Manners and social usages,


Next Section || Previous Section || Table of Contents

Page 307 { page image viewer }

After a long retirement into the shades, the supper-party, the “sit-down Supper,” once so dear to our ancestors, has been again revived. Leaders of society at Newport have found that, after the hearty lunch which everybody eats there at one or three o’clock the twelve or fourteen course dinner at seven o’clock, is too much; that people come home reluctantly from their ocean drive to dress; and last summer, in consequence, invitations were issued for suppers at nine or half-past nine. The suppers at private houses, which had previously fallen out of fashion by reason of the convenience and popularity of the great restaurants, were resumed. The very late dinners in large cities have, no doubt, also prevented the supper from being a favorite entertainment; but there is no reason (except the disapproval of doctors) why suppers should not be in fashion in the country, or where people dine early. In England, where digestions are better than here, and where people eat more heavily, “the supper-tray” is an institution, and suppers are generally spread in every English country house; and we may acknowledge the fact that the supper–the little supper so dear to the hearts of our friends of the last century–

Page 308 { page image viewer }

seems to be coming again into fashion here. Nothing can be more significant than that Harper’s Bazar receives many letters asking for directions for setting the table for supper, and for the proper service of the meats which are to gayly cover the cloth and enrich this always pleasant repast.

In a general way the same service is proper at a supper as at a dinner, with the single exception of the soup-plates. Oysters on the half-shell and bouillon served in cups are the first two courses. If a hot supper is served, the usual dishes are sweetbreads, with green pease, côtelettes à la financière, and some sort of game in season, such as reed-birds in autumn, canvas-back ducks, venison, or woodcock; salads of every kind are in order, and are often served with the game. Then ices and fruit follow. Cheese is rarely offered, although some gourmets insist that a little is necessary with the salad.

After each course all the dishes and knives and forks that have been in use are replaced by fresh ones, and the order and neatness of the table preserved to the end of the supper. We would think it unnecessary to mention this most obvious detail of table decorum, had not several correspondents asked to be informed concerning it.

There is, of course, the informal supper, at which the dishes are all placed on a table together, as for a supper at a large ball. Meats, dressed salmon, chicken croquettes, salads, jellies, and ices are a part of the alarming mélange of which a guest is expected to partake, with only such discrimination as may be dictated by prudence or inclination. But this is not

Page 309 { page image viewer }

the “sit down,” elegant supper so worthy to be revived, with its courses and its etiquette and its brilliant conversation, which was the delight of our grandmothers.

A large centre-piece of flowers, with fruit and candies in glass compotiers, and high forms of nougat, and other sugar devices, are suitable standards for an elegant supper-table. Three sorts of wine may be placed on the table in handsome decanters–sherry, or Madeira, and Burgundy. The guests find oysters on the half-shell, with little fish forks, all ready for them. The napkin and bread are laid at the side or in front of each plate. These plates being removed, other plain plates are put in their place, and cups of bouillon are served, with gold teaspoons. This course passed, other plates are put before the guest, and some chicken croquettes or lobster farci is passed. Sherry or Madeira should already have been served with the Oysters. With the third course iced champagne is offered. Then follow game, or fried oysters, salads, and a slice of pâé de foie gras, with perhaps tomato salad; and subsequently ices, jellies, fruit, and coffee, and for the gentlemen a glass of brandy or cordial. Each course is taken away before the next is presented. Birds and salad are served together.

There is a much simpler supper possible, which is often offered by a hospitable hostess after the opera or theatre. It consists of a few Oysters, a pair of cold roast chickens, a dish of lobster or plain salad, with perhaps a glass of champagne, and one sort of ice-cream, and involves very little trouble or expense, and can be safely said to give as much pleasure as the more

Page 310 { page image viewer }

sumptuous feast. This informal refreshment is often placed on a red table-cloth, with a dish of oranges and apples in the centre of the table, and one servant is sufficient. There should be, however, the same etiquette as to the changing of plates, knives, and forks, etc., as in the more elaborate meal.

The good house-keeper who gives a supper every evening to her hungry family may learn many an appetizing device by reading English books of cookery on this subject. A hashed dish of the meat left from dinner, garnished with parsley, a potato salad, a few slices of cold corned beef or ham, some pickled tongues, bread, butter, and cheese, with ale or cider, is the supper offered at nearly every English house in the country.

