Monday, December 17, 2018

From Dinner Parties to Afternoon Teas: Tips from Tea-Kettle Talk

Want some tips and guidelines for hosting the swankiest holiday dinner party in town? Look no further than the 1924 cookbook Tea-Kettle Talk, published by the Alumnae Association of the North Carolina College for Women (now UNC Greensboro). The cookbook was sold by the Alumnae Association for $1 per copy (an addition five cents for mailing). It collated recipes from the college's alumnae, faculty, and faculty wives alongside "suggestive menus for clubs," "simple table service suggestions," and "household suggestions." Many of the recipes hold titles that boast of being "my husband's favorite."

For those looking to throw a fancy holiday shindig, the "Simple Table Service Suggestions" section of the book outlines three forms of service for a formal meal:

  • The Russian Service "requires well-trained butler and maids to serve each course from the kitchen. This method gives freedom to host and hostess to give greater pleasure to guests. The hostess is served first and leads in all the formalities, so that even the least sophisticated may be at ease."
  • English Form of Service. "In the English form of service the hostess serves the soup and the salad, and the host the meat. The remainder is left to the butler or maid."
  • The Compromise Service "is a combination of the above forms. The soup or cocktails may be placed when dinner is announced. The host serves the meat; the vegetables are passed by the butler from the serving table. The salad and dessert are usually served from the butler's pantry. The coffee service may be placed before the hostess or it may be served from the kitchen."

Perhaps you are throwing a less formal afternoon tea or coffee. Tea-Kettle Talk has some guidelines for hosting those events as well.

For a Five O'clock Tea or an "At Home," the book notes "cover the table with dainty madeira and place a vase of flowers in the center. If only tea is poured, place a tea service at each end of the table." Another more substantial option would be to "cover the polished table with a dainty centerpiece of linen and place a vase or bowl of cut flowers in the center. Place an attractive tray cloth at one end for the chocolate service and one at the other end of the table for the tea service. A plate of dainty sandwiches, another of macaroons complete the necessary refreshments."

A simple Afternoon Tea, the book notes, "is not a meal, but simply a cup of tea and a wafer; or in summer, a glass of iced tea or sherbet."

For those wanting more caffeine, the Afternoon Coffee is another option. Tea-Kettle Talk notes "if coffee is served from the living room, cover the table with a linen cloth. Place the cups and saucers, sugar, cream and silver coffee service at the hostess' place. Place a bowl of flowers in center, a plate of crackers or bread and butter sandwiches on either side. If coffee is served from the kitchen, a small tray is permissible in handling it."

In the pre-Keurig machine-era, a recipe for "Boiling Water Coffee" is provided by Minnie Lou Jamison, who served as editor of Tea-Kettle Talk. Jamison serving at the time as a freshman counselor but had previously been a faculty member in the Department of Home Economics and a home demonstration and extension agent across the state:

"One heaping tablespoon of each half pint of boiling water. Scald the pot. Pour the freshly boiled water over the coffee. Place the pot where the coffee will keep hot but not boil. Add a little egg or clean, crushed egg shell to settle it. When the color is rich and clear the coffee is ready to serve."

These service guidelines and recipes demonstrate the extensive work that went into planning and throwing a gathering during this era. They also show the importance of a maxim that is included in the final "Household Suggestions" chapter of Tea-Kettle Talk: "A place for everything, and everything in its place."

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