Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Aladdins of the Dinner Table.

Today’s story does not focus exclusively on the food at parties and other celebrations, but on another important, and often ignored aspect of hosting such events – the giving of gifts. I hope to inspire you to increased effort in this regard, when you next give a dinner party. Your guests will thank you. Please do invite me, I am sure I will be available on the day.

The following, most inspirational piece comes from a South Australian newspaper, The Register (Adelaide) of 22nd May, 1909.

If you went out to dine on the invitation of a friend and were to find a thousand
dollar stick-pin carelessly fastened to your serviette, or if a ring of clustered diamonds appeared frozen in your glass of wine, you would probably have sensations, and if translucent pearls were to gleam from the hearts of orchids about you, and if all the roses and lilies on the table had diamonds like dewdrops at their centre, it would surely seem to you like the realization of a dream rising mistily from The Arabian Nights. Yet such things as these have really been witnessed at modern banquets; for there are dinners and dinners. We have all had some experience with dinners which were delicious in their gastronomy and perfect in their service. The number of courses and the varieties of wine have varied according to the taste or the prodigality of our hosts. But the modern dinner in these days of uncounted wealth depends neither upon the art of the chef nor the trained skill of the servitors. The antidote for indigestion is now of fabulous value, in order that it may really stir the jaded feelings of a blasé diner-out. For such a one, the rarest creations of a maitre d'hotel possess no novelty; but gold and jewels rouse an appetite which will not respond to mere food, even though preceded by the most piquant aperitif. He accepts the saying of the twentieth-century pundit to the effect that 'better is a dinner where wealth is than a stalled ox amid poverty.'
—Separate Banquet for Each Guest. —
This was evidently the opinion of a Philadelphian when he gave in Paris a, few
years, ago a dinner which is famous in the annals of luxury. He provided both the
stalled ox, and the, wealth, thereby escaping the reproach of 'slowness'  which attached to the customs of the Quaker city. He went far beyond the wildest nights of the Roman Vitellius; for that Emperor, merely gave his guests their choice among 2,000 ‘arrangements' of fish, and 7,ooo of game and fowl, at a feast that cost a beggarly £40,000, at which there was not even one little jewelled surprise for a lady. At the American's banquet, however, each guest was served separately with a dinner that would have been sufficient to maintain an ordinary family for a week. Iridescent fountains, leaping from great blocks' of ice, played and sparkled before every diner, cooling the air and at the same time delighting the eye. The individual menu included a large salmon, a whole leg of mutton, a truffled fowl, a basket of peaches, and innumerable bottles of the rarest wine. In keeping with this lavishness were the jewelled favours. A dainty bag of silk and lace was passed about. Into it each guest thrust his or her hand and drew forth some valuable present — a ring, a scarfpin, a brooch, or some other ornament, ranging in cost from £160 to £300. Another famous jewel banquet was once given by Howard Gould. This dinner began in a quiet way, but presently there was placed upon the table before the host an odd-looking dish of great size, covered with a layer of daintily browned pastry. Amid an expectant hush Mr. Gould slipped through the crust a golden knife, revealing an interior filled with dazzling gems, which were distributed by the handful among the guests. Probably the notion of such a thing originated years ago in Paris at a dinner given by a wealthy nobleman. On this occasion, when the crust was raised, out stepped a dwarf fantastically-dressed, and bearing a silver salver heaped with jewels. This, however, had the merit of wit in addition to the notoriety of lavishness; for the dwarf, in presenting each gift, uttered a clever verse appropriate to the receiver of the jewel. A Chicago millionaire, named Harry Hosenfeld, introduced a novel hiding place for costly favours. At his dinner, clusters of orchids at each place concealed gems, every one of which was valued at more than £300. Another Chicagoan, Nathaniel Moore, provided a novelty at a birthday dinner which he gave in February of last year. He was not content to arrange a theatre party followed by a sumptuous supper but, by a change which reminds one of Aladdin and his lamp, the scene was shifted rapidly from the theatre to a private dinner room at Rectors, which had been transformed into a seeming fairyland. The pillars in the room were draped in
great masses of American Beauty roses (this in the heart of winter), while the tables gleamed with crystal and silver. As each guest took up a napkin, from inside it there fell a leather-covered box, containing some ornament of diamonds or emeralds or pearls.
—Live Swans Gem Bedecked.—
It was Julius Sleyer, a New Yorker, who conceived the idea of giving a swan dinner to 15 men who were his intimate friends. The table was spread in a garden of roses, with bowers of interwoven vines, and hung with clusters of rare fruit. The white columns were hidden by festoons of smilax and evergreens, and in the hollow square formed by the tables was a miniature lake, in which live swans moved grace fully about, their necks encircled by sparkling gems. Below, in the clear water, could be seen goldfish, while the edge of the pool was banked with; rare tropical plants and pond lilies, which half-concealed clusters of coloured lights. Two lavish dinner-givers of the last decade were the late Lawrence Jerome and Howell Osborne. Almost any story of their entertainments will pass unchallenged; and they may be regarded as having initiated the present day, craze for dinners, with a capital D. One banquet at Delmonico's when that restaurant was down town, cost Mr, Jerome £160 a cover — a goodly sum even now: while Howell Osborne give a number of what might be called 'continuous entertainments,' including dinner, a theatre party, a late-supper, and breakfast the next morning. More than once his guest were presented with gifts of jewels of which the value of each extended into four figures.
