Family Dinner Table - Its Furniture And Equipment
THE lady of the house should not allow her plate to be removed until all her guests have finished eating.
The service and arrangement of one's table must of course vary largely with one's income, but it is a mistake to let all the expenditure be for the food alone; part of it should be reserved for refined appointments of the table, - fine linen, napkins of generous size, pretty china and glass, and well-polished silver.
A lady whose generous and well-ordered table was always a pleasure merely to look at, said to the writer, " We have decided to have flowers on table every day this winter, and to make up for the additional expense by having one dish less in our bill of fare; " a very pretty idea, and a hygienic one too, for a rich man's table. We cannot all afford to have hot-house flowers in winter; but we can afford to have spotless table-linen, and to keep the silver bright and shining, — two very important adjuncts to a well-ordered dinner-table.
It is the decree of fashion now that the same napkin must never appear twice on table without being washed in the interim; hence napkin-rings have gone out of favor, and are not considered in good style. Of course this fashion makes great demands upon the laundress, and cannot well be adopted by large families of moderate means; but for every one who can afford it, for every one who wishes to have her table appointed with elegance, it is indispensable that the napkins should be changed every day and the table-cloths very frequently.
Large napkins spread on the table-cloth underneath the dishes containing meat are a great protection, as they prevent the spattering of the cloth by the carver:
A white table-cloth should always be used for dinner; the pretty tinted cloths and napkins that look so tempting in the windows of the linen draper may be used for breakfast or luncheon, but are not en régle for dinner.
A table-cloth should not only be snowy-white and perfectly fresh, it should also be very carefully ironed, and carefully folded before it is ironed, in order that it may lie smooth and even on the table. Where one has been poorly ironed, or has been too stiffly starched, it will hump up in wrinkles in a way that is very unseemly. There should always be an undercloth, not only to make the table-cloth lie smooth, but also to prevent the heat of the dishes from marring the table. White Canton flannel of extra width is the best material for this purpose.
Table-cloths should be of fine linen; a coarse cloth is almost certain to offend a delicate taste. Double damask is thought to wear better than single, though it is more expensive, and very pretty fine cloths can be bought in single damask. It is now fashionable to embroider table-linen with the initials or crest of the family; the latter may be placed on the napkins, and should be very delicately worked, and made of small size, in white thread, since nothing is more vulgar than an ostentatious display of heraldic devices in this republican country.
For the table-cloths the initials may be somewhat larger.
For dinner, very large napkins are now used, for breakfast and luncheon, they should be rather smaller; for a formal luncheon, they may be of the same size as dinner napkins. For tea, breakfast napkins are of the right size to use, although the little fringed or fancy doilies are liked better by some people. A napkin should never be stiff; very little starch should be put in it. It should also be perfectly dry, and simply folded, lying beside or on the plate, with a roll or thick short piece of bread en-closed, or placed upon it. Bread should never be put on the table at dinner save in this fashion. There should always be a reserve supply ready on the side-table for those who like a great deal of the staff of life.
How should a napkin be arranged? According to strict etiquette, it should not be fully unfolded and spread out, but should be laid across the knees, partially opened.
The master of ceremonies in the time of Louis Napoleon considered it a decided breach of the etiquette of the table to unfold the napkin entirely and spread it out. But this is a very absurd and unpractical custom, especially for people who are apt to drop their food; and almost every one does so occasionally. I merely give it as the strict rule for formal occasions and for very careful eaters.
For everyday use, and for ordinary people, the proper and usual way is to spread the napkin over the knees; it should never be placed at the neck, save for children, nor should it be tucked into a buttonhole.
Should the napkin be folded on leaving the table? It should never be, at a formal or ceremonious meal. At a dinner-party, for instance, no one thinks in these days of folding up a napkin; indeed, the custom is going out of favor generally, as a logical corollary of the fashion of having fresh napkins at every meal. Still, if one is staying at another person's house, and is uncertain what its customs may be, the best way is to watch the hostess and to do as she does in the matter; because if the lady of the house does not intend to provide clean napery at every meal, her guests must conform to her usages, otherwise they will appear careless and underbred.