The silver and glass, the china and the fruit, should be as carefully attended to as for a dinner, and everything as neat and as elegant as possible, even at an informal supper.

Oysters, that universal food of the American, are invaluable for a supper. Fried oysters diffuse a disagreeable Odor through the house, therefore they are not as convenient in a private dwelling as scalloped oysters, which can be prepared in the afternoon, and which send forth no odor when cooking. Broiled oysters are very delicate, and are a favorite dish at an informal supper. Broiled birds and broiled bones are great delicacies, but they must be prepared by a very good cook. Chicken in various forms hashed, fried, cold, or in salad–is useful; veal may be utilized for all these things, if chicken is not forthcoming. The delicately treated chicken livers also make a very

Page 311 { page image viewer }

good dish, and mushrooms on toast are perfect in their season. Hot vegetables are never served, except green pease with some other dish.

Beef, except in the form of a fillet, is never seen at a “sit-down” supper, and even a fillet is rather too heavy. Lobster in every form is a favorite supper delicacy, and the grouse; snipe, woodcock, teal; canvasback, and squab on toast, are always in order.

In these days of Italian warehouses and imported delicacies, the pressed and jellied meats, pâtés, sausages, and spiced tongues furnish a variety for a cold supper. No supper is perfect without a salad.

The Romans made much of this meal, and among their delicacies were the ass, the dog, and the snail, sea-hedgehogs, oysters, asparagus, venison, wild boar, sea-nettles, fish, fowl, game, and cakes. The Germans to-day eat wild boar, head-cheese, pickles, goose’s flesh dried, sausages, cheese, and salads for supper, and wash down with beer. The French, under Louis XIV., began to make the supper their most finished meal. They used gold and silver dishes, crystal cups and goblets, exquisite grapes crowned the épergne, and choicest fruits were served in golden dishes. The cooks sent up piquant sauces for the delicately cooked meats, the wines were drunk hot and spiced. The latter are taken iced now. Many old house-keepers, however, serve a rich, hot-mulled port for a winter supper. It is a delicious and not unhealthy beverage, and can be easily prepared.

The doctors, as we have said, condemn a late supper, but the pros and cons of this subject admit of discussion. Every one, indeed, must decide for himself.

Page 312 { page image viewer }

Few people can undergo excitement of an evening–an opera or play or concert, or even the pleasant conversation of an evening party–without feeling hungry. With many, if such an appetite is not appeased it will cause sleeplessness. To eat lightly and to drink lightly at supper is a natural instinct with people if they expect to go to bed at once; but excitement is a great aid to digestion, and a heavy supper sometimes gives no inconvenience.

Keats seems to have had a vision of a modern supper-table when he wrote:

“soft he set
A table, and…threw thereon
A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet;
…from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd, With jellies soother than the creamy curd, And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon,
Manna and dates:…spiced dainties every one.”

The supper being a meal purely of luxury should be very dainty. Everything should be tasteful and appetizing; the wines should be excellent, the claret not too cool, the champagne frappé, or almost so, the Madeira and the port the temperature of the room, and the sherry cool. If punch is served, it should be at the end of the supper.

Many indulgent hostesses now allow young gentlemen to Smoke a cigarette at the supper-table, after the eating and drinking is at an end, rather than break up the delicious flow of conversation which at the close of a supper seems to be at its best. This, however, should not be done unless every lady at the

Page 313 { page image viewer }

table acquiesces, as the smell of tobacco-smoke sometimes gives women an unpleasant sensation.

Suppers at balls and parties include now all sorts of cold and hot dishes, even a haunch of venison, and a fillet of beef, with truffles; a cold salmon dressed with a green sauce; oysters in every form except raw–they are not served at balls; salads of every description; boned and truffled turkey and chicken; pâtés of game; cold partridges and grouse; pâté de foie gras; our American specialty, hot canvas-back duck; and the Baltimore turtle, terrapin, oyster and game patties; bonbons, ices, biscuits, creams, jellies, and fruits, with champagne, and sometimes, of later years, claret and Moselle cup, and champagne–cup beverages which were not until lately known in America, except at gentlemen’s clubs and on board yachts, but which are very agreeable mixtures, and gaining in favor. Every lady should know how to mix cup, as it is convenient both for supper and lawn-tennis parties, and is preferable in its effects to the heavier article so common at parties–punch.