Given the acts of unholy barbarism perpetrated yesterday in Paris, I thought it would be worthy to remind TFD Citizens about perhaps the most civilized act in dining – the formal dinner of yore.
Over many years of enjoying meals at some of the finest dining establishments on the planet, even I, the mighty TFD, blanch when confronted with a formal dining setting and situation.
Every moment at an affair of this nature is nuanced and choreographed for elegance – during the 19th century, gentlemen and ladies alike knew how to act accordingly.
This knowledge is sadly almost lost today – so I present it to you in the hopes you will appreciate its subtleties and perhaps even get to use this information yourself someday…
If not – at least you will gain a renewed appreciation for today’s casual dining, Citizens. 😉
For the most exquisite details on how to *act* at a formal dinner – you will find a great resource here.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
A COMPLETE TREATISE OF ANALYTICAL AND PRACTICAL STUDIES ON THE CULINARY ART
Table and Wine Service, How to Prepare and Cook Dishes, an Index for Marketing,
a Great Variety of Bills of Fare for Breakfasts, Luncheons, Dinners, Suppers, Ambigus, Buffets, etc., and a Selection of Interesting Bills of Fare of Delmonico’s, from 1862 to 1894.
MAKING A FRANCO-AMERICAN CULINARY ENCYCLOPEDIA
> BY CHARLES RANHOFER,
CHEF OF DELMONICOS’
Honorary President of the “Société Culinaire Philanthropique” of New York,
ILLUSTRATED WITH 800 PLATES.
CHARLES RANHOFER, PUBLISHER,
682 WEST END AVENUE.
> THE DINNER TABLE, RECEPTION TABLE SERVICE AND WINES. (Le Couvert, Réception, Service de Table et les Vins.)
> TABLE SERVICE FOR TWENTY-FOUR PERSONS.
An oblong shaped table is preferable for a large dinner party, the feet being less incommodious; it must at least be six or seven feet wide and twenty-two feet long, with rounded ends. This shaped table is most generally used, although some prefer round, or horse-shoe ones, or an oblong with square ends, and many other fanciful shapes, depending entirely on the size of the room and the taste of the host.
Tables can be lengthened according to the number of seats desired; the space allowed for each guest is, for a square, table with square ends, two feet apart between each plate; when the ends are curved, the space for the corners must be twenty-two inches apart, and if entirely round, twenty inches.
Cover a table twenty-two by seven with a felt cover made for the purpose, then over this lay a tablecloth twenty-four feet long and eight or nine feet wide, being careful that it is exceedingly white and smooth, having no creases whatever.
Fold a well starched, large napkin, pinch it triangularly, and place it in the center of the table; have twenty-four smaller napkins also well starched, folded and pinched, and place these at the edge of the table and on each one set a plate with another napkin on top, folded either shaped as a boat, a tulip, or any other pretty design, or else the napkin may be simply folded square.
The bread is placed either under the folds or in the center of the napkin, according to the manner in which it is displayed, or on a small plate to the left of the cover. Another way is to place the bread in front of the napkin.
On the left of each plate, lay a table fork and also a fish fork.
On the right set a table knife, a silver fish knife, a soup spoon, also a small fork for oysters or Little Neck clams
In front, but slightly toward the right of each plate, set a small individual salt-cellar. The double silver pepper castors containing black and red pepper are distributed two on each side, and two at each end of the table, with eight single ones between the double ones.
Glasses are placed in a semi-circle either in front of the plate or else on the right; arrange these according to the courses to be served. First, water glass; second, white wine; third, sherry; fourth, Rhine wine; fifth, champagne; and sixth, Bordeaux.
Before serving the entrées remove the white wine, Sherry and Rhine wine glasses and replace them by fine Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses. Glasses intended for dessert wines and liquors, are only put on the table with the dessert.
> THE CENTER LINE OF THE TABLE.
In the center of the table have a large piece of silverware decorated with plants, ferns and natural flowers, or else a high vase or simply a basket of flowers. These baskets or other decorations may be filled with one, or several kinds of variegated flowers, mingling red and white, scarlet and lilac, or Parma violets, or tulips and orchids, these produce a brilliant effect.
(The entire house, staircases, halls, etc., may also be decorated with plants, palms, lemon and orange trees, or rubber plants. Mantels and mirrors to be also wreathed with flowers, or else scattered about in clusters, and have hanging baskets tastefully arranged in prominent corners, so as to add to the general beautiful effect.)
On each side of the center piece and on the center line have two prettily arranged baskets containing seasonable or hot-house fruits; on each side of these, set an ornamental piece, either made of nougat, gum-paste or sugar candy, or should these high pieces not be desirable, others may be substituted either of bronze, or else stands covered with flowers, etc.
