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by Charles Eastlake

Primary authority on what was proper, beautiful, efficient in all aspects of mid-19th-century interior design. Originally published in 1868. Over 100 illustrations.
                                   
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For Every Food There is a Dish
by Bob Brooke

 

Dining in the homes of wealthy Victorians was an experience. Not only did the etiquette of the day dictate who sat where, decorum at the dinner table, and conversational protocol, it also dictated what dish was to be used with which food and which utensil should be used to eat it.

Not only were the dinner hosts and their guests dressed formally for dinner, so was the dinner table, itself. Because formal Victorian dinners were so complex, dining rooms featured massive dining tables, sideboards and buffets. At the heart of the dinner was the properly set Victorian table, with individual place settings containing up to 24 pieces of silver to accommodate elaborate menus often consisting of up to 12 courses.



As many as eight forks could occupy one place setting, with an equal number of knives and an assortment of spoons to cover a myriad of food and drink items that included cream soups, clear soups, hot or iced tea, coffee and dessert. In addition to the flatware, tables were filled with silver serving dishes, condiment dishes, cake stands, fruit stands, cruets, asparagus tongs, game sheers and picks for butter or nuts.

Victorians designed table settings so that everything was accessible for guests, who shouldn’t have to disassemble anything to eat.

Place setting placement varied only by what was on the menu, since unnecessary items could be withheld. The place setting began with the dinner plate at the center. Forks were placed on the left side of the plate, starting with the dinner fork, followed by the fish fork, place fork, salad fork and ending with a cocktail fork, which could also be placed on the other side of the plate, following the spoons. The dinner knife was located to the right of plate, followed by the fish knife, butter knife and additional knives for cheese, game or fruit, followed by an iced tea spoon, cream soup spoon, bouillon spoon, hot tea spoon and demitasse spoon. A dessert spoon and fork were placed above the plate, facing opposite directions.



Wealthy Victorians used the best table linens on their tables. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for them to use two or three layers of tablecloths which could be removed after each course.

Common centerpieces included bowls of flowers placed on beveled mirrors or wreaths surrounding a pyramid of fruit. It was important that centerpieces did not interfere with conversation or block guests from being able to see one another across the table. Name cards also appeared beside each guest’s plate.



The American Agriculturalist in 1869 suggested a standard placement of dishes for every dinner. The meat and carving utensils should be set in front of the man, the soup in front of the lady, and the vegetables closest to the older members of the family. A spoon should accompany each dish served, with one or two spares available. If only two salts were used then individual salt spoons were necessary. The salt spoons were dispensed with if individual salts were provided at each place setting. Dessert was to be arranged on a side table if no servants were available. To prevent confusion, The American Agriculturalist wisely advised, this arrangement of dishes for dinner and dessert should never be altered.

Victorian Dinner Services
During the first half of the 19th century, a wealthy Victorian household would have purchased separately three different dining services—breakfast, dinner, and tea. But by the 1890s, most purchased one set that could be used for all three types of meals. One of these “en suite” services could conceivably consist of over 400 pieces. Exactly what types of dishes were included in such a set was complicated at best.



The central piece in a dining service was the plate, which came in three sizes—8, 9, and 10 inches. There would have been 12 of each size. Some services included 24 of the larger plates to allow for breakage since patterns would have been specially ordered. In descending order by size, the plates were used for dinner, supper, and dessert.

Also included was a nested set of oval platters which were used to serve meat. Sizes ranged from 22 to 10 inches and went down in size by increments of 2 inches. The 10-inch size was sometimes called a bacon platter. A drainer was frequently included to fit one or more of these platters. Long, narrow platters were used for serving fish. Chop plates, measuring 11 inches or more in diameter, and fish platters were included in some services. Occasionally, dinner services included a large well-and-tree platter.

