Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Household Advice Manuals - Cassells Household Guide, New and Revised Edition (4 Vol.) c.1880s [no date] - Hints on Arranging the Dinner-Table

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Volume 1



Sc much of the general comfort of a dinner depends upon the neatness and taste with which it is served, that a few hints regarding the proper arrangement of the table will probably be useful to our readers. Of course, the actual laying-out of the table must depend upon circumstances - the viands to be served, the number of the family, or guests expected, and the means of the host. The cleanliness of the linen, and the knives, forks, spoons, &c., should, of course, always be scrupulously regarded. A very clever writer on this subject says, "Everything should be brilliantly clean, and nothing should be placed on it except what is wanted." It is desirable, if possible, not to have lights upon the table, or anything in the shape of flowers, raised dishes, or the like, which may interrupt the freest communication between the guests. It is also important that the salt should look neat. Most persons use prepared salt. This will cake in cellars, and should be removed at least once a week into a pie-dish, crushed, and replaced. Common salt must be grated fine after it has been placed in the oven to dry; then laid between a folded paper, and pressed with a rolling-pin till perfectly smooth. Bread for table should be cut in thick squares, very evenly. The napkins, when used for the first time, should be neatly folded, enclosing the bread, and afterwards brought to table in rings.
    Joints which require carving should always be placed on commodiously large dishes, otherwise they give a great deal of trouble, and splash the gravy. However crowded the table may be, the carver must have plenty of room, and it is most important that the knives should be in good order. Nothing is more irritating to a carver, or more indicative of bad household management, than the unpleasant necessity of sharpening knives before meat can be helped. One or more sets of cruets should be placed upon the table, according to the size of the party, containing the different sauces, flavours, &c., that are continually wanted.
    Space at table can be gained by placing entremets which do not need carving, in small dishes, to be renewed if needed, or by handing them round. The vegetables also may be placed on a sideboard, if there be insufficient room at table. It is a common practice nowadays to hand all dishes round, but there are still a very large number of people who like to have everything upon the table, in order, as far as possible, to dispense with attendance, and the necessity of continually asking for something.

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source: Cassells Household Guide, c.1880s