at most having their glasses half-filled with champagne a second time. It is beginning to be the custom to take soft bread as well as ice cream with cake. Cocoanut pudding looks like pie, but is helped and eaten with a spoon. Small meringues are best eaten with a spoon, though the prac-tice is to take them in the fingers.
Nothing at the table is so indicative of ill-breeding as loud or boisterous talking. It is the height of impropriety for one guest to monopolize the attention of all the others. Conversation should ordinarily be confined to one's immediate neighbors and should be conducted in a natural and sincere manner. Between courses the conversation may with propriety be made more general.