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One’s dining-room should be large enough to enable a person to pass food around the table comfortably when the family or guests are all seated. It should also be light and sunny, and easily heated and ventilated.
The most essential pieces of furniture are a table of generous width, capable of being enlarged, comfortable chairs, and a sideboard. After that, if the room be large enough and the purse will admit of the purchase of a cabinet or two, with glass fronts and sides, so much the better. In these there can be kept dainty bits of china and glassware.
These cabinets will brighten a dining-room more than anything else you can put into it, possibly excepting pictures. If there be no room for a cabinet, a corner cupboard and some hanging shelves will be a great addition. Pictures that suggest pleasant things are, of course, always desirable.
A few thrifty ferns, flowering plants, or evergreens add a great deal to the brightness and beauty of any room, but particularly the dining-room. Have them there if you possibly can.
Setting the Table.
The table should stand in the middle of the room. Cover it with a thick felt or a double-faced Canton flannel cloth. Over this spread the white damask cloth, having the centre fold come exactly in the centre of the table. Pass the hand over the cloth to make it lie smooth.
If there be a centrepiece, carving, or tray cloths, or table mats, have them lie perfectly straight and smooth on the cloth. At each seat place on the right the knives, spoons, and glasses; on the left, the forks and napkins. Have the edge of the knife toward the plate.
Lay the forks with the tines up, and the spoons with the bowls up. Have the spacing between the seats regular, and the space between the knife and fork about seven inches. Set the glasses at the points of the knives. If individual salt-cellars and pepper bottles be used, they are to be placed at the head of the plates; otherwise, place the cellars and bottles at the corners of the table.
The tablespoons may be placed at the corners of the table, or near the dishes where they will be required in serving. In the centre of the table there may be set a dish of flowers or fruit.
These general directions apply to the setting of the table for any meal. Nearly all housekeepers have their own ideas about the arrangement of the table, thus securing variety and individuality.
Refinement not Exclusively for the Rich.
The incomes and style of living in this country have such a wide range that it would be impossible to give here directions for the table service which would meet the wants of all classes.
The woman of limited means who does her own work could not serve her meals the same as one who keeps one or more servants. As far as possible she will so arrange her meals that it shall not be necessary to rise from the table more than once or twice.
Indeed, it is possible to have everything on the table for breakfast, tea, or luncheon, but at dinner time the meat, vegetables, and soiled plates should be removed before the dessert is put on. No woman, no matter how simply she lives, should get into a slipshod way of serving her meals.
The table can be made, and should be, a means of refinement and pleasure. Do not have it ceremonious, yet strive for neatness, brightness, and order. No one has a right to mar the sociability of a meal by bringing a gloomy countenance or disagreeable subject to the table. When the housekeeper has done all she can to make the meal suitable and appetizing, each member of the family should do his or her share to bring life and sunshine into the conversation.
The directions which follow may, it is hoped, be helpful in some degree to the young housekeeper, no matter what her manner of living may be. It is easy to omit all but one or two courses, thus making the table arrangement and service simple; but the general principles may be observed just the same.
At the Breakfast Table.
Breakfast being the plainest meal of the day, the arrangement of the table should always be simple. The cloth should be spotless. At each person’s seat place a knife, fork, teaspoon or dessert spoon, tumbler, and napkin, and if fresh fruit is to be served, a finger bowl, if there be no servant.
If you have a waitress, she will place the finger bowls on as you finish with the fruit. If fresh fruit be served, there must also be placed at each seat a fruit knife and plate. Have the dish of fruit in the centre of the table. Have a tray cloth at each end of the table.
Place a little butter plate near the top of each plate. Put four tablespoons on the table, either in two corners, or beside the dishes where they will be used in serving. Put the carving knife and fork at the head of the table, and the cups and saucers, sugar and cream, coffee-pot, hot-water bowl, and the mush dishes at the other end.
The mistress of the house serves the mush, and when the fruit and this course have been served, the dishes are removed and the hot plates and other food brought in; the head of the house serving the hot meats, etc., while the mistress pours the coffee.
It sometimes happens that a man of business lacks time to serve breakfast, in which case the mistress of the house attends to that duty. If there be a waitress, she passes the plates when they are ready; also the bread, butter, and coffee.
The hostess usually puts the sugar and cream in the coffee, first asking each one if he will have these additions. After all have been served, it is quite common to dismiss the waitress, ringing for her if her services be again required.
When there is but one servant, the family help each other after the breakfast has been placed upon the table. Fresh water is good for most people, and each person should be served with a tumblerful on taking a seat at the table. If there be hot cakes or waffles, they should come after the meats, and there should be a fresh set of warm plates, as well as of knives and forks.
The Dinner Table.
The silver required depends upon the number of courses to be served, but a few suggestions may help one to decide what is proper for her own table.
The silver for all the courses except the dessert may be put on the table when it is set, or it may be placed there by the waitress as needed for each course.
