How to Entertain at a Breakfast

This is the third article in April of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on April 21, 1907, and is a discussion on how to entertain at a breakfast.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of The Washington Times.

How to Entertain at a Breakfast

“THERE would seem to be no leisure-class in this country of yours,” said an Englishman to his American host.

“What do you mean by a leisure-class?” asked the other.

“Oh, men who have no profession—no stated—ah—ah—employment. Who may dispose of their time as they like—ah—with no beastly sense of duty unperformed—don’t you know?”

“Oh, yes! we have plenty of that kind with us,” with an enlightened look. “But we call them loafers over here!”

For the lack of any other class of men who have time to take their pleasure early in the working day, the breakfast party is a rare function with us except on holidays, and in the summer vacation. That which I shall describe was given on Decoration Day by the happy possessors of a country house within an hour’s journey by rail from a great city.

As a matter of course, each of the two dozen guests who alighted at the station at 11 o’clock A. M. had had a light breakfast before leaving town. Equally as a matter of course, the last days of May were the hottest of a hot season. A thundershower had missed hopes of better things the previous afternoon, but, after the manner of May storms, had done its work in a half-hearted style. The air teemed with moisture on Decoration Day, and the moisture was steam.

“Breakfast in the garden, I suppose?” murmured an elderly bachelor on the drive from station to house. “The correct thing, I suppose. When I was a boy, my sister used to sing a song that expressed my sentiments concerning al fresco feastings. It was called ‘Tea in the Arbor.’ and told of

“Roses and posies to scent up your noses,
Lilies and billies, and daffydowndillies,”

and how spiders fell into a fellow’s cup and caterpillars crawled down his neck, and all that. This eating under the trees, and sprawling on the grass, with a teacup in one hand and a sandwich in the other, is a relic of savage feasts—of the stone age and cliff dwellers.” “Didn’t you enjoy picnics when you were yo—a boy?” queried a girl, her change of intention in framing the reply so evident that everybody smiled.

“Never did!” protested the bachelor, stoutly. “Give me civilized food eaten from solid mahogany, with knives and forks, and not with fingers and gnawed as the noble red man takes his victuals. It is a notable fact in this connection that your rural citizen never eats his meals in this barbaric fashion except when he has visitors from town. He knows better than to swelter in the hot outer air, tormented by flies and mosquitoes, when he could be comfortable in a shaded room with screens in every door and window. Of all modern humbugs, the playing at ruralizing is the most absurd. For we all know it isn’t rural at all!”

Had they been less oppressive an argument might have ensued. As it was, silence, felt by more than one to be depressing, lasted until the carriages discharged their respective loads at the foot of the steps leading up to the vine-shaded veranda.

The grumbler may have had the grace to feel ashamed of his unmannerly tirade when the company assembled in the great central hall through the wide folding doors of which the interior of the dining-room was visible. He made no sign of penitence unless that his admiration of the aforesaid interior was more pronounced than that of some of his fellow-guests.

A goodly sight was that framed in the arched doorway. Shadows that were faintly green and softly gray, and all cool, filled the long room. The blinds were bowed, and the light that found its way through the spaces left at the bottom and top of each window, was tempered before it entered, by vines and trees. The wistaria, enshrouding the house with draperies of pale mauve that looked like wreaths of fleeciest chiffon, lent perfume to the whole atmosphere.

With rarely fine taste, the hostess had banished other flower odors. No dying agonies of blossoms suffocated by the noonday heat and human breaths, would taint our food. The exquisite suspicion of wistaria-scent was sufficient unto us. The same just taste had ordered that the trailing vines relieving the snow of the table-covers should have their stems in water. The smell of withered smilax and ferns is especially disagreeable as the meal progresses and appetite is jaded.

The tables were round and of varying sizes. Some were laid for four, some for six, none for an odd number of eaters.

There were six waitresses, dressed in white from crown to toe—all attentive, and all so quiet that their gliding to and fro was like the passing of shadows through the gray-green spaces separating the groups of revelers.

Glasses, filmy with iced dews, and with a celestial compound of minced fruits, prepared parched palates for coming dainties. We named it “Decoration Day Ambrosia” on the spot, and by this name it is still known among those who tasted it then for the first time. Jellied chicken bouillon followed, accompanied by Virginia wafers, that melted in the mouth.

By now, appetite awoke to the appreciation that it craved something substantial at high noon after a thirty-mile trip on the railway, even on the hottest day of the (alleged) spring. Salmon timbales, masked by bechemel sauce, “did not,” as one connoisseur murmured to another, “mar the unities of the scheme.” Finger rolls went around with them. Cold tongue, embedded in tomato aspic, was the next course.

Then glasses of Roman punch revived the digestion for the more serious business of broiled spring chicken and the attendant asparagus a la viniagrette, laid within crisp lettuce-hearts. Cassava biscuits and cream cheese—homemade and delicious—intervened before strawberries, that had been gathered that morning — each a very paragon of its species in size, color and spicy lusciousness—were set before us. They were eaten in the English fashion—one we would well to adopt as a habit. Caps and stems had not been removed, and, holding the stems as handles, we dipped the beauties into fine sugar and made two bites of each. For beverages, we had iced coffee, tea a la Russe.

When we arose from table, we were at peace with digestions and the rest of the world and—stranger still! no hotter than when we sat down. I have eaten other summer breakfasts at which nothing hot was served. She was a wiser caterer who judged that one or two freshly cooked dishes appeal to the taste of really hungry people. She recollected, too, that some stomachs do not assimilate chilled food as readily as they accept warm; also that there is still with us a fair percentage of old-fashioned folk who do not affect “made dishes,” and account the serving and the eating of them as unpatriotic truckling to foreign tricks and manners.

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Family Meals for a Week
Housemothers’ Exchange
Tasty Morning Dishes

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