Composing and Serving a Dinner - 1915
The Difference Between a Glutton and a Gourmet
For a Successful Gathering
Composing and Serving a Dinner
In the selection and serving of dinner, there is just as much care required as there is in its preparation. It is necessary to know what sort of food is in season, which should always be preferable, particularly in fish, game, and fowl.
The average dinner of the era consists of relishes; of soup, either a consommé (clear soup) or a thick soup; one kind of fish; one entrée; a sherbet; one roast, either with vegetables, or if preferred, with salad, but either one may be served as a separate course; one or two sweet dishes, such as pudding or ice cream; fruit, cheese, and coffee. A dinner like this can be prepared very elaborately, and of course, much depends on the skill of the cook.
In choosing the various dishes which shall constitute the dinner there shall be as much variety as possible, each course should be distinct and different in taste and preparation.
Beginning with relishes, there are various kinds, such as the plain American relishes, consisting of salted almonds, green or ripe olives, celery or radishes. Many people prefer the so-called French hors-d'oeuvres, which are very appetizing and much liked by the cultivated guest.
These consist of several well-seasoned and spiced dishes, served nicely arranged, on one tray. Very appropriate for this particular course are sardines, sausages, herring salad, hard-boiled eggs or sliced calf's head with vinaigrette dressing, smoked salmon, anchovies, Westphalian ham, mayonnaise of fish, stuffed celery, tomatoes buttered with caviar.
For more elaborate dinners you might select a Russian buffet. Most suitable for such purposes are caviar, pate de foie gras, salami, anchovy, sardines on small diamond-shaped toast spread out on a large platter. The Russian buffet is usually served with the cocktail or sherry in the assembly room of the guests and not at the dining room table.
During the summertime, fruit is greatly favored before the soup, served very cold. Grapefruit, cantaloupe, melons, strawberries or a combination of several of those fruits and mixed with some liquor are greatly favored.
There is another dish which can be served before the soup—that is oysters or clams and a glass of Chablis served with this course will greatly bring out that distinction that hosts and hostesses like to show so much. The soup may be served clear, or thick; when clear, in cups.
In preparing the fish, entree and roast, see that each is prepared in a different way, either with a sauce or sauté style. If the fish is boiled, then see that the entrée is without any rich sauce, nor stewed or boiled. With the fish, you might suggest a glass of Sauterne.
The difference between the entrée and roast should at all times be the color of the meat. If you serve chicken or turkey as a roast, you select dark meat for an entree. For instance, filet mignon or noisette of lamb. If the roast is dark meat, such as game, you select white meat for the entrées —sweet bread, suprême of chicken and veal give you splendid material for delicious entrée dishes.
If you choose an entrée dish of dark meat, serve Claret or Bordeaux wines. If you choose white meat as entrees, serve Rhine or Moselle wines. With the roast is usually served the champagne.
Should there be another course between the entrée and roast, which is known as a gross piece or joint, for instance, a saddle of lamb, a glass of Burgundy is the most suitable wine to be served with it.
With the dessert, you have two choices of dessert wine—either port wine or Tokayer. Cordials and brandies are served with the coffee.
The success of a dinner depends largely on the aforesaid details—the accuracy of service is essential, while the one in charge must at all times see to it that everything, which is to be served hot, is hot, while those dishes which are supposed to be served cold, are cold, and not kept standing for some time in the hot kitchen.
No silent educator in the household has higher rank than the table. Surrounded three times a day by the family, who gather from their various callings and duties, eager for refreshment of body and spirit, its impressions sink deep, and its influences for good or ill form no mean part of the warp and woof of our lives.
Its fresh damask, bright silver, glass, and china give beautiful lessons in neatness, order, and taste; its damask soiled, rumpled and torn, its silver dingy, its glass cloudy and nicked, annoy and vex at first, and then instill their lessons of carelessness and disorder.
An attractive, well-ordered table is an incentive to good manners; and being a place where one is inclined to linger, it tends to control the bad habit of fast eating. An uninviting, disorderly table gives license to vulgar manners and encourages that haste which has proven so deleterious to the health of Americans. It should, therefore, be one of our highest aims to bring our table to perfection in every.
To this end cleanliness, order and taste must be most carefully observed. Beautiful damask has no charm if soiled; but be it ever so old, worn and darned, if white and well-ironed it commands respect. Even where no tablecloth can be afforded, the well-scoured pine table is most welcome and so beautiful in its whiteness that we almost persuade ourselves it is better than damask.
Silver has no attraction if dull and tarnished. Sticky pitcher and teapot handles, streaked china, murky glass, the molasses pitcher dotted with hints of its contents, cruets with necks and stoppers dingy and thick with dried condiments, stray crumbs of bread and spatters of gravy in the lumpy salt of the smeared salt cellars, are almost offensive.
And if moreover, one knows that a similar regime controls the cooking for such a table, though the rolls be ambrosia and the coffee nectar, they cannot tempt the appetite. But the most thorough cleanliness will not atone for lack of order. The tablecloth may be clean and white, but unless well-ironed and laid straight, it is very unsatisfactory.
Then taste must come in for its share. The selection of silver and china, glass and damask, gives fine scope for its exercise. Let all be of beautiful design, the damask particularly, and of as choice a quality as can be afforded. "Extravagant!" you say!
Then can you not dress more simply; and as you purchase a rare painting for the refinement and cultivation of your children, so furnish your table with this beautiful drapery, which is a study in its delicate tracery and artistic groupings.
A fern leaf, a branch of roses, or spray of ivy by your child's plate may prove in later years to have been its first incentive to the study of art.
In the appointments of the table very much depends on refined taste. Without it there may be a stiff bouquet in the center, with flowers fitted together like stones in a mosaic; with it, there would be a loose, graceful arrangement of flowers, with drooping ferns, leaves, and tendrils.
Evidence of taste in the table are particularly acceptable to us, most deservedly so, and always worthy of cultivation, as they take from the grossness of indulgence in mere animal appetite.
Let us give, then, to these three graces of the table—cleanliness, order, and taste—the importance which so justly belongs to them; let us provide an abundant supply of wholesome food, well cooked and well served, and the hours spent at the table shall aid in our education.