The informal lunch is perhaps less understood in this country than in any other, because it is rarely necessary. In the country it is called early dinner, children’s dinner, or ladies’ dinner; in the city, when the gentlemen are all down town, then blossoms out the elaborate ladies’ lunch.
But in England, at a country house, and indeed in London, luncheon is a recognized and very delightful meal, at which the most distinguished men and women meet over a joint and a cherry tart, and talk and laugh for an hour without the restraint of the late and formal dinner.
It occupies a prominent place in the history of hospitality, and Lord Houghton, among others, was famous for his unceremonious lunches. As it is understood to be an informal meal, the invitations are generally sent only a short time before the day for which the recipient is invited, and are written in the first person. Lord Houghton’s were apt to be simply, “Come and lunch with me to-morrow.” At our prominent places of summer resort, ladies who have houses of their own generally give their male friends a carte blanche invitation to luncheon. They are expected to avail themselves of it without ceremony, and at
Newport the table is always laid with the “extra knife and fork,” or two or three, as may be thought necessary. Ladies, however, should be definitely asked to this meal as to others.
It is a very convenient meal, as it permits of an irregular number, of a superfluity of ladies or gentlemen; it is chatty and easy, and is neither troublesome nor expensive.
The hour of luncheon is stated, but severe punctuality is not insisted upon. A guest who is told that he may drop in at half-past one o’clock every day will be forgiven if he comes as late as two.
Ladies may come in their hats or bonnets; gentlemen in lawn-tennis suits, if they wish. It is incumbent upon the hostess but not upon the host to be present. It is quite immaterial where the guests sit, and they go in separately, not arm-in-arm.
Either white or colored table-cloths are equally proper, and some people use the bare mahogany, but this is unusual.
The most convenient and easy-going luncheons are served from the buffet or side-table, and the guests help themselves to cold ham, tongue, roast beef, etc. The fruit and wine and bread should stand on the table.
Each chair has in front of it two plates, a napkin with bread, two knives, two forks and spoons, a small salt-cellar, and three glasses–a tumbler for water, a claret glass, and a sherry glass.
Bouillon is sometimes offered in summer, but not often. If served well, it should be in cups. Dishes
of dressed salad, a cold fowl, game, or hot chops, can be put before the hostess or passed by the servant. Soup and fish are never offered at these luncheons. Some people prefer a hot lunch, and chops, birds on toast, or a beefsteak, with mashed potatoes, asparagus, or green pease, are suitable dishes.
It is proper at a country place to offer a full luncheon, or to have a cold joint on the sideboard; and after the more serious part of the luncheon has been removed, the hostess can dismiss the servants, and serve the ice-cream or tart herself, with the assistance of her guests. Clean plates, knives, and forks should be in readiness.
In England a “hot joint” is always served from the sideboard. In fact, an English luncheon is exactly what a plain American dinner was formerly–a roast of mutton or beef, a few vegetables, a tart, some fruit, and a glass of sherry. But we have changed the practice considerably, and now our luxurious country offers nothing plain.
In this country one waiter generally remains during the whole meal, and serves the table as he would at dinner–only with less ceremony. It is perfectly proper at luncheon for any one to rise and help himself to what he wishes.
Tea and coffee are never served after luncheon in the drawing-room or dining-room. People are not expected to remain long after luncheon, as the lady of the house may have engagements for the afternoon.
In many houses the butler arranges the luncheon, table with flowers or fruit, plates of thin bread-and
butter, jellies, creams, cakes, and preserves, a dish of cold salmon mayonnaise, and decanters of sherry and claret. He places a cold ham or chicken on the sideboard, and a pitcher of ice-water on a side-table, and then leaves the dining-room, and takes no heed of the baser wants of humanity until dinner-time. An underman or footman takes the place of this lofty being, and waits at table.
In more modest houses, where there is only a maid-servant or one man, all arrangements for the luncheon and for expected guests should be made immediately after breakfast.
If the children dine with the family at luncheon, it, of course, becomes an important meal, and should include one hot dish and a simple dessert.
It is well for people living in the country, and with a certain degree of style, to study up the methods of making salads and cold dishes, for these come in so admirably for luncheon that they often save a hostess great mortification. By attention to small details a very humble repast may be most elegant. A silver bread-basket for the thin slices of bread, a pretty cheese-dish, a napkin around the cheese, pats of butter in a pretty dish, flowers in vases, fruits neatly served–these things cost little, but they add a zest to the pleasures of the table.
