Novel Ideals for an Afternoon Reception

This is the second article in April of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on April 14, 1907, and is a discussion on how to entertain at a afternoon reception.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of Boston Sunday Post.

Novel Ideals for an Afternoon Reception

IN THOUSANDS of American homes the habit of 5-o’clock tea is as confirmed as in the parent country, where the fashion is now hoary with age. It is a comfortable and a heartening custom. The tea-tray is brought into the family sitting-room—into the mistress’ sanctum—or, if the family be large, and the elements various, into the dining-room—wherever it is convenient to assemble the several members. The tea is poured by mother or daughter, a plate of bread and butter is passed, perhaps one of tea biscuits or light cake; there is cheerful talk over the teacups for fifteen or twenty minutes, if the household be busy, and the little party breaks up, each going her way until dinner time.

Should a visitor chance to call near tea time, the function is not altered. The tray is carried by maid or butler into the drawing-room, and the members of the family who are at home follow it.

In households where tea-drinking is dignified into a ceremony, and the quality of the beverage is made a matter of importance, the furniture of the tray includes teakettle and alcohol lamp, and the tea is brewed in the sight of the party. It is a graceful and a gracious “ceremony.” Stiffness and strangerhood melt before it, as frost under the sunshine. Talk is stimulated and good fellowship established.

DECADENCE OF CONVERSATION

The afternoon tea and reception is an expansion of the daily custom. An evening “affair” involves the necessity of a formal and a more or less elaborate supper. There must be music, and, nowadays, the hostess considers herself bound to provide some kind of “entertainment” other than dancing for the young people and cards for the elder guests. I make no pause here to bemoan the decadence of conversation as a lost art. Cards and dancing have taken the life out of talk. If a girl waltzes well, nobody asks if she can converse. If her mother, aunt or elder sister can hold her own at whist, or be an Horatia at the “Bridge”—what need of further social accomplishments?

Dancing and cards are varied by vocal and instrumental music, recitations, amateur theatricals—any novel fad that promises diversion to blase wordlings. The function is expensive, laborious and, to all save the debutante and the “young” beauty, tedious and trite.

“The only difference is in the caterer,” sighed a society girl in her third season. “I have been to twenty this winter. We say the same nothings; we meet the same set of people, and I know it all by heart before I go.”

HINTS FOR HOSTESSES

The afternoon function is a happy combination of the best features of the two forms of hospitality. There must be a set table in the dining-room, or, if more convenient, in the back parlor. The hostess compliments two of her friends by asking them “to pour,” one at each end of the prettily decorated board. If the room be not well-lighted, have candelabra, and soften the gas or electric light by balloon-shaped shades of colored silk or crimped tissue paper.

I enter my protest at this point against the barbaric practice of receiving guests—fresh from the sun filled air of heaven’s own making—in rooms dim with colored shadows and reeking with the breath of drooping flowers, not to mention artificial perfumes wrung from gums and oils and patented as “French.” I know it is the fashion to shut out the sunshine and to steep the “chiaroscuro” left in the airless interior in color and (alleged) fragrance. I am told that complexions show to advantage in the “doctored” twilight. To my apprehension, the complexion that cannot stand before the light of God’s day is not worth the trouble of keeping.

A shaded light need not be gloomy. If your dining-room or inner apartment be insufficiently lighted, as is the case with town houses that back upon courts or small yards—make it cheerful with gas, lamps or candelabra, but do not shade it to such a degree that you cannot recognize your best friend, or discover by the seeing of the eye whether you help yourself to a sandwich or an eclair.

The tea equipage should grace one end of the table, a chocolate service the other. Sugar, cream and sliced lemon surround the teapot or samovar. A pretty fork lies across the dish of sliced lemon; sugar tongs accompany the silver or china bowl of cut sugar. The cream jug has a ladle. It also stands in a tiny silver saucer of its own that stray drops may not trickle to the embroidered teacloth. The apparatus for chocolate is less varied. A china pot, a dish of granulated sugar (cut sugar does not dissolve readily in the thick liquid), and a wide-mouthed jug of whipped cream, a spoonful of which is laid upon the surface of each filled cup.

