THE Dessert has been, not inaptly, described as being a "charming field of battle given up to a troop of joyous foragers." We are supposed to have struggled manfully through the previous phases of the repast, and having defeated and driven away the baser edibles, victory and its fruits reward us for our zeal. And since "all the world's a stage," then surely is dinner the most interesting and principal performance that takes place upon it - a daily drama in which the finishing is, or ought to be, the crowning of the work; for whether the play has commenced with a prelude of potage or an overture of oysters, all the services which succeed until the appearance of the last are but preliminaries which, when united, simply form the preface, or, more properly speaking, the prologue of the most important, the last, the culminating course of all - The Dessert. From the beginning of the banquet the interest has been gradually and skilfully worked up; the plot has steadily thickened, until the scene is shifted to the dessert, and we are afforded either a delightful denouement or, as it sometimes turns out, a deplorable catastrophe. Oh, Amphitryons all! have it your care that the piece ends not terribly, but triumphantly! It should be the epic or heroic of an entertainment. Do not compromise the character of an otherwise decent dinner by providing but an indifferent dessert. Think of the magnificent means at your disposal, the trophies of fruit, the treasures of wine, the gem-like jellies, the dainty sweets, and the glorious flowers you may call into requisition! Make the most of so elegant an observance as a dessert, and celebrate it well. Profusion is not needful; taste is everything; then endeavour to evince a certain style in serving what you have, and though you have but little at command, try and testify to your friends in what dear honour they are held, not by the substantiality of the refreshments you spread before them, but by the refinement, the lightness, the delicacy of the "friandises" which you can make to embellish your table, and appear to be invested with the grace of votive offerings spread before your guests. Dinner may be said to sustain the body and dessert the mind. It is no longer a question of deriving material sustenance from what is before us; it is understood that the mere animal instinct of hunger has already been appeased, finer senses than gustativeness have now to be gratified, we are to be propitiated principally by effect—the current of ideas has to be directed, imagination awakened, the heart made cheerful, and the olfactory and the visual organs agreeably excited. To do all this the dessert should be made to resemble as much as possible an al fresco entertainment, not only the viands and embellishments, but each individual convive contributing to the furtherance of this end; and it fortunately happens that by the time the last "entremets" has been removed from the table, and the last drop of choice Medoc has been drained from our glasses, we have acquired the most desirably-pronounced festive qualifications: constraint has quite disappeared, we own ourselves entirely at ease, the embarrassing feeling of isolation each experienced at the opening of the banquet has given place to pleasurable sensations of responsive amity, and from a fully-satisfied appetite has resulted the tenderest sympathy for our fellow convives; conversation no longer languishes, but is animated and general, eyes brighten, cheeks glow, wines circulate, mirth predominates, and we are irresistibly captivated and enchanted by the display of only those things which are susceptible of inspiring agreeable ideas, by promoting our mental rather than our material enjoyment. Of course this picture does not apply to those ungenerous churls whose ideas of the duties of dessert-giving are so narrow that they are content to carry out their conviviality through the medium merely of Marsala and hard biscuits, or simply sherry and seed-cake, or only "home-made ginger" and dried figs. Of these mean-spirited people I do not speak, but only allude to those whose hospitality has been ripened and perfected by length of practice, and who have learnt to take a kindly interest both in the variety of the comestibles with which they regale their guests, and in the equally important auxiliary - the embellishment of their tables.
Pommes A La PortugaisePare seven or nine small apples, halve them, scoop out the cores, and fill the hollows thus made with some quince marmalade, put the halved apples together again, lay them in a baking-dish, strew them well over with pounded loaf-sugar, and pour into the dish half a pint of claret. Place them in an exceedingly slow oven, and let them stay until they are thoroughly tender. Arrange them in a dessert-dish, and when cold strew more sugar plentifully upon them. Apricot or peach marmalade may be employed instead of the quince. Pears thus treated are excellent.
Quotation for the Day.
I prefer to regard a dessert as I would imagine the perfect woman: subtle, a little bittersweet, not blowsy and extrovert; delicately made up, not highly rouged; holding back, not exposing everything and, of course, with a flavor that lasts.
If the flavor of the Portuguese apples is half as floral as that of the prose, it'd be a delightful friandise indeed.
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