Dinner plates are placed on the table or not, when it is set, as one pleases. The silver needed for an ordinary course dinner would be a small fork for raw oysters, tablespoon for soup, fork for fish, knife and fork for meat, and fork for salad; carving knife and fork at the head of the table, soup ladle at the head of the mistress’s plate, and, if the dinner be served from the table, spoons for serving.
In the centre of the table set rather a low dish containing flowers or ferns. On each side of it place some small dishes of pretty design for olives, salted almonds, confectionery, and such things; or these small dishes may be set in the corners of the table.
If the dinner is to be served on the table, the small dishes should be put in the corners; but if it is to be served from the sideboard, such dishes may be placed wherever they look best and are most convenient. Lay the tablespoons in pairs; in the corners, of course, if the dinner is to be served on the table. In the fold of each napkin lay a small square of bread or a small roll.
The fruit and dishes for the dessert may be disposed on the sideboard. All the dishes for a handsome dinner service may be of one pattern, or for each course a different kind of china may be used. For the olives, almonds, etc., it is desirable to have bits of cut glass, or pretty little china dishes. Such wares are used much more than silver.
The dishes on which fish, meats, and entrées are served may be round, oval, square, plain white, or richly colored Chinese or Japanese ware. The plates for the several courses are, of course, carefully to be kept hot or cold, as each course may require, until serving time.
After-dinner coffee cups, when all are of different patterns, give a remarkably pretty effect. Indeed, there is so much that is beautiful in table-ware nowadays that one can have a handsome service with means either large or limited.
Luncheon and Tea.
Family luncheons and teas are rarely served in courses. Tea, cocoa, or chocolate is, as a rule, served at these meals, so that the table is set in practically the same manner as for breakfast; but the plates are placed for each person, and unless there be meat to carve, the carving knife and fork are not put on.
The bread, butter, cake, preserves, etc., are placed on the table when it is set. If hot meats, vegetables, soup, or cakes be served, the cold plates must be changed for hot ones. When meats, vegetables, or salads have been served at these meals, the plates should be changed before the cake and preserves are passed.
For luncheon, such dishes as these are suitable: eggs in any form, soups, salads, cold meats, with baked or warmed up potatoes, any kind of broiled meat or fish, any simple made dish, fresh fruit, stewed fruit, preserves, cake, gingerbread, etc.
Any dish (except soup and fresh fruit) that you serve for luncheons will be suitable for tea.
Duties of the Waitress.
Although every housekeeper may have some methods peculiarly her own in the matter of waiting upon the table, still there are some customs that are almost universal in refined households.
If the water has not already been poured, the waitress pours it as soon as the guests sit down at the table. If there be raw oysters, they should be served first. Usually they are arranged on the plates, and placed at each person’s seat before the guests come in.
When the oyster plates have been removed, the soup tureen and hot soup plates are placed before the hostess. The waitress lifts the cover off the tureen, inverting it at once, that no drops of steam shall fall from it, and carries it from the room.
The hostess puts a ladleful of soup into each plate and hands it to the waitress, who places it before the guests, going in every case to the right hand side. Some hostesses always serve the ladies first, while others serve the guests in rotation.
The meat is set before the host, the vegetables being placed before the hostess or on the sideboard, as one chooses. The waitress passes each plate as the host hands it to her. She then passes vegetables, bread, sauce, etc.
The salad is to be served by the hostess. After that the table is brushed and the dessert is brought in and placed before the hostess. The coffee follows. If fruit be served, it is passed before the coffee.
Finger bowls are brought in after the made dessert has been served. A dainty doily is spread on a dessert plate and the finger bowl placed on this. The bowl should be about one quarter full of water. Each guest lifts the bowl and doily from the plate and places them at the left hand side. The doily is never to be used to wipe the fingers.
A good waitress will not pile one dish upon another when removing them from the table. She should be provided with a tray for all the smaller dishes, and should remove the plates one or two at a time.
All dishes from which people help themselves, such as vegetables, bread, butter, etc., should be passed at the left; those that are set before people, such as soup plates, clean plates, water glasses, finger bowls, etc., should be passed at the right.
Serving Meals without a Servant.
A housekeeper who keeps no servant is often puzzled as to how to serve dessert, how to serve the other dishes at dinner, whether the plates should be distributed on the table or placed beside the carver, and so forth.
The conditions are so different in different families that no arbitrary rules can be given for these things, but here are a few suggestions which may be helpful.
Have everything ready in the kitchen to put on the table without delay, and place the dishes where they will keep hot until wanted. Eggs in any form must, of course, be served as soon as cooked; therefore they must be timed very carefully.
The mush should be put on the table at the housekeeper’s own place, and served in saucers or little dishes that come for that purpose. Any one who does not eat mush or fruit may decline it, and wait for the next course. After the mush has been served, remove the dishes, and place the rest of the breakfast on the table.
The plates should be hot, and be piled before or at one side of the carver. While he is serving, pour the coffee. When there is another member of the family who can put the second course on the table, the housekeeper should be relieved of this part of the work.
It is hard on a woman not only to have to prepare the breakfast, but also to rise from the table, bring in the second course and serve this, as she often must, since, as a rule, men are in a hurry in the morning and cannot assist their wives in serving the breakfast.