—When a Diamond King Dines.—
The 'continuous performance entertainment,' however, goes back historically to the year 1470, when George Nevil celebrated his advancement to the high dignity of Archbishop of York. The new Archbishop kept his palace open to all comers for 31 hours. During this time there were consumed 300 swine, 2,000 chickens, 10,ooo sheep. 4,000 ducks, 4,000 deer, 200 tanks of ale, and 140 tanks of wine. Possibly the generous host was severely criticised for giving no jewelled mementoes. In 1906 a celebrated May [?] party was given by a South African diamond king at a fashionable London restaurant. All the accessories of a diamond mine were utilized, and so perfect, was the illusion that the dinner was pronounced the sensation of the year. The floor was covered with sand glittering with tiny specks of mica. Around the table there were arranged great blocks of quartz, in which were embedded well-defined veins of gold. Lumps of blue clay, with small diamond points protruding from it, were also used in the scheme of decoration. There were picks and shovels, and individual lamps to be attached to the “miners'” caps, with bags of gold dust and small nuggets of virgin metal at each place. Turtle soup was served in a huge iron pot by waiters who were coal-black natives imported from Central Africa. At the doors of the dining hall armed Boers stood on guard, carrying pistols and long, murderous-looking knives. It must have been a rather uncomfortable affair: but it was unique in its way, and the gifts of nuggets and gold dust entitle it to a place in the list of beneficiary dinners.
—Plum Stones Were Real Pearls.—
At another London restaurant, about the same time, occurred a Venetian dinner, to called. The courtyard of the hotel was flooded with water which was artificially coloured bright blue. Gondoliers propelled their graceful vessels here and there, and sang the songs of Venice. The guests, who dined in a bower overlooking this artificial lagoon, could see hundreds of goldfish in the water beneath them. Here, again, jewels were the presents given. It creates in one a slight feeling of repulsion to learn that the fish all died in a short time from the effects of the bluing, which had been scattered in the water. Do you recall the famous dish of yellow plums which Prince Potemkin once offered to a dinner party in the Crimea, at which the principal guest was the Empress Catherine of Russia? The pits of the plums were rare pearls, and each guest helped himself to them with a large gold spoon, which he was asked to keep in addition to the pearls. This pleasant little feature served to enliven a dull day and perhaps, to render palatable an indifferently cooked dinner. To-day the time has come when the influence of a really good dinner stamps itself upon a man and transforms him into a good donor.
—Family Dinners. —
There have been some rather extraordinary family dinners, which, in fact, have
eclipsed the banquets already chronicled. Thus, in 1903, Mr. Pabst, the well-known brewer of Milwaukee, presented his wife and four children each with a million-dollar block of stocks in his brewery — five million dollars in all - at a Christmas dinner! Again, the late millionaire, Charles Lockhart, of the Standard Oil Company, prepared a slight surprise for his family. The dinner in question was a pleasant home affair, free from every form of ostentation. But when, after the first course, the plates were removed, little slips of paper were discovered under them, each one displaying a few lines in Mr. Lockhart's characteristic scrawl – “Pay for the order of one million dollars. Charles Lockhart.” Shortly after his death this incident was cited as an example of his eccentricity; but it is probable that he already knew his end to be approaching, and that he gave this large sum of money directly to the members of his family without waiting for the slow processes of the Probate Court. We may picture a still more novel sort of banquet at which, instead of ingots or bags of gold dust or nuggets each lady will find at her place a costly duke, an expensive earl, or even a rare specimen of prince!

Your guests will surely be delighted with the wealth of edible delights on your table, even if you are unable or unwilling to risk choking them with hidden diamonds or little piles of gold dust. Please enjoy the following ideas:

Gold Cake.
Three-quarters of a cup of butter, beaten to a cream, one cup of sugar, the yolks of eight eggs, two cupsful of sifted flour, one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, half a teaspoonful of soda dissolved in half a cup of sweet milk, which must be added lastly; bake one hour in a moderate oven.
Sunday Times (Perth, WA) Sunday 10 September 1905.

Silver Cake.
One cup of sugar, ½  cup of milk, ½ cup butter, ½ cup cornflour, 1 ½ cup of flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, whites of three eggs, vanilla, salt. Beat the butter to a cream and gradually beat in the sugar and add flavouring. Mix the flour and baking powder together. Dissolve the cornflour in the milk and add to the sugar, and butter. The well-beaten whites and flour must be lightly stirred in. Bake about half an hour.

Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld.) Saturday 25 September 1926

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