A wonderful book has come into my possession, and I want to share some of its contents with you today. It is The Whole Art of Dining, with Notes on the Subject of Serving, by J. Rey, published in London in 1921. With Thanksgiving already upon many of us, and Christmas imminent, its advice is very timely indeed.
The book provides a marvellous glimpse into dining with the aristocratic - or at least the rich and famous - in the first decades of the twentieth century, and it is, as the title suggests, a veritable treasure trove of practical advice on how to emulate those folk.
Those of you about to celebrate Thanksgiving have presumably shopped till you have dropped, cooked until you have dropped further, and will eat until you fall over completely. All that is left in the preparation is to set the table and serve the dinner. I will forbear to repeat the instructions on exactly how many inches from the centre of the plate to put each piece of cutlery and go straight to the bigger picture.
In the following extracts the author is referring to service à la Russe, which is the style of service we are familiar with today, with each course being served sequentially to each individual diner.
“The service à la Russe does not admit of anything being placed on the centre of the table except the floral decorations, and in no case may any hot dish be placed upon it.
If the dinner is not one of very great “etiquette”, it is permissible to put on the table a “Pàté de fois gras truffé” or a Galantine de Faisan habillée, if they are artistically arranged; also a pretty “corbeille” made of sugar filled with bon-bons and friandises.
If the dinner is “en famille” it is permissible to put the water jugs and wine decanters on the table; also the fruit in fruit stands; but in a case of a dinner of etiquette in a house of the aristocracy, nothing whatever is put on the centre of the table but the flowers, candlesticks, salt and pepper.
To ensure rapid and efficient service everything required during the meal should be placed beforehand on the side-boards and serving table, such as large cold plates for cold meat or fowl, salad plates, sweet plates, reserve knives and forks of all kinds, all the requisites for carving, soup spoons, spoons for gravy, glasses for water and liqueurs, reserve bread, butter, ice, English and French mustard, various kinds of sauces (such as A1, Worcestershire Sauce, etc.), cut brown bread and butter and Chili vinegar if there are oysters, lemons cut in four for fried fish, chutney if there is curry, currant jelly if there is roast mutton or venison, dry biscuits and celery if there is cheese to be served, etc, etc.
In addition, fruit plates must be prepared, each with their corresponding white d’oyleys, glass finger-bowl and silver fruit knife and fork. The water for the finger-bowls should be slightly warmed in winter, but as cool as possible in summer. In houses and hotels de luxe it is customary to put just a dash of rose-water or a slice of lemon into the finger-bowls.
If everything is properly prepared beforehand, a dinner of twelve or fourteen covers can be easily served, in the dining room, by two waiters and an extra butler to serve the wines and liqueurs. If the kitchen and pantry are far away from the dining room, it is always better to have a young assistant to help the carry dishes etc. In a private house it could be arranged to have two servants (men or women) in the dining room, two more to fetch and carry the dishes and plates, and the butler to direct the service and serve the wines, etc. At a dinner of etiquette it is the custom for the waiters or servants to always wear white gloves, white ties, and white waistcoats.
A full dinner, modern style, consists of the following courses:
I.- Hors d’oeuvre varies (or oysters or caviar); II.- Two soups (one thick and one clear): III.- Two kinds of fish (one large boiled, the other small fried); IV.- An entrée; V.- The joint or “pièce de resistance”; VI.- The sorbet; VII.- The roast and salad; VIII.- A dish of vegetables; IX.- A hot sweet; X.- An ice-cream and wafers; XI.- Dessert (fresh and dry fruits); XII.- The coffee and liqueurs.”
Well, I do hope you have all that food organised, and the white gloves for your butler and waiters are freshly laundered!
As the recipe for the day, I give you a lovely sorbet (two variations, actually) which will suit many occasions. It is from one of my favourite sources – Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s)
Sorbet of Kirschenwasser.
Make some ice as follows:- Mix thoroughly a pint of syrup at 35o, and a pint of Chablis. Strain the mixture through silk into a freezing pan and freeze in the usual way. When frozen, flavour it with three table-spoonfuls of kirshenwasser. Put the sorbet into glasses, and serve at dinner with the roasts.
Sorbet of Rum.
Make the ice as before, but before freezing mix with the sorbet a quarter of a pint of strained lemon juice. When frozen, flavour with three table-spoonfuls of fine old Jamaica rum, and serve it in glasses with the roasts.