The Sunday Night Tea

This is the first article in October of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on October 3, 1909, and is an article on Sunday night dinner and families having to do without their maid-of-all-work.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Sunday Night Tea

THE Sunday night tea is a memorial feast.

I have said that in effect before, and I repeat it now with emphasis. It is a standing and visible token of the respect paid by the great middle class of America to the wishes and privileges of the hired girl. That is what we called her in the day when the Sunday night supper was instituted for her express benefit. She is a “maid” now, and there are three where there was then one. But the institution stand sure and fast.

Let me guard that phrase—“the great middle class.” It has not the invidious meaning on this side of the water attached to it as in England. It signifies the backbone, the thews and red blood of the nation. The men who are hewing out their own fortunes; the women who are building and keeping homes; the architects of the best future of our land—make up the ranks. To come to practical details, I include in the term families of moderate means, in which regard for education of children is a duty; in which the expediency of laying aside a “Rainy day fund” for those who have no inherited wealth is a judicious economy. These are the households where the maid-of-all-work (a species that is growing rarer and dearer with every passing year) represents hired labor, the rest of the work falling upon the mother and her daughters; or, where the family is larger and the income justifies, there may be two maids.

Her Own Way.

Be her nationality what it may, the maid must have her Sunday afternoon or evening “out” or “off.” I append that last monosyllable advisedly. I know of more than one household in which the “hired help” sometimes elects to remain within-doors on Sunday evening or afternoon, when the weather is bad—or she is not feeling “quite fit.” She takes her half day off, all the same. Sometimes she retires to her bedroom and sleeps or lazes away the rest hours. I have seen one, at least, who dressed in her Sunday best and sat with a book in the orderly kitchen while her reputed mistress got up the evening meal, the maid never lifting her eyes from the book or paper on the table before her. When the china and glass were out of the way—washed and wiped by the employer—the real sovereign of the small realm was ready to receive “company.” If the fragrance of tea and toast ascended to the drawing rom later, blended with the cackle of Milesian mirth, the (alleged) mistress was conveniently deaf. “Norah is a treasure—neat, industrious, a good cook, honest and willing. And it is not easy to get a really general housemaid nowadays.”

So much for the reasons that have bound the Sunday night tea upon us as irrevocably as custom and tradition have decreed the Fourth-of-July fireworks.

Some blessedly optimistic housemothers assure us that they “rather like it. It is a relief from the hot dinner or supper to which we must sit down six evenings in the week.” Now and then one adds that “John and the boys enjoy it. It is fun to have me cook for them. And they like the unceremoniousness of it all.”

Personally (and I suspect if others were as frank I should hear many an “Amen!”) I look forward to the cold or semi-cold supper of the first day of the week with decided disfavor. It is right and humane and Christian that it should hold a place among our national institutions, and I make the best of it. That “best” is contriving that some especial delicacy shall invariably grace the board, and that there shall as invariably be one hot dish. The English call it a “cover,” signifying that there is heat to be kept in.

For a term of years, thanks to my self-freezing process, ice cream was the children’s Sunday night treat. We still have it in hot weather when the grandchildren visit us. Salads are the regulation dish, and of these there is endless variety. If the piece de resistance be cold meat, it is made as unlike as possible to the pallid chips and chunks and slabs that usually pass under that name. Pressed or moulded or jellied into comeliness, and garnished tastefully, it graces the foot of the board appetizingly to eye as to palate. Baked cream toast is a frequent and welcome visitor; likewise baked Welsh rabbit. “The boys” like both.

The chafing dish in the hands of an expert does wonders to alleviate the chill and cheerlessness of our First-day night supper. Among the almost countless delicacies the elder daughter or the mother may prepare before the gloating eyes of those who are as hungry on Sunday evening as one weekdays, I name as popular and “comforting” to the inner man Spanish eggs, olla podrida omelet, creamed oysters, shrimps and eggs, panned oysters, broiled mushrooms, cream cheese, golden buck, corm omelet and creamed fish.

I could fill the page with the titles of other dishes suitable for the memorial feast. Recipes for a few of these I have named will be found below. Tea and coffee *hot) are made on the table; likewise cocoa, iced tea and coffee are kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve them.

A Sunday Night Frolic.

If there be but one maid in the household, and she be “off,” the waiting is done by members of the family. One wise mother has trained her boys, lads of 10 and 12, to wait quickly and dexterously on Sunday night.

They make a genuine frolic of it, and vie with one another in the display of their skill. The plates are changed noiselessly by the little mock footmen, each girded with a white napkin while on duty. They are as grave as the primmest of English butlers, and play the part to perfection. The smallest children may be taught.

Another mother has three young daughters, who take turns in serving and waiting, while even the smaller children help. The office may be made graceful. Perfect breeding preserves the most lowly service from any touch of vulgarity. No household duty is in itself menial.

Spanish Eggs.

Heat a great spoonful of butter in the blazer of the chafing dish or in the frying pan. Have at hand a cupful of tomatoes, peeled and cut up small, or a can of tomatoes, drained from the liquor; four green sweet peppers that have been seeded, parboiled, cooled and minced fine, and eight eggs. When the butter hisses put in the tomatoes and stir briskly together with the minced peppers. When they have cooked three or four minutes break in the eggs, stirring all the time. Season to taste, adding a teaspoonful of onion juice, and as soon as the eggs are done serve.

Olla Podrida Omelet, Another Spanish Dish.

Make a roux of a great spoonful of butter and the same of browned flour by stirring them together in a frying pan. When the mixture bubbles add a cupful of tomatoes, peeled and cut small; a half cupful of mushrooms cut fine, three tablespoonfuls of minced tongue or chicken or veal (cooked and cold) and a teaspoonful of finely chopped red onion. Sit to a smoking mass—about six minutes will do—and break in six eggs. Stir constantly, tossing up the “podrida” to incorporate the ingredients well, seasoning with kitchen bouquet, white pepper and salt to taste. When the eggs thicken serve upon rounds of toast.

Shrimps and Eggs.

Prepare a roux as in the last recipe. When it hisses and heaves all over the surface stir in three sweet green peppers, seeded, parboiled and minced fine, together with a teaspoonful of onion juice. Cook three minutes before stirring in a can of shrimps from which you have drained all the liquor. Wash the shrimps and cut each in half before cooking. Simmer four or five minutes and break into the pan six eggs. Sit until the eggs thicken to your liking and serve.

Cheese Golden Buck.

Rub a cream cheese to a soft paste with warmed butter; season with salt, a little French mustard and a dash of cayenne. Set over the fire in a double boiler and stir until hot all through. Beat three eggs without separating yolks and whites, and stir and toss into the cheese. Have at hand rounds of buttered toast and spread the “buck” upon them.

Green Corn Omelet.

Grate or shave the grains from six ears of cold boiled corn. Have in a saucepan a tablespoonful of butter, heated. Put the corn into this and set in boiling water, tossing it until very hot. Leave the saucepan in the water while you make an omelet of six eggs and three tablespoonfuls of cream. Dish; season the corn with salt and pepper, and when the omelet is dished lay the corn upon it and fold the omelet over the inclosed vegetable.

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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