Manners and social usages,

CHAPTER XXXIV.SUMMER DINNERS.


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There is a season when the lingerers in town accept with pleasure an invitation to the neighboring country house, where the lucky suburban tit likes to entertain his friends. It is to be doubted, however, whether hospitality is an unmixed pleasure to those who extend it. With each blessing of prosperity comes an attendant evil, and a lady who has a country house has always to face the fact that her servants are apt to decamp in a body on Saturday night, and leave her to take care of her guests as best she may. The nearer to town the greater the necessity for running a servant’s omnibus, which shall take the departing offender to the train, and speed the arrival of her successor.

No lady should attempt to entertain in the country who has not a good cook and a very competent waiter or waitress. The latter, if well trained, is in every respect as good as a man, and in some respects more desirable; women-servants are usually quiet, neater than men-servants, as a rule, and require less waiting upon. Both men and women should be required to wear shoes that do not creak, and to be immaculately neat in their attire. Maid-servants should always wear caps and white aprons, and men dress-coats, white cravats, and perfectly fresh linen.

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As the dinners of the opulent, who have butler, waiters, French cook, etc., are quite able to take care of themselves, we prefer to answer the inquiries of those of our correspondents who live in a simple manner, with two or three servants, and who wish to entertain with hospitality and without great expense.

The dining-room of many country houses is small, and not cheerfully furnished. The houses built recently are improved in this respect, however, and now we will imagine a large room that has a pretty outlook on the Hudson, carpeted with fragrant matting, or with a hard-wood floor, on which lie India rugs. The table should be oval, as that shape brings guests near to each other. The table-cloth should be of white damask, and as fresh as sweet clover, for dinner: colored cloths are permissible only for breakfast and tea. The chairs should be easy, with high, slanting backs. For summer, cane chairs are much the most comfortable, although those covered with leather are very nice. Some people prefer arm-chairs at dinner, but the arms are inconvenient to many, and, besides, take a great deal of room. The armless dinner-chairs are the best.

Now, as a dinner in the country generally occurs after the gentlemen come from town, the matter of light has to be considered. If our late brilliant sunsets do not supply enough, how shall we light our summer dinners? Few country houses have gas. Even if they have, it would be very hot, and attract mosquitoes.

Candles are very pretty, but exceedingly troublesome. The wind blows the flame to and fro; the insects flutter into the light; an unhappy moth seats

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himself on the wick, and burning into an unsightly cadaver makes a gutter down one side; the little red-paper shades take fire, and there is a general conflagration. Yet light is positively necessary to digestion, and no party can be cheerful without it. Therefore, try carcel or moderator lamps with pretty transparent shades, or a hanging lamp with ground-glass shade. These lamps, filled with kerosene–and it must be done neatly, so that it will not smell–are the best lamps for the country dinner. If possible, however, have a country dinner by the light of day; it is much more cheerful.

Now for the ornamentation of the dinner. Let it be of flowers–wild ones, if possible, grasses, clovers, buttercups, and a few fragrant roses or garden flowers. There is no end to the cheap decorative china articles that are sold now for the use of flowers. A contemporary mentions orchids placed in baskets on the shoulders of Arcadian peasants; lilies-of-the-valley, with leaves as pale as their flowers, wheeled in barrows by Cupids or set in china slippers; crocuses grown in a china pot shaped like a thumbed copy of Victor Hugo’s “Notre Dame de Paris;” or white tulips in a cluster of three gilt sabots, large enough to form a capital flower-stand, mounted on gilt, rustic branches. Stout pitchers, glass bowls, china bowls, and even old teapots, make pretty bouquet-holders. The Greek vase, the classic-shaped, old-fashioned champagne glass, are, however, unrivalled for the light grasses, field daisies, and fresh garden flowers.

Pretty, modern English china, the cheap “old blue,” the white and gold, or the French, with a colored border,

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are all good enough for a country dinner; for if people have two houses, they do not like to take their fragile, expensive china to the country. Prettily-shaped tureens and vegetable dishes add very much to the comfort and happiness of the diners, and fortunately they are cheap and easily obtained. Glass should always be thin and fine, and tea and coffee cups delicate to the lip: avoid the thick crockery of a hotel.

For a country dinner the table should be set near a window, or windows, if possible; in fine weather, in the hall or on the wide veranda. If the veranda have long windows, the servant can pass in and out easily. There should be a side-board and a side, table, relays of knives, forks and spoons, dishes and glasses not in use, and a table from which the servant can help the soup and carve the joint, as on a hot day no one wishes to see these two dishes on the table. A maid-servant should be taught by her mistress how to carve, in order to save time and trouble. Soup for a country dinner should be clear bouillon, with macaroni and cheese, crème d’asperge, or Julienne, which has in it all the vegetables of the season. Heavy mock-turtle, bean soup, or ox-tail are not in order for a country dinner. If the lady of the house have a talent for cookery, she should have her soups made the day before, all the grease removed when the stock is cold, and season them herself.

It is better in a country house to have some cold dish that will serve as a resource if the cook should leave. Melton veal, which can be prepared on Monday and which will last until Saturday, is an excellent

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stand-by; and a cold boiled or roast ham should always be on the side-board. A hungry man can make a comfortable dinner of cold ham and a baked potato.

