Art de la Table > Puttin’ on the glitz

Posted On November 10, 2006

Filed under Art de la Table

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The holidays are just around the corner and families will be getting together in celebration.

Whether it is your first attempt at hosting an event or your 20th, there always will be moments of tension. Proper hostess etiquette taught during the Gilded Age (1865 to 1901) and into the mid-1960s, can make the experience of entertaining much easier and more enjoyable. While some of the old rules or customs of that time period have changed, many of the rules of polite society still remain.

My family usually entertains adults in an adult setting so formal traditions are continued easily. However, I have fond memories of Christmas celebrations where the children sat at the adult table and used the good china, silver and glassware.

Preparing yourself and your table for the occasion can be a fun and rewarding experience. The holidays are a time when family and friends can come together and create or renew traditions for the celebration.

Your china cabinet might hold new or old family dinnerware, but there is a story behind each of your pieces, where, when and who made it, and how it is supposed to be used. Every item brought out of the cabinet is cleaned and polished before it gets put on display.

We have great fun coming across pieces of china, glassware or silverware that we may have picked up or inherited, and have no clue who bought it and what it was used for.

In today’s society, many individuals are familiar with the traditional five-piece place setting for silverware and china, but there are dozens of other pieces that can be added to complete your set. What food you regularly serve will help determine which additional pieces you might need.

When hosting a dinner party without entertainment, you might choose to serve the meal in courses. This gives the dinner a more elaborate atmosphere and helps with the timing of the evening. Each course should be presented about 20 minutes after the previous course.

This creates a more relaxed pace and environment for the guests with less on the table when the guest sits down. A table too crowded can be intimidating and leads to accidents.

Menus can consist of as little as five courses or be as elaborate as 20.

For each of these courses in a truly formal affair, the hostess would be expected to have the particular silverware designed for that course or food item.

A simple seven-course menu can consist of:

* Appetizer: This course can be hot or cold and can be served in a separate room.

* Soup: This should be a broth or cream soup so it doesn’t fill up your guests.

* Salad, served with bread: A mixture of vegetables, fruit, nuts, tossed in a light dressing.

* Sorbet or intermezzo: Frozen fruit juice to cleanse the palate.

* Entrée, vegetable and starch: Your choices should have a variety of color, shape and size to make the presentation more appealing.

* Dessert and coffee: The coffee cup is brought to the table with dessert.

* Cheese and fruit: A tray of three cheeses and fruit like apples, pears, grapes or strawberries is placed on the table.

Based on this basic menu, a hostess needs 13 separate pieces of silverware.

With each course, the silverware is placed in front of the guests before the food is served. When the guests are done with the course they place the silverware on the service plate, if possible, and then it is removed.

As you set the table, you have to decide which pieces you might need and where to place them. A good rule of thumb when setting a table is items used for liquid food or beverages are placed on the right of the plate and items used for solid foods on the left. This is true for all dinnerware and utensils except for the seafood fork. This is to be placed in the bowl of the soup spoon.

Households might have tableware that have little to no use in today’s society. Many odd or rarely used pieces of silver were donated during World War II to be melted down for the war effort. Other pieces have been readapted to fit into our changing lifestyle.

Sporks, now made of plastic, are a wonderful example of a piece of silverware made popular decades after it was first introduced. What you use today in some fast food restaurants for mashed potatoes, cold slaw and salads was once used to eat ice cream.

Seating arrangements are an important factor not to forget when planning your dinner. Place cards should be placed at the table using some basic rules of protocol, the first of which is having the host at one end of the table and the hostess at the other.

This old rule is important today because few households have help serving the meal and it allows the hostess to more easily excuse herself from the table to serve.

Women of honor are seated to the right, then left of the host. Men of honor are then seated to the left, then the right of the hostess. People of honor are determined by age, distance traveled or special circumstances, such as a person with an announcement.

Seating should be male, then female when possible. Having children at the table allows them to become accustomed to traditional etiquette in use today. Couples should be seated away from each other so that they don’t monopolize conversation or sit quietly with no contribution to it.

Children and teens familiar to this setting should be placed away from their parents, so they can work on conversation and table manner skills. When seating small children, you should have no more than one child seated next to a parent. This allows the parent to better enjoy the evening and cuts down on possible accidents and disputes between siblings. Proper setting of place cards can insure that an evening of conversation flows more effortlessly.

At one time silverware was one of the most prized possessions of a family. In the late 1800s when families went to their vacation homes, the only household items that traveled with them was their silver. Today, we have so many options to choose from when selecting dinnerware, glassware and dining utensils.

Antique pieces can be picked up online, at garage sales, flea markets, antique shops and at auctions. Many of the popular patterns of silver now come in silverplate and/or stainless steel. The oldest of the more popular patterns in use today, Repoussé by Kirk Stieff, was first manufactured in 1828.

Royal Albert’s “Old Country Roses” first launched in 1962 and is the most popular china pattern sold. More than 100 million pieces have been produced and sold. It also boasts the largest selection of serving pieces available.

Waterford’s Lismore pattern, first produced in 1957, is the most popular of all crystal patterns in use today and has almost a hundred different pieces you can choose from for every kind of beverage imaginable.

If you have a pattern of dinnerware you’re in love with and are interested in adding settings to your collection, there are many companies that specialize in selling old and new silverware, crystal and china. Many of the companies will repair your silver or silverplate and remove chips from crystal.

When entertaining, it’s not how much the host or hostess has spent on the food or the evening, but how they present it that will be remembered. So go through your china cabinets and use something that hasn’t seen the light of day in years. If you’ve been saving it for a special occasion, make this that occasion.