If a hot luncheon is served, it is not etiquette to put the vegetables on the table as at dinner; they should be handed by the waiter. The luncheon-table is already full of the articles for dessert, and there is no place for the vegetables. The hot entrées or cold entrées are placed before the master or mistress, and
each guest is asked what he prefers. The whole aspect of luncheon is thus made perfectly informal.
If a lady gives a more formal lunch, and has it served à la Russe, the first entrée–let us say chops and green pease–is handed by the waiter, commencing with the lady who sits on the right hand of the master of the house. This is followed by vegetables. Plates having been renewed, a salad and some cold ham can be offered. The waiter fills the glasses with sherry, or offers claret. When champagne is served at lunch, it is immediately after the first dish has been served, and claret and sherry are not then given unless asked for.
After the salad a fresh plate, with a dessert-spoon and small fork upon it, is placed before each person. The ice-cream, pie, or pudding is then placed in front of the hostess, who cuts it, and puts a portion on each plate. After these dainties have been discussed, a glass plate, serviette, and finger-bowl are placed before each guest for fruit. The servant takes the plate from his mistress after she has filled it, and hands it to the lady of first consideration, and so on. When only members of the family are present at luncheon, the mistress of the house is helped first.
Fruit tarts, pudding, sweet omelette, jellies, blancmange, and ice-cream are all proper dessert for luncheon; also luncheon cake, or the plainer sorts of loaf-cake.
It is well in all households, if possible, for the children to breakfast and lunch with their parents. The teaching of table manners cannot be begun too soon. But children should never be allowed to trouble
guests. If not old enough to behave well at table, guests should not be invited to the meals at which they are present. It is very trying to parents, guests, and servants.
When luncheon is to be an agreeable social repast, which guests are expected to share, then the children should dine elsewhere. No mother succeeds better in the rearing of her children than she who has a nursery dining-room, where, under her own eye, her bantlings are properly fed. It is not so much trouble, either, as one would think.
Table mats are no longer used in stylish houses, either at luncheon or at dinner. The waiter should have a coarse towel in the butler’s pantry, and wipe each dish before he puts it on the table.
Menu-cards are never used at luncheon. Salt-cellars and small water carafes may be placed up and down the luncheon-table.
In our country, where servants run away and leave their mistress when she is expecting guests, it is well to be able to improvise a dish from such materials as may be at hand. Nothing is better than a cod mayonnaise. A cod boiled in the morning is a friend in the afternoon. When it is cold remove the skin and bones. For sauce put some thick cream in a porcelain saucepan, and thicken it with corn-flour which has been mixed with cold water. When it begins to boil, stir in the beaten yolks of two eggs. As it cools, beat it well to prevent it from becoming lumpy, and when nearly cold, stir in the juice of two lemons, a little tarragon vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a soupcon of Cayenne pepper. Peel and slice some very ripe tomatoes
or cold potatoes; steep them in vinegar, with Cayenne, powdered ginger, and plenty of salt; lay these around the fish, and cover with the cream sauce. This makes a very elegant cold dish for luncheon. The tomatoes or potatoes should be taken out of the vinegar and carefully drained before they are placed around the fish.
Some giblets carefully saved from the ducks, geese, or chickens of yesterday’s dinner should be stewed in good beef stock, and then set away to cool. Put them in a stewpan with dried split pease, and boil them until they are reduced to pulp; serve this mixture hot on toast, and, if properly flavored with salt and pepper, you have a good luncheon dish.
Vegetable salads of beet-root, potatoes, and lettuce are always delicious, and the careful housewife who rises early in the morning and provides a round of cold corned beef, plenty of bread, and a luncheon cake, need not regret the ephemeral cook, or fear the coming city guest.
Every country housewife should learn to garnish dishes with capers, a border of water-cresses, plain parsley, or vegetables cut into fancy forms.
Potatoes, eggs, and cold hashed meats, in their unadorned simplicity, do not come under the head of luxuries. But if the hashed meat is carefully warmed and well flavored, and put on toast, if the potatoes are chopped and browned and put around the meat, if the eggs are boiled, sliced, and laid around as a garnish, and a few capers and a border of parsley added, you have a Delmonico ragout that Brillat-Savarin would have enjoyed.