Monday, October 6, 2014

Dinner Party Menu: Candlelight Tour (scroll down for pictures)

Washington Territory. Early October, 1855.

At the Hudson Bay Company's Fort Nisqually, Chief Trader W. F. Tolmie is entertaining a few friends with a dinner party.  Dr. and Mrs. Tolmie have many reasons to celebrate: their beautiful new house was completed in April, their fourth child--named James--was born in early September, and now word has come from London that Dr. Tolmie is being promoted to Chief Factor.  Mrs. Tolmie's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Work, have been visiting; very soon, Mrs. Work and her younger daughters will be returning to Fort Victoria, while Mr. Work proceeds proceeds to Olympia, the territorial capital, on business.     

For menu formatting, I consulted Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1860), What Shall We Have For Dinner? by Lady Maria Cutterbuck (1852), Eliza Leslie's New Receipts For Cooking(1854), and a selection of Godey's Bills of Fare reproduced in Civil War Recipes by Lily May and John Spaulding.

General Meal Outline (for a dinner party, according to Mrs. Beeton):

  • First Course: 1-2 soups and 1-4 fish or seafood dishes (for parties from 6 to 18)
  • Entree: 2-4 Meat dishes (one may be substituted for fowl, fish, or a vegetable dish)
  • Second Course: 1-2 Meat and 1-4 Fowl dishes, plus vegetables
  • Third Course (Entrements): 1 or more Fowl Dishes, 5+ puddings, jellies and sweet dishes; for larger groups add a meat dish, a seafood dish and/or a salad
  • Desserts ("and Ices" for parties of 8+) 

For the larger groups, some of these dishes are "removes" which replace an earlier dish in the same course: ie, the Beeton first course for a party of 18 reads something like "Soup-1, removed by Fish-Q, Soup-2, removed by Shellfish-A, Fish-X, Fish-Z".

Many other sources do not delineate the course numbers, but follow a similar outline (soups, fish, meat, fowl, puddings, dessert).  For example, on page 386, Miss Leslie gives an autumn dinner menu (for company): "Mock turtle soup; stewed rock-fish; roasted ham; boiled fowls; stewed ducks; fried rabbits; stuffed egg plant; broccoli and eggs; fried artichokes; stewed mushrooms; potatoe [sic] snow; sweet potatoes--Chocolate pudding; meringued apples; cake syllabub; peach ice-cream."   One thing I'm not sure of is whether this presentation is a way of saving space ('everyone know we mean "serve the fish and soup as the first course, then the ham and fowls, then the..."') or whether the authors expected all of the dishes to be on the table from the start.

The number of dishes in a given meal varies wildly as well; though Miss Leslie didn't specify a number of people for her 16-dish dinner with guests (compare to her 'family supper' of 1 meat dish, 4-5 veggies, and a pudding), Lady Clutterbuck's menus for a party of 8-10 persons range from 8 to 33 dishes.  Mrs. Beeton stays a bit more consistent, with each non-dessert course averaging 1 dish per 2 persons (or five dishes per course for a party of 10).

When I've attended a period dinner served ala Francais, all the main courses were on the table at the outset; servants brought soup to each person and removes were used to replace certain dishes as they emptied.  This was at a ball, so a dance set between dinner and dessert allowed the table to be reset and re-supplied.  Standing buffets (as in Beeton's "cold ball supper") also mix the dishes of 'different courses' freely.  The only time I've seen the course distinction maintained in practice, was while serving at dinners ala Russe, in which each course was plated up in the kitchen, and then served to the individual guest (this is a little different from Beeton's version, in which the guests select their dishes from a menu, and servers fill each plate at a side board containing the dishes).  Which all goes to say, that while I wish I could find explicit documentation for mingling courses 1-3 and the entrees on a table, I feel comfortable enough with the ambiguity to go ahead with it, as the best option for handling a dinner party with few servants, little local staging space, and a long walk to the kitchen.

And so, a (simplified) Bill of Fare for a party of 10 in October:

Dinner (courses served more-or-less concurrently)
"First Course"
Soups: Mullagatawny Soup (sample receipt; Thornhill has his own methods)

Pork Cutlets (prepared by Mrs. Repp) with Tomato Sauce
Beef Fricandeau (prepared by Trapper Dave, Mrs. Rowan)
Potatoes (German Method)

"Second Course"
Roast Goose (prepared by Mrs. Keller-Scholtz) with Apple Sauce
Savoury Vegetable Pie
Boiled Kale 
Boiled Beetroot with Onions

"Third Course"
Chicken Salad
Damson Pudding (used yellow plums, Suet Crust); day 2: Melons
Flanc of Apple
Raspberry Cream (using raspberry jelly)

Company rises and table is re-set

Dish of Fruit (Grapes, apples, plums, pears)
Dish of Nuts  (Hazelnuts, walnuts)
Lemon Cake
Pumpkin Pudding
Chocolate Cream
Baked Apple Custard

Number of meat dishes reduced to meet budgetary restrictions and to take maximum advantage of the heirloom foods produced on site (including kale, golden beets, squash, melons, pumpkin, cucumber, yellow plums, citron, apples, potatoes, and eggs).  Note that vegetarian recipes were available during the mid-19th century.

And finally, the pre-event pictures.  Professional photos were also taken during the event proper.
Long table set for 10 with Spode Blue Italian dishes.
The Factor's House Dining Room, table setting by Mrs. Keller-Sholtz

Blue Italian place settings and soup tureen; candlesticks.
Fort Nisqually's Beautiful Blue Italian Dinner Service
Victorian pumpkin pudding and plum pudding.
Pumpkin and plum puddings for Friday night

Side board with dishes: raspberry cream, apple custard, lemon cake.
Friday Sideboard Close-up, including raspberry cream, apple custard, beets, bread, and lemon cake 
Sideboard dishes: flanc of apple, kale, cheese.
Friday Sideboard: apple custard, beets, bread, lemon cake, flanc of apple, kale, and cheese

Slice Prescott melon and faux wine.
Lemon cake, sliced melon, and decanters of faux wine

Side board with vegetable pie, chicken salad, boiled beets.
Saturday Sideboard Selections, including raspberry cream, flanc of apple, pumpkin pudding, apple custard, vegetable pie, chicken salad, beets, kale, apple sauce and tomato sauce (in pitcher); cheese behind the rightmost candle


  1. Nice job!
    Oh, the ambiguity of bills of fare in the 19th century! Maddening indeed!

  2. I suppose there's nothing for it but more research. ;)


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