The art of dinner-giving

I’m looking at old cookery books again and for a writerly reason was looking up suggested menus. I had a peep in a book called Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Cookery Book and found a section on menus, most of which are for rather exotic sounding french dishes. Who was Mrs Marshall?

Mrs Marshall was a celebrity in her day. She was born in 1855 and her particular forte was ice-cream! I have found recipes for ice-cream in other nineteenth century books, but she has a whole section in this book. She wrote three other recipe books:

  •  Ices Plain and Fancy: The Book of Ices (1885
  • Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes (1891)
  • Fancy Ices (1894)

… and she also opened a cookery school, Marshall School of Cookery in Mortimer Street in 1883, published a weekly magazine, The Table, from 1886 and old cooking supplies and equipment. She was a real fore-runner of the celebrity cooks and chefs we have these days!

Tragically she died at the age of forty-nine; after falling from a horse in 1904, she died the following year, never having recovered from her injuries. Mr Marshall, her husband took over the business, but it seems that without Agnes, the enterprise could no longer succeed. sadly, unlike Eliza Acton or Mrs Beeton, no-on remembers Agnes Bertha Marshall.

So, her menus, and at the head of the section, she speaks rather severely to the reader:

The first thing to be done in reference to the giving of a dinner is  certainly to arrange the menu, and this is a matter not only of vital importance for the success of the repast, but is also one in which great skill and judgement may be shown
Nothing can be more unsatisfactory to the guests than a series of badly assorted dishes or a set arranged without any consideration of variety either in the flavours or materials.
To an experienced cook the writing out of the menu is a very easy affair, whilst to novices in the art of dinner-giving, the same thing is a work of labour and long consideration.In most affairs of life, a division of labour tends to the accomplishment of greater results, and this rule may be applied with advantage to the writing out of menus. 
There are two chief points to be considered in every menu, the first what articles shall compose the dinner, and the second how each shall be dressed and served; it is by dealing with each of these considerations separately, that the work becomes easier to fulfil, and with better results in the end; let, therefore, the following plan be tried.
First make out what might be termed a skeleton menu, in which should be inserted merely the names of the various articles which it is proposed should compose the dinner.

Mrs M.’s menu is for several courses, and for each she has two suggestions for ingredients, but no actual recipes. She is trying to get the cook to see a balanced menu rather than lots of favourite things which might clash in either flavour or texture, or be similar to the previous course. So this is her skeleton plan:

soup – either consommé or purée
fish – either whitebait or salmon
entrée: either sweetbreads or pigeon
relevé – either mutton or fowl
roast – quail
entremets – peas, baba, mousse, caviar

This probably looks quite a strange menu to us – not her choice of food but the fact there seems to be three main courses – we think of an entrée as a main dish, here it seems to be what comes before the main event.. However an entrée used to be what we call a starter, and the main course is the practically obsolete relevé… I thought I was a foodie but I’d never come across the term before!

I had to look up entremets as well; I thought it meant a little something between courses, here it seems an all-purpose term for extras. So peas are the vegetable served with the mutton or fowl, I guess, the baba is a rum baba, I’m not sure where the mousse would come and the caviar would be the savoury to finish off the meal. Strangely I can’t find a recipe for mousse in her book, not as a discrete entry anyway.

I haven’t explored this book in any depth, but it doesn’t seem as accessible or friendly as Eliza Acton’s book published in 1845, or the Modern Practical Cookery book published in the 1930’s… I must find out more about Agnes Marshall!



  1. Zeno The Stoic

    So, the same sort of period as Mrs Beeton. As a child I loved looking through her cookery book. The drawings were the best thing – the exotic fish, the dishes, the utensils. I must see if we still have it. Gosh they did eat in those days!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lois

      The thing with Mrs Beeton is that very few of her recipes are her own – she pinched so many from other people, including Eliza Acton who made a reference to it in the introduction to a later edition of her cookery book, without naming her of course! I grew up with Mrs Beeton and I tool loved the drawings and illustrations!


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