Katherine here to usher in Thanksgiving week with a post on Georgian, Regency, and Victorian feasts. Return with me to the era when servants polished mahogany tabletops to a glistening sheen and then garnished them with pewter, silver, bone china (Wedgwood, Crown Derby, or Worcester), crystal, demitasse cups, and wine goblets that promised a night of Maderia, sherry, and champagne.
Times haven’t changed much, have they? 😉
Historically speaking, a formal or casual gathering involved lots of planning. Handwritten invitations were sent via messenger and hosts waited expectantly for an immediate response. When at last guests arrived—fifteen minutes early to prevent angering the cook who fretted the food would get cold—greetings were exchanged until the ladies were offered the arm of a doting gentleman and accompanied to the dining hall in a grand promenade.
Jeeves announced, “Dinner is served.”
Seating arrangements were planned ahead with infinite care. Ladies, dressed in muslin and silk, kids gloves, ribbons, lace, cameos, and pearls were escorted to their seats. There, they were expected to sit erect, as only their corsets allowed them to do, and patiently wait for their male counterparts to finish hobnobbing and take their places beside them.
In the center of the table stood an epergne, a centerpiece of grapes, pineapples, peaches, apricots, or pyramid of plums, flanked by beeswax candles or illuminated by chandeliers and sconces. Servants stationed nearby hastened to serve the first course: fish and a tureen of turtle soup. Strawberries, raspberries, dried fruit, and nuts were conveniently positioned in bowls at table corners. Cake, wafers and apple puffs were presented at the end of the meal.
Six courses in all were served and eaten, each dish intricately graded by color and texture. Oftentimes, twenty-five dishes sat on the table at once. And no English table was complete without a generous helping of English mustard.
Extravagant affairs at a dining table forged lasting relationships, introduced strangers, and solidified alliances. Meals lasted two hours until the hostess finally rose to announce that the ladies should retire to another room. This retreat allowed the gentlemen, dressed in tight-laced cravats and tailored suits, to relax and attend other pursuits: Madeira, port, claret, gambling, and discussions of politics.
Are you planning Thanksgiving dinner at your house? You may not have servants, Oriental rugs, faded chintzes, chinese wallpaper, Staffordshire dogs, or leatherbound books as the article How to Capture the aura of ‘Downton Abbey’ by Laura K. Lloyd suggests. You may not live in a highborn English Manor House, but elegance is only a state of mind.
Rejoice with thanksgiving!
Hold your head high like the toffs, highborn aristocrats, who celebrated every meal in style. Spice up your holiday with period etiquette and charm.
How will you celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Dine on a fancy feast? Cook casual fare? Will your holiday include Christmas decorating, Black Friday shopping, or a traditional football game?
I’ll be spending time with my family and listing everything I’m grateful for, like thanking my lucky stars for you!
Wishing you following winds,