Old cookery books give such an insight into the past, not just of the food which was eaten and how it was prepared and presented, but often with additional information of help to the lady of the house. Published in 1930, Modern Practical Cookery has “a few hints on serving meals” – useful if you’re not exactly sure how to instruct your maid on what to do:
At dinner, soup is generally put on the table, in each person’s place, before dinner is announced. So each table napkin, folded in some pretty design, with a piece of bread partially concealed in it, should stand on the small bread plate at the left-hand side.
The soup plates, when finished with, should be removed by the maid from the right hand side.
A clean plate is laid before each person (from the left) and the maid then hands round the fish course. She stands to the left, and holds the dish at a height convenient for the guest to help herself.
For smelts and oysters she then hands round a small salver on which is a plate of very thin brown bread-and-butter, rolled.
A fruit tart should have one portion cut out from the pastry (it is laid upon the other crust) when it comes into the dining room, to make serving easier.
When the savoury is finished, the plats are cleared. Also, salts etc., unless nuts are included in the dessert, in which case the salts only remain, all glasses, except port, and all cutlery.
The maid should then go round to the left of each person, and with a soft cloth and a small salver, remove crumbs. A fruit plate with fruit knife and fork already in position on it, is then put before each guest. If finger bowls are to be used, these should have a little water in them and stand on a doyley on the fruit plate. Sometimes a tiny leaf of verbena is put in each bowl, which lends a touch of fragrance.
Dessert is handed round on a fruit dish, the maid standing,, as usual, on the left of the guest. If there are nuts, they are placed in a dish on the table, with nut-crackers also on the dish, and are passed around the company by the guests themselves.
The maid retires from the dining-room when the dessert has been served and prepares the coffee- tray. This she takes to the drawing room on hearing the party leave the dining room. It should have on it a coffee-pot, milk jug and sugar, and the required number of coffee cups. The maid holds the tray before each person in turn, and each helps himself.
She should return in about a quarter of an hour and remove the cups and tray.
When your dining room has a polished floor, it is a wise precaution to provide your maid with rubber heels to her shoes.
So now you know every aspect of having friends round for a meal – and whatever you do, make sure your maid has rubber heels if you have a polished floor in your dining room!