The interval dividing tea and chocolate equipages is filled with plates of sandwiches, cakes, bonbons, salted nuts, fancy rolls, etc. — whatever goes to make up a bountiful “afternoon tea.” If you have the knack of making veritable scones—pronounced “skuns” — the introduction of these will vary the collation agreeably. The sandwiches should be small and the contents must not overlap the edges. The eaters do not remove their gloves, and the ooze of cream cheese or mayonnaise will soil finger tips. Another acceptable addition to the conventional menu is toast. Toast thin strips of stale bread to a delicate brownish tint, butter while hot, and wrap in a heated doily. In serving, open the corner of the doily, to show the crisp bits within. It is very popular. Hot relays should come in from the kitchen during the afternoon. You may spread some of the toast with anchovy paste or with caviare.

If you desire to give the function more the air of a “reception” than a “tea,” enlarge the menu by serving hot bouillon in cups, and have a side table on which is arrayed the paraphernalia of claret punch or tea—or mint—or strawberry punch. Iced sherbet or cafe frappe may be substituted for the punch.

The hostess and her daughters are content to leave the business of dispensing the refreshments to the friendly “pourers” and to waiters. Their duty is to receive the guests and to mix the social brew into a cordial which shall not pall upon any.

Introductions at this function are convenient and pleasant, but the truly well-mannered guest does not wait for a formal presentation to a fellow-guest in a friend’s house. That he, or she, is there, and on equal terms with herself, is a guarantee of respectability, and that she will not lower her social status by falling into easy chat with her neighbor if occasion offer. Americans are beginning to comprehend this sensible social principle better than of old. There is no longer any excuse for having a “stupid time,” when the stupidity is not in one’s self.

Scones.

Sift a quart of flour three times with two tablespoonfuls of baking powder and one of salt. Chop into it a tablespoonful of butter and the same of cottolene. Wet with enough milk to make a dough just stiff enough to be rolled out. The softer the better, so long as it may be handled. Work the dough with a wooden spoon, not touching it with the hands. When mixed, roll out half an inch thick; cut in to rounds with a cake cutter, and bake upon a soapstone griddle, turning when the lower side is brown. Tear open, butter and lay within a heated napkin upon a hot plate. Eat soon.

Oatmeal Scones.

Mix in a deep bowl three cupfuls of oatmeal and one of white flour, two teaspoonfuls of baking powder and one of salt. Have at hand three liberal cupfuls of milk heated to scalding, into which you have put a tablespoonful of sugar and three of butter. Stir for a moment; make a hole in the centre of the flour and meal and pour in the milk. Stir it down into the milk with a wooden spoon, not once touching it with the fingers.

When you have a soft, rough-looking dough, roll it out about a quarter inch thick, cut into rounds and bake upon a hot soapstone griddle, turning to brown it on both sides.

Cream Scones.

Sift a quart of flour with two tablespoonfuls of baking powder and half a teaspoonful of salt. Sift all together twice, and chop into the flour two even tablespoonfuls of butter, as you would in pastry. Mix with half cream, half milk, to a soft dough; roll out into a sheet less than half an inch thick; cut into rounds and bake in a quick oven. Spilt and butter while hot.

Lettuce Sandwiches.

Cut the crust from white bread; slice it thin, and butter. Lay between two slices a crisp lettuce leaf dipped in mayonnaise dressing.

Lettuce and Cream Cheese Sandwiches.

Slice the bread very thin when you have pared off the crust. Butter smoothly and lightly. Spread one slice with cream cheese and lay upon the other a crisp leaf of lettuce dipped in mayonnaise dressing.

Mint Punch.

Melt a cupful of granulated sugar in the strained juice of six lemons. Then add three peeled and sliced lemons. Slice very thin. Leave all in a big bowl, set in ice until just Before serving. It cannot be too cold. Transfer to your punchbowl; mix in a quart of finely pounded ice; stir for a moment and pour from a height of two feet, upon the mixture three bottles of imported ginger ale. Lastly, add a dozen sprays of green mint, washed and slightly bruised between the fingers.

Tea Punch.

Make a good infusion of tea with four teaspoonfuls of the best mixed tea and a quart of boiling water. After it has drawn four minutes, strain it from the leaves and cool. Fill the punchbowl half way to the top with cracked ice; stir in a cupful of granulated sugar and the strained juice of four lemons. The tea goes in next, and just before it is served, a pint of some good table water.

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Family Meals for a Week
Housemothers’ Exchange
Living on $4.00 a Week

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