Fruit napkins were formerly brought in with the dessert, placed on the dessert-plate beneath the finger-bowl. They have now gone out of fashion, ornamental doilies taking their place. Pears, peaches and other juicy fruits, are eaten with a knife and fork, hence the fingers do not become much soiled. The tips alone should be placed for a moment in the finger-bowl, then drawn daintily across the lips, and dried on the dinner-napkin.
The large caster-stands which were formerly placed in the centre of the table have now gone entirely out of style, and are replaced by small silver stands for pepper — an owl is a favorite shape for them — placed at the four corners of the table, or one at each plate.
Oil and vinegar are usually placed on the sideboard only, but may be put on the table at an informal meal in little ornamental glass bottles or jugs. Mustard also is relegated to the sideboard by most people. At a formal dinner, mustard, oil and vinegar, are not permitted on the table. To tell the truth, they are seldom required at such a meal, where every dish has its proper seasoning and sauce ready provided.
The old-fashioned caster-stand was such an ugly and awkward thing that it certainly deserved sentence of banishment. Nor can one regret the exile of the spoon-tumbler, which is now rarely used.
The truth is that the aesthetic movement in this country is nowhere more visible than in the arrangement and appointments of the table. We have made wonderful advances in this matter during the last ten years, and the changes that have taken place are all in the direction of greater elegance and refinement.
We have grown more indolent too in proportion as we have grown more luxurious, and the appointments of the table are not only more elegant in themselves, they are also such as to obviate the necessity of any passing of dishes save by the servants. We require these to be better trained now than formerly, and to wait more quietly and more constantly.
Platters and other large dishes are held on the fiat of the hand, with a napkin beneath them. A large fork and spoon is placed in each dish, which is held low, so that people can help themselves easily. Small articles may be handed on a little silver or brass tray or waiter. This is a very great improvement upon the old-fashioned method by which the servant grasped the dish in her hand, often placing her thumbs unpleasantly near the food.
On the other hand, the banishment of mats from the table polite is not an unmixed blessing. Many servants find great difficulty in replacing the dishes in their exact places; and the mat was a great assistance to them in this respect, besides the saving of the cloth that it effected. While it is not used in connection with a table-cloth, the mat sometimes replaces the doily on the bare tables now fashionable.
Individual salt-cellars are much used now, and from these it is entirely proper to help yourself with your clean knife if no salt-spoon has been provided. But house-keepers should remember that where salt-spoons are not used, the salt should be thrown out and replaced by fresh at every meal. Tiny silver spoons are now made, to accompany individual salt-sellers.
The crumb-brush is not used nearly as much as was formerly the case, for the very good reason that it must almost necessarily be somewhat soiled, since it cannot be washed easily and often, like a crumb-scraper or a napkin. A silver crumb-scraper with a plate or tray may be used for clearing the table, though a folded napkin is preferable on formal occasions because it makes less noise.
It has. been said in another chapter that separate plates for vegetables are not considered to be in good style. An exception to this rule is made in the case of salad. Where this is served at the same time with vegetables and meat or fish, it is always proper to have a second plate for it, about the size of a tea-plate. The reason is an obvious one; namely, the unpleasant mixture that would ensue if the oil and vinegar from the dressing should mingle with the vegetables. Crescent-shaped salad plates, matching the dinner plates, and fitting against the side, are both pretty and convenient.
Where no vegetable is served with the salad, a second plate is not needed. Thus fish, with cucumber or tomato salad, calls for one plate only; but if potato is served in addition, then a second is required. It is better, however, to serve the fish with only one accompaniment, either salad or potato, instead of both. No vegetable except potato can be served with fish. At a formal meal, only one plate is provided for the regular salad course, even though it is served with birds.
Butter is now banished even from the family dinner-' table by people who follow modern customs. It should be placed upon the sideboard and passed around when sweet potatoes, sweet corn, etc., are served. If butter is used at dinner, an individual butter-plate should al-ways be provided for each person, as otherwise the combination of hot dinner-plates with melting butter slipping down their edges is far from agreeable. For breakfast and luncheon, bread and butter plates should be used, with butter or other small silver knives.
( Originally Published 1911 )
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Permanent And Transient Institutions In Society
Uses Of Society
Frankness Of Modern Manners
Visiting Cards And Their Uses
Dinners, And How To Give Them
Dinners - Service And Arrangements Of The Table
Etiquette Of The Table
Family Dinner Table - Its Furniture And Equipment
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