greenbackgrazers


Downmarket Downton-Victorian entertaining economically
February 8, 2014, 10:15 AM
Filed under: etiquette, Financial tips, Fun on a budget, Holiday Fun

How many of my readers are Downton Abbey fans?  I know I am.  I have found myself swept up in Downton fever.  This public broadcasting station hit is a great escape based in historic setting around real events.  Like many I have enjoyed getting to know the Grantham and the Crawley families.  I tune in each week to check in on friends upstairs and downstairs.  I also have been intrigued by the customs and practices of the era.   I wanted to learn more about societal practices and behaviors.   I researched on-line, read books and  watched documentaries.  The more I learned the more I wanted to know.

” I always thought that people who made a big deal about good manners meant that they were stuck up, or trying to act better than you .   Having good manners is a way to put everyone around you at ease. – (Blast from the Past).   Victorians were big on manners and social graces as well as charity and kindness and hospitality.  I myself love entertaining and making people feel at home when they visit my home.  I believe in todays age of fast-paced, computer age, cell phone addicted, I-pad loving world; we have lost the human touch somewhere along the way.  I think it’s about time we bring it back into style; even if it’s in a small way.

Dining in Victorian times was an event.  People sent invitations thru the mail or even by messenger.   There were expectations of dress, topics of discussion, introductions and decorum.  I will pass along how I created a Victorian Dinner Party on a budget.  First we will start with the invitation.   When planning a formal dinner party, the hostess had to carefully select guests  it was indeed a necessity to have a socially harmonious group of guests.  After selecting a date and creating a guest-list, invitations were written by the hostess and sent two days to two weeks before the party, depending on the occasion. Guests were expected to send a reply, especially if they were unable to attend.   According to Godey’s Lady’s Book, one should specify the number of guests invited in the invitation, so that the invitee might dress to suit the occasion and avoid the embarrassment of improper attire. It was customary for men to wear black pants, a waist-coat, jacket, white tie, shirt and gloves, and for female guests to don formal evening dresses and gloves, which were removed at the table.

 
sample invitation

Cell phone pics till Feb 14 storm 1084

 

When guests arrived, they were met in the entry, where they would remove their jackets and hats before being led into the parlor to be greeted by the host and hostess. A knowledgable hostess would be dressed and waiting before the designated time of the party, in order to greet any guests, who, in an attempt to be punctual, had arrived ahead of schedule. To arrive before the hostess was ready was indeed an embarrassment.  Drinks are offered by the hostess at this time.  A good host or hostess will have non alcoholic beverages to offer should there be a guest who does not drink.

I choose two couples of the same age group and status.  I informed my guests by the style of the invitation and noted dress to impress on the invitation.  The cost of the invitation was only the cost of stamps for me as I am an avid craftier and used many of the supplies I already had.  The picture above was found on a search for Victorian Valentines.  I printed it out and then cut the image to fit my greeting card size and then used a combination of stamps and paper to personalize.  I also looked up the proper manner of addressing the invitees as it was quite formal then.  These sites were quite helpful;  http://www.foodlovelaughter.com and also http://www.angelpig.net.

Cell phone pics till Feb 14 storm 1156

Next I set about finding out what was served at a typical Victorian dinner party.  I found that most were 12 course!  But upon further research I had heard that 8 course dinner could be acceptable.    The guests examined their menus, always written in French while they awaited the first part of the three course meal. They were not expected to eat everything offered, and could pick and choose which foods they wanted as they sat around the ornate table, which usually had a decorative centerpiece, like flowers or a fruit pyramid (“Dinner at Eight”). Some possible food items included soup, venison, poultry, vegetables, and for dessert, and imported fruits (Margetson 79). Oysters were also frequently served (Margetson 86). Here is a sample menu.

