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How to Set a Dinner Table and Serve Guests

This is an interesting article in the back of the White House Cookbook. It speaks of how to set your table and entertain guests back in the early 1900's.
Resource: (White House Cookbook © 1922)

Serving lady

In laying the table for dinner all the linen should be a spotless white throughout, and underneath the linen tablecloth should be spread one of thick cotton-flannel or baize, which gives the linen a heavier and finer appearance, also deadening the sound of moving dishes.

Folded Napkins

Large and neatly folded napkins (ironed without starch), with pieces of bread three or four inches long, placed between the folds, but not to completely conceal it, are laid on each plate. An ornamental centre-piece, or a vase filled with a few rare flowers, is put gone into disuse, and is rarely seen now on well-appointed tables. A few choice flowers make a charming variety in the appearance of even the most simply laid table, and a pleasing variety at table is quite as essential to the enjoyment of the repast as is a good choice of dishes, for the eye in fact should be gratified as much as the plate.

Appearance of the Dinner Table

All dishes should be arranged in harmony with the decorations of the flowers, such as covers, relishes, confectionery, and small sweets. Garnishing of dishes has also a great deal to do with the appearance of a dinner table, each dish garnished sufficiently to be in good taste without looking absurd.

Beside each plate should be laid as many knives, forks and spoons as will be required for the several courses, unless the hostess prefers to have them brought on with each change. A glass of water, and when wine is served glasses for it, and individual salt-cellars may be placed at every plate. Water bottles are now much in vogue with corresponding tumblers to cover them; these, accompanied with dishes of broken ice, may be arranged in suitable places. When butter is served a special knife is used, and that, with all other required service, may be left to the judgment and taste of the hostess, in the proper placing of the various aids to her guest's comfort.

Dessert Plates

The dessert plates should be set ready, each with a doily and a finger glass partly filled with water, in which is dropped a slice of lemon; these with extra knives, forks and spoons, should be on the side-board ready to be placed beside the guest between the courses when required.

If preferred, the "dinner" may all be served from the side-table, thus relieving the host from the task of carving. A plate is set before each guest, and the dish carved is presented by the waiter on the left-hand side of each guest. At the end of each course the plates give way for those of the next. If not served from the side-table, the dishes are served and placed upon the waiter's salver, to be laid by that attendant before the guest.

The First Course

Soup and fish being the first course, plates of soup are usually placed on the table before the dinner is announced; if the hostess wishes the soup served at the table, the soup, and the warm soup-plates are placed before the seat of the hostess. Soup and fish being disposed of, then come the joints or roasts, entrees (made dishes), poultry, etc., also relishes.

After dishes have been passed that are required no more, such as vegetables, hot sauces, etc. the dishes containing them may be set upon the side-board, ready to be taken away.

Jellies and sauces, when not to be eaten as a dessert, should be helped on the dinner-plate, not on a small side dish as was the former usage.

Your Manners

If a dish be on the table, some parts of which are preferred to others, according to taste of the individuals, all should have the opportunity of choice. The host will simply ask each one if he has any preference for a particular part; if he replies in the negative, you, are not to repeat the question, nor insist that he must have a preference. Do not attempt to enlogize your dishes, or apologize that you cannot recommend them--this is extreme bad taste; as also is the vaunting of the excellence of your wines, etc., etc.

Do not insist upon your guests partaking of particular dishes. Do not ask persons more than once, and never force a supply upon their plates. It is ill-bred, though common, to press any one to eat; and, moreover, it is a great annoyance to many.

What to Serve

In winter, plates should always be warmed, but not made hot. Two kinds of animal food, or two kinds of dessert, should not be eaten off of one plate, and there should never be more than two kinds of vegetables with one course. Asparagus, green corn, cauliflower and raw tomatoes comprise one course in place of a salad. All meats should be baked, or boiled, never fried or broiled. Baked ham may be used in every course after fish, sliced thin and handed after the regular course is disposed of.

The hostess should retain her plate knife and fork, until her guests have finished.

Serving Dessert

The crumb-brush is not used until the preparation for bringing in the dessert; then all the glasses are removed, except the the flowers, the water-tumblers, and the glass of wine which the guest wishes to retain with his dessert. The dessert plate containing the finger bowl, also a dessert knife and fork, should then be set before each guest, who at once removes the finger-bowl and its doily, and the knife and fork to the table, leaving the plate ready to be used for any dessert chosen.

Finely sifted sugar should always be placed upon the table to be used with puddings, pies, fruit, etc., and if cream is required, let it stand by the dish it is to be served with.

To lay a dessert for a small entertainment and a few guests outside of the family, it may consist simply of two dishes of fresh fruit in season, two of dried fruits and two each of cakes and nuts.

Coffee and Tea Service

Coffee and tea are served lastly, poured into tiny cups and served clear, passed around on a tray to each guest, then the sugar and cream passed that each person may be allowed to season his black coffee or cafe noir to suit himself.

Simple Guests

A family dinner, even with a few friends, can be made quite attractive and satisfactory without much display or expense; consisting first of good soup, then fish garnished with suitable additions, followed by a roast; then vegetables and some made dishes, a salad, crackers, cheese and olives, then dessert. This sensible meal, well cooked and neatly served, is pleasing to almost any one, and is within the means of any housekeeper in ordinary circumstances.

Pictures of Kitchen Items from the 1900's

Want to see some pictures of things they used in the 1900's? I found a replica Sears Catalog at a thrift store. Every page is unique and interesting, and the prices very cheap. First let's look at some of the popular kitchen stoves they used. I had to keep the pictures large so you can read what they say.

How they heated the house in the winter

Acme Air tight Heater and Heating Stove and radiators
Sheet Air Tight Heating Stove
Acme Brillant Hard Coal Heater (Fancy $20.00!)

What they cooked on

Acme Royal Range
New 1901 Model Acme Princess Stove
Acme Royal Coal Cook Stove
Acme Sterling Steel Range... Nickel Plated Stoves
Resevoir Steel Range for coal or wood

What they cooked with in the early 1900's

Most of the cooking utensils are made of enameled steel, they remind me of items we use nowadays to go camping. Teapots and Coffee pots, soup ladles, Fancy enameled pearl agate and chocolate coffee pots. This page also has chamber pots

This page has cake pans, muffin pans, water pails, deep pudding pans, saucepans, milk pans, all made from Peerless Enameled Steel

Meat Choppers and Coffee Mills, sausage stuffer, fruit and lard press; ice skates and coffee mills

How they washed their clothes

Want to see a really interesting page? Check out the 1900's washing machines. They advertise the Wayne Combination Washer, the Western Conqueror, the Western Star, the No. 22 Anthony Wayne Washer, the St. Louis Washer, and the Colombia Standard. Be sure to read the instructions on how they use them.

This page of 1900's Washers has the original Good Luck Washer, the Electric Washer, the Virginia Rotary Washer, the 55 cent washer (which looks like a funnel on the end of a stick), and 2 columns of "Wringers" for stationary tubs.

Refrigerators and Milkshake Machines!

Here's the Refrigerators and Ice Boxes. Absolutely amazing! Single Door and Double Door Refrigerators made with Michigan Ash. Milkshake Machines, and Ice Cream Freezers, Lemon Squeezers and Cork Pullers.

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1900's How to Set a Dinner Table
How to Correctly Serve Food
Basic Table Manners
Basic Use of Silverware
What did the Colonists Eat for Breakfast
What did the Settlers eat for Dinner
Did the Colonists have Lunch?
Brief History of Flour Milling

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