On each end of these pieces set either candelabras or lamps, and beyond these high stands of graduated tiers filled with bonbons, cornucopias, Victorias, bonbon boxes, etc., all of them forming the center line of the table.
Around this line, and at about twenty to twenty-four inches from the edge, draw a line the same shape as the table, and on this place decanter stands for decantered wine; two for sherry, four for white wine, and four for red Bordeaux, making ten in all, and the same quantity of decanter stands for decanters containing water, or instead of ten, twenty-four smaller ones may be substituted, one for each person.
Place at intervening spaces, two compote dishes with stewed fruits, four stands for small fancy cakes, two compote dishes for candied or dried fruits, nuts, etc., or else fresh strawberries, raspberries or mulberries, if in season, a saucerful for each person, and finish by interlacing through these dishes as well as the decanters, strings of smilax or any other pretty creeping vine, following around about twenty-four inches from the edge of the table; set into this verdure at various parts, clusters of natural flowers. A table arranged according to this description will be found to have a most charming and pleasing effect.
The diagram of the table should be obtained, and have the names of each guest tastefully written on fancy cards; lay one of these on the right hand glass of each person, in a prominent manner so that it can be read from a distance which will greatly facilitate the seating of the guests.
Procure bouquets of flowers for the ladies, set in fancy vases, tying them with ribbons, and having a pin attached to enable them to fasten them on to their dresses; gentlemen’s button-hole bouquets should also be placed in vases. All these flowers must be in front, but slightly toward the left of each person.
The bills of fare or menus should be placed on the left side, either in silver stands, or set beside the plate.
The host should always be seated so as to face the door leading into the dining-room. The hostess on the other end of the table directly opposite, their respective seats being at the top and bottom of the table. The seat of honor for a lady is on the right hand of the host, and naturally on the right hand of the hostess for a gentleman. The left hand may also be utilized as seats of honor but of minor importance.
A dining room should be kept at a comfortable temperature. The sideboard should be placed at one side of the table, and on this or in the drawers and compartments everything must be arranged in thorough order so as to have them handy, thus avoiding all confusion during dinner.
The entire dessert service including wines to be arranged tastefully on the sideboard, giving a very pretty effect to the room. A service table must either be in the dining-room behind a screen or in a pantry close by; it must contain one or several carving boards, sundry knives and forks, ladles, chafing dishes, etc.
The service must be rapid and the dishes served hot; avoid having anything cooked in advance except the large pieces. Entrées and all smaller dishes should be prepared according to their successive order, as the dinner progresses, at an interval of two or three courses, which means about ten or twenty minutes apart.
A good steward can always manage to protract the dinner in case the cook is behind time, but it is his duty to inform those in the kitchen at least ten minutes beforehand so as to prevent any possible delay; he must also have a duplicate bill of fare from the kitchen identical with the one on the table, and classified according to the service, so as to be able to consult it in order to know exactly which dish follows the other.
When the dinner is ready, the steward must place his help in their respective positions, and give them final instructions regarding their duties; they should be attired in dress suits, white ties and gloves, and wear no jewelry whatever.
In order to serve a ceremonial dinner for twenty-four persons, it will require: a steward, a butler, a carver and six waiters; carefully intrusting the care of the wines to the most intelligent, and the carving to the most expert; the remaining six being for the special table service, they must remain in their respective places to be at the call of the guests should their services be required.
The gentlemen are to be received by a waiter, who before introducing them into the reception room, takes their overcoats, canes, hats, umbrellas, etc., leaving these articles in a place set aside for this purpose, near the reception room, then hands each gentleman an envelope addressed to himself in which there will be found a card bearing the name of the lady he is to escort to the dining-room, and who is to be seated on his right hand during dinner.
Two other waiters attired in full dress, introduce the gentlemen into the reception room adjoining the dining-room, the doors to the latter being closed; in the reception room there should be a small Russian buffet, or simply serve some sherry, Xeres, bitters, vermuth and absinthe, to be handed round on trays to each guest as he arrives.
It is absolutely necessary to have a lady’s maid to receive the ladies, lay aside their outer garments, or any article they may desire to confide to her care; these must be arranged in such a manner as to be easily returned to their respective owners.
The maid must remain and wait, in order to be continually at the disposal of the lady guests.
When all the invited guests have arrived and been duly introduced, the dinner hour having struck, the steward opens the dining-room doors, bows to the host, this being the signal to announce that dinner is served.
The hostess enters the dining-room first, on the arm of the gentleman in whose honor the dinner is given, followed by the other guests, the host being last. Each one sits down at the seats indicated on the cards, and when all are comfortably seated the dinner begins.