I created a menu with 8 courses.  Course 1- is soup.  I choose butternut squash soup I purchased (boxed) and topped with French’s Fried Onions in the center before serving.  Course 2- is called kickshaws- our translation is appetizer.  Usually you would serve 3-4 options so guests can partake or decline.  I served 2 options Caprese bites, and Spinach pastry puffs.  Course 3-Sorbet for cleansing of the palate only.  One small scoop served in a footed dish.  Course 4- Fish, I opted for a small serving using tuna, rather than a full serving of fish as dictated by the custom of the day.  Course 5-Salad with assorted dressings.  Course 6- Main dish.  I chose teraki seasoned pork loin with mashed potatoes and haricot.  Course 7-Fruits, cheeses, pastries dessert.  I served assorted berries, cheeses, and dessert.  My dessert was a layered creamcicle cake.  Course 8- Tea, coffee, assorted chocolates, cookies.  Served in the study ( my case the living room).  If you serve wines with each course choose the glass champagne-dessert, Burgundy, Bordeaux-duck or pheasant or wild game and red meat or fish, and White-served with soup, salad, fish, white poultry meat.  There should be a separate glass for water.

Cell phone pics till Feb 14 storm 1117 Cell phone pics till Feb 14 storm 1116

I asked a friend who is a professional waitress and she became “the help.”  She dressed in style and did a magnificent job serving and timing the dinner.  I would recommend having a Butler, and two maids if you can.  Also be sure to coordinate with the help the timing of dinner and order of courses, about half an hour to 45 minutes should do the trick.  There should be no verbal communication during dinner with the help unless absolutely necessary.  Plates should be cleared between courses.  This is where having two sets of hands makes the flow of much more professional. When setting the table I recommend “The Little Book of Etiquette” by Sheila M. Long.  Silverware is used from the outside in.  The last step in setting the table is to space the settings 16 inches wide.  This gives each guest plenty of room.

Napkin folding adds an extra touch of flare to your table.  This site http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/26/napkin-folding_n_4340900.html by Huffington post was very helpful and easy to follow.  I choose the Bishop’s hat but the rosette is even simpler.  When doing the rosette I would recommend a colored napkin.  You may also find several examples on you tube.

When announcing dinner, the hostess will say, “Dinner is served.”  At that time the guests will be escorted into the dining room the hostess escorted by man-of-honor, or other ranking member of the party.  The Host, by lady-of-honor or high-ranking woman in the party.  If having a party of 10 or more, choose a seating partner for each woman ahead of time and use place cards.  If 10 or less in your party you as the hostess should direct the guests to their assigned seats.  The male escort shall seat the female by pulling out her chair.

The atmosphere is of utmost importance.  Think the five senses, Smell-candles or the food prepared, Sight- place setting and table scape, sound-classical music with conversational decibel levels, Touch- feel of fabrics and clothing, and Taste of food.  Above all a good hostess makes her guests feel at ease.  Some tips to making your guests feel at ease;

1) Place your napkin in your lap to signal it is time to do the same and begin.

2) Finger bowls-should be used after serving messy foods or after the fish course, or just before dessert.  The Victorian tradition is to use rose-water which can be quite expensive and found at Whole Foods or other organic stores.  Or make your own.  this YouTube video was helpful; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JT8TZfqeCtw.  Another less time-consuming and expensive is lemon water.  You can make this with real lemon pieces or lemon juice and warm water.  Promptly clear these once all guests have finished.

3) As a hostess you should continue eating until the last guest has finished so as not to make anyone feel uncomfortable.  As someone who gets very excited about the next thing, I look up and pace myself accordingly to my guests. Its hard at first but you get the picture.

4) Eat something before the party to help maintain your energy throughout the evening.

5) Be cheerful, interested, and no matter what happens, relaxed.  Your mood sets the tone.

6)  Always entertain with in your means.  Guests come to a party to enjoy one another’s company!

Knowing the correct dining etiquette gives you more confidence so you can relax and enjoy social gatherings, no matter how formal.  Entertaining around the dinner table can promote both business and friendship.  Have fun!

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