Sunday, January 22, 2012
AN EDWARDIAN DINNER PARTY
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I promised you an Edwardian dinner menu. How I wish I could present it in person--or at least if I had a kitchen and household staff to rival Downton Abbey!
According to a PBS page about the fictional Cazalet family, weekend life at an English country house was regimented by four meals, whose menus were determined by the lady of the house and the cook. Breakfast, served at 9:30 a.m., was considered a major meal. Lunch, served in the dining-room at one o'clock or after the servants had eaten, was usually an egg dish to start, followed by a main course, cold meats on the sideboard if anybody wanted them, pudding, cheeses, and dessert. Lunch was an informal meal, with guests and family often helping themselves. In the summer, picnics on the estate's grounds were popular not only with the guests but also with the staff left behind. Afternoon tea was served in the dining room or, less often, in the drawing room. The practice of women changing for tea died out in most houses before World War I.
And then, the dinner! This description, somewhat abbreviated, is from the Brighton Pavilion and Museums website:
A typical Edwardian dinner party would start with soup accompanied by sherry. This would be followed by fish served with a good white wine. After the fish came the entrée, which might consist of vol-au-vent, mutton cutlets or sweetbreads served with champagne or claret. The next course was known as the remove or relevé. This was the most substantial part of the dinner and might include a joint of meat, poultry or a substantial meat pie served in burgundy. Potatoes and vegetables in season always accompanied the ‘remove’. The potatoes were cut to the size of matches (as testified by Dorothy Fuller, a scullerymaid at Preston Manor from 1923-26. Interview March 1999.)
Next came the roast course of game such as field fares (a small bird), snipe, wild duck or pheasant served with game chips. These were disc shaped potato chips; at Preston Manor they were so thinly sliced that they could be seen through. Claret would normally be drunk with this course. Then followed a series of dishes known as the entremêts. This course was divided into three and usually consisted of a dressed vegetable, dishes such as cherry tart or savarin of peaches and a savoury of, for instance, devilled sardines or cheese.
The table would then be cleared, a new set of wine glasses put out, and the guests were provided with dessert plates with ice-plates on top of which were set finger bowls and silver-gilt dessert cutlery. The finger bowls were then set to the left, ices brought in and served on the ice-plates; these were often removed, leaving the dessert plates for the fruit and nuts. Port or madeira would then circulate.
At this stage the ladies would retire in exactly the same order as they entered – the lady of the highest rank first. The gentleman could now smoke. Coffee would be served separately; in the drawing room for the ladies and in the dining room for the gentleman.
So, readers and REDS, now that you know what was in all those dishes that Carson and the footmen schlepped to the table, I ask you, how on earth did the ladies eat all that every day AND fit into those scrumptious clothes??? And drink all that! My goodness, I like a cocktail or a glass or two of wine, but you'd think they'd have been pickled! Apparently they played lots of tennis, and went on long, damp walks in the estate grounds, but still...
(Oh, and the housemaids woke the guests at 9 a.m with a cup of tea. Being a night person, that sounds extremely civilized to me.)
I would love to stay in an English country house and have these meals, if only for one fantasy day. But I suppose I'll just have to watch Downton Abbey instead.
How about you, REDS and readers? Would you like to try the Edwardian upstairs lifestyle for a day? Shall we dress for dinner?