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MARTHA SEZ: How to throw a classic Christmas party

December 1, 2017
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

This holiday season, many Americans long for a return to a more decorous time, when people gave sumptuous Christmas parties and guests behaved with propriety, when no one brought up politics, religion or gluten or tried to make you eat kale.

Once again, I offer helpful advice on holiday entertaining with the following excerpts from my great-grandmother Nellie Richardson Clizbe's trusty guide, "The Successful Housekeeper," by M. W. Ellsworth, published in Detroit, Michigan, in 1886.

"Decoration of the dinner table: It is quite impossible for the average female mind to confront unmoved the delightful possibilities today afforded by the service of a dinner table. Times have changed since the mistress of a household thought it necessary to set before her guest a feast like the day-dream of Ichabod Crane, where 'the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese swimming in their own gravy, and the ducks pairing cozily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce.' The now universal dinner a la Russe has limited each course to the one dish offered at a time, with its companion sauce or vegetable.

"The dinner a la Russe is a most enjoyable style of dinner giving, for the reason that the host and hostess are left at full liberty to entertain their guests; but no method of serving dinner is more dependent on the efficiency of servants. Ordinary domestics are not equal to the task.

"'Giving a dinner party' in days gone by meant a good deal of hard work for the housewife and the daughters or sisters of the family, hours of seclusion in a pantry with curls tucked up under a pastry cap, and dress obscured by a gingham apron, weighing, measuring, egg-beating, almond blanching, icing, garnishing, seasoning, tasting, and invariably gossiping!-all this, and much more, till the lavish banquet was ready and waiting the guests.

"The march of civilization and modern degeneracy have materially lessened the labors of dinner giving in the present. A word of admonition to be given to the servant about the warmth of the soup, the chill of the oysters, etc., before the mistress vanishes into her dressing room, soon to reappear and take her place, watchful, gracious, yet unconscious, as hostess of the feast!

"Artists, authors, musicians and literary savants should not be invited for the purpose of entertaining the guests. It is not in good taste to urge people to sing, play or read when it is their business to do these things in public. They are supposed to attend for recreation and pleasure.

"When the soup is on the table, the butler or waiter will announce that dinner is served, and the hostess will then lead the way to the dining room with the most distinguished male guest, while the host takes the lady of greatest social position, and the other guests pair off according to preference, or a hint from the hostess."

Courses in the order in which they should be served: "Oysters on the half shell, mock turtle soup, fish, olives, cucumbers, mushrooms on toast, with sherry. Entrees: filet de boeuf, potatoes a la reine, green pease, boiled turkey, oyster sauce, potatoes a la duchesse, celery salad, haunch venison, currant jelly, lettuce salad, quail on toast, potato croquettes, dressed salad, chicken salad, pate of sweetbreads, cheese crackers, bisque, brown pudding with brandy sauce, with champagne, red wine and claret. Dessert: Ices, wine, jellies, fruits, nuts, raisins, bonbons, cake, confectionery, black coffee, cordials, sherry."

(Were all of these foods to be served at the same meal?)

"A word to the guest: When using the knife and fork, never embrace the air with your elbows, to the annoyance of your neighbors.

"Never make a clattering noise with knife or fork. Never dissect your food with knife and fork as if you expect to find something. To point your knife or fork at any dish or object is very ill-bred, as it is to twirl it in conversation. People in good society do not fill their mouth with food to such an extent that speech is impossible.

"It is almost impossible to commit any dangerous rudeness with the spoon.

"It is now a disputed question whether waiters should be thanked by guests when served, but this has always been observed in the best society, whether verbally, or by a slight inclination of the head."

Have a good week!

 
 

 

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