Sometimes called a poultry dish, this distinctive platter had a gravy well molded at one end and channels molded throughout the surface of the platter to drain the gravy into the well. The platter's name describes the overall appearance of the channels and the veil. An extra high rim was applied underneath the end opposite the well to create a slope down which the gravy would train. Many different designs were used for the patterns of the gravy channels.

Flat, lozenge-shaped inserts pierced usually with a large central hole and always with a pattern of small drain soles. This ceramic slab was made in two sizes in a service to fit into 16- and 18-inch platters. They were used to serve boiled fish, draining the excess water into the Matter beneath the drainer. They were also used for serving meat. At times the drain-hole patterns are distinctive.



A complete service would include one or two large soup tureens and as many as four or six small sauce tureens. Each came with its own matching under tray or liner, lid and ladle. The lid had small notches to fit around the ladle handle. Low soup tureens are called chowder tureens at times.

Each dinner service had one or two gravy boats with separate undertrays. Some have the undertrays attached to the boat. You may run across a boat with two spouts and two side-handles designed to serve sauces for fish.

A deep dish, covered or open, was used for serving vegetables. A dinner service would have four, at times including an inner liner or water pan. Open vegetable bowls came in pairs or in three graduated sizes. In Victorian England, especially on large country estates, covered dishes were necessary to keep food warm on its trip to the table. The lords and ladies despised kitchen smells and kept their kitchens as far away from the dining room as possible.

Sauce dishes served stewed fruit, applesauce and similar foods. Twelve would be included in a service. They measured between 5 and 5 1/2 inches and were sometimes called "nappies."

In Flow Blue these are usually small circular dishes with covers. Some have a pierced strainer on which the butter rests, allowing water to drain from freshly churned butter. This strainer was also useful if chipped ice or ice water was used to cool the butter, a necessity if but-ter was to be served during the hot summer months in the 19'h century. Butter dishes also came in rectangular and hexagonal shapes.

The name explains the use but it covers a wide variety of shapes. It is most often associated with a small leaf shaped dish with dentil edges. They were produced by many large pottery works including Ridgway and Wedgwood but are often found unmarked. These have also been called relish and celery dishes. Two or more of these small dishes were found in a service.

Custard cups (a.k.a. punch or toddy cups) came in a dozen, with or without matching covers. These were small capacity, single handled, often footed cups used to serve egg custard in the last course before dessert. They may have been used for hot punches or toddies as well.

At first, tea was served in small handleless tea bowls, imitating the Chinese custom. Cups with handles didn’t appear until the 1820s.;The early saucers were deep, bowl shapes since the Chinese also poured their tea into the saucer and sipped it from there. These larger saucers measured roughly 6 inches in diameter.

During the first half of the 19th century in America, people placed their empty cup on a special cup plate once they had poured their tea into the large saucer to protect the table linens. Some sets included “waste” bowls in which the dregs from cups of tea could be poured to refresh the cup.

While cream pitchers were relatively small, sugar bowls, on the other hand, were overly large and always came with a lid. They had large, wide-mouthed openings to accommodate sugar processed in conical molds. These molds created large, cone-shaped "sugar loafs" weighing five pounds. Sugar nippers were used to snip off small pieces of the loaf, which were placed in the large-mouthed sugar bowls. Sugar tongs lifted these smaller lumps from the bowl to the cup. After the mid-1860s, the process of granulating sugar crystals was developed.



Some dinner services came with cake plates which could also be alternatively used as bread and butter plates. Measuring 8 to 9 inches, they were often square-shaped.

When the main courses had all been served and eaten, the butler and the footmen would remove the tablecloth and serve dessert and champagne. Up to the end of the 19th century, Victorians could purchase a dessert service separately from dinner services. These included a dozen 8- to 9-inch plates, tazzas or cake stands, nut or sweet dishes, ice pails and bowls.

At the end of the dinner, women would retire to the drawing room for coffee or tea while the men remained behind in the dining room to smoke and drink port wine.

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