Every country householder should try to have a vegetable garden, for pease, beans, young turnips, and salads fresh gathered are very superior to those which even the best grocer furnishes. And of all the luxuries of a country dinner the fresh vegetables are the greatest. Especially does the tired citizen, fed on the esculents of the corner grocery, delight in the green pease, the crisp lettuce, the undefiled strawberries. One old epicure of New York asks of his country friends only a piece of boiled salt pork with vegetables, a potato salad, some cheese, five large strawberries, and a cup of coffee. The large family of salads help to make the country dinner delightful. Given a clear beef soup, a slice of fresh-boiled salmon, a bit of spring lamb with mint sauce, some green pease and fresh potatoes, a salad of lettuce, or sliced tomatoes, or potatoes with a bit of onion, and you have a dinner fit for a Brillat-Savarin; or vary it with a pair of boiled chickens, and a jardinière made of all the pease, beans, potatoes, cauliflower, fresh beets, of the day before, simply treated to a bath of vinegar and oil and pepper and salt. The lady who has conquered the salad question may laugh at the caprices of cooks, and defy the’ hour at which the train leaves.

What so good as an egg salad for a hungry company? Boil the eggs hard and slice them, cover with a mayonnaise dressing, and put a few lettuce leaves about the plate, and you have a sustaining meal.

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Many families have cold meats and warm vegetables for their midday dinner during the summer. This is not healthy. Let all the dinner be cold if the meats are; and a dinner of cold roast beef, of salad, and cold asparagus, dressed with pepper, oil, and vinegar, is not a bad meal.

It is better for almost everybody, however, to eat a hot dinner, even in hot weather, as the digestion is aided by the friendly power of the caloric. Indeed dyspepsia, almost universal with Americans, is attributed to the habit which prevails in this country above all others of drinking ice-water.

Carafes of ice-water, a silver dish for ice, and a pair of ice-tongs, should be put on the table for a summer dinner. For desserts there is an almost endless succession, and with cream in her dairy, and a patent ice-cream freezer in her cuisine, the house-keeper need not lack delicate and delicious dishes of berries and fruits. No hot puddings should be served, or heavy pies; but the fruit tart is an excellent sweet, and should be made à ravir; the pastry should melt in the mouth, and the fruit be stewed with a great deal of sugar. Cream Should be put on the table in large glass pitchers, for it is a great luxury of the country and of the summer season.

The cold custards, Charlotte-Russe, and creams stiffened with gelatine and delicately flavored, are very nice for a summer dinner. So is home-made cake, when well made: this, indeed, is always its only “excuse for being.”

Stewed fruit is a favorite dessert in England, and the gooseberry, which here is but little used, is much

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liked there. Americans prefer to eat fruit fresh, and therefore have not learned to stew it. Stewing is, however, a branch of cookery well worth the attention of a first-class house-keeper. It makes even the canned abominations better, and the California canned apricot stewed with sugar is one of the most delightful of sweets, and very wholesome; canned peaches stewed with sugar lose the taste of tin, which sets the teeth on edge, and stewed currants are delicious.

Every house-keeper should learn to cook macaroni well. It is worth while to spend an hour at Martinelli’s, for this Italian staple is economical, and extremely palatable if properly prepared. Rice, too, should have a place in a summer bill of fare, as an occasional substitute for potatoes, which some people cannot eat.

For summer dinners there should never be anything on the table when the guests sit down but the flowers and the dessert, the ice-pitchers or carafes, and bowls of ice, the glass, china, and silver: the last three should all be simple, and not profuse.

Many families now, fearing burglars, use only plated spoons, knives, forks, and dishes at their country houses. Modern plate is so very good that there is less objection to this than formerly; but the genuine house-keeper loves the real silver spoons and forks, and prefers to use them.

The ostentatious display of silver, however, is bad taste at a country dinner. Glass dishes are much more elegant and appropriate, and quite expensive enough to bear the title of luxuries.

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Avoid all greasy and heavy dishes. Good roast beef, mutton, lamb, veal, chickens, and fresh fish are always in order, for the system craves the support of these solids in summer as well as in winter; but do not offer pork, unless in the most delicate form, and then in small quantities. Fried salt pork, if not too fat, is always a pleasant addition to the broiled bird.

Broiled fish, broiled chicken, broiled ham, broiled steaks and chops, are always satisfactory. The grid-iron made St. Lawrence fit for Heaven, and its qualities have been elevating and refining ever since. Nothing can be less healthy or less agreeable to the taste at a summer dinner than fried food. The frying-pan should have been thrown into the fire long ago, and burned up.

The house-keeper living near the sea has an ample store to choose from in the toothsome crab, clam, lobster, and other crustacea. The fresh fish, the roast clams, etc., take the place of the devilled kidneys and broiled bones of the winter. But every housewife should study the markets of her neighborhood. In many rural districts the butchers give away, or throw to the dogs, sweetbreads and other morsels which are the very essence of luxury. Calf’s head is rejected by the rural buyer, and a Frenchman who had the physiologie du goût at his finger-ends, declared that in a country place, not five miles from New York, he gave luxurious dinners on what the butcher threw away.

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