The service must be performed silently, a look alone from the steward sufficing for each man to do his duty. Every article handed round must be on a silver salver.
> THE SERVICE.
Oysters. -Little Neck clams are passed around, beginning on one side by the lady on the right and the other side by the gentleman on the right, these being the most distinguished guests; change this method at each course, those being served last before, being the first now.
The butler will pour out the Chablis, stating the name of each wine he serves.
Soup. -There are usually two soups to select from. While serving green turtle offer at the same time lemon cut in quarters.
Sherry should be served with this course.
Side Dishes. -Pass hot hors-d’œuvre; these are served on warm plates. Serve the cold hors d’œuvre at the same time, and should the guest prefer the latter, remove the hot plate at once and substitute a cold one for it.
Sherry or Xeres should accompany this course.
Fish. -If there be two kinds of fish, offer the selection, and pass round the one preferred; should it be boiled or braized fish, have potatoes served at the same time; if broiled or sautéd thinly sliced seasoned fresh cucumbers must accompany it, and if fried fish such as whitebait, serve with thin slices of buttered brown bread and quarters of lemon.
Serve Rhine wine or white Bordeaux.
Removes or Solid Joints. -The removes may be placed on the table before being taken off for carving; if it be a saddle of venison, it should be cooked rare, passing currant jelly at the same time. A saddle of mutton must also be rare and very hot; it can be cut lengthwise at an angle in thin slices or across, although the first way is preferable; serve both these on very hot plates, and have one or two vegetables accompanying them.
Entrées. -The entrées must be served one after the other without placing them on the table beforehand; they must be served on hot plates with one vegetable for each entree, to be either passed round separately or else carefully laid on the same plate, unless it is desired that they be dressed; in this case dress and present to each guest. Serve Bordeaux at the first entrée, and an extra quality of wine at the last; continue serving champagne to those who prefer to drink it until the roast.
> INTERVAL. -SECOND SERVICE.
Iced Punch or Sherbet. -Should there be no ladies present, cigarettes can be handed round at the same time. Remove the two white wine and sherry glasses, and replace them by those used for Burgundy, also remove the cold side dishes. Ten to fifteen minutes must now be allowed between the courses.
Roasts. -The roast may be displayed on the table before carving, this being frequently requested by epicures; should there be several roasts, carve them all at the same time and pass them round according to desire, adding a little watercress for poultry, and should there be canvas-back duck, let currant jelly and fried hominy be served with also a mayonnaise of celery.
Serve the Burgundy from bottles laid flat in baskets, holding the basket in the right hand and a white napkin in the left.
Cold. -Serve the cold dishes after the roast, these to be either goose livers (foies-gras) with truffles or boned turkey. The foies-gras must have a spoon to remove it with, and the boned turkey be cut into thin slices, and offer both to the guest at the same time, accompanied by green salads.
Serve Johannisberg or Vin de Paille.
Now remove everything from the table with the exception of the dessert, and to avoid using a brush lift up the extra napkins in front of each person, folding them in two so that the table is neat and clean without being obliged to use a brush or scraper. Lay the dessert plates on the table, and continue the service for the hot dessert.
Hot Sweet Entremets. -Make a distinct service for the hot entremets, then serve the cheese.
Serve a fine Laffitte Bordeaux.
Cold Sweet Entremets. -Make another service for the cold entremets and ices.
Dessert. -Instead of serving the cheese after the hot entremets it may be done now, which is in fact its proper place; pass around the fresh fruits, stewed, candied and dried fruits, bonbon cases, bonbons, mottoes, ices, strawberries and raspberries with cream when in season, passing cakes around at the same time.
Serve Madeira wine, Muscatel and Frontignan, also plates of salted almonds.
> THE CONCLUSION OF THE DINNER.
It is now time for the hostess to bow, push back her chair and prepare to rise, this being a signal for the ladies to retire; after they have returned to the drawing-room, coffee is passed round on a salver containing spoons, hot water, sugar and cream. A few moments later another waiter comes forward with an empty tray to remove the cups the ladies hand him.
The gentlemen partake of their coffee in the dining-room; at the same time serve them Kirsch, brandy, chartreuse, cigars and cigarettes. The doors are closed and the ladies and waiters have retired so as to allow the gentlemen more freedom to talk among themselves, still it will be necessary to enter the drawing room and dining-room occasionally in order to see whether anything be needed so as to avoid being called as much as possible.
After half an hour or so, the gentlemen will rejoin the ladies in the drawing-room and then tea is served. The tea service is accomplished by passing around on trays, tea, sugar, hot water, cream, cups, spoons and slices of lemon. A few moments later another waiter removes the empty cups on a tray.
After the tea the service is considered to be ended.