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TO SET THE TABLE
Having said so much, we proceed, not to our mutton, as the French have it, but to our breakfast, in which the table plays no small nor unimportant part.
There are rumors that the pretty and sensible fashion of doilies on the bare table is on the wane, but let us hope these are untrue, or, if not, that some of us may have the courage of our convictions and continue to adhere to a custom which has everything in its favor and nothing against it.
In the absence of handsome top of oak or mahogany, the breakfast cloths, fringed or not, as one likes, which are about a yard and a quarter square, are the next best thing. Asbestos mats, under the cloth, protect the table from the hot dishes. Failing these, fairly satisfactory substitutes are made from thin white oil-cloth, between two layers of canton flannel, "fur side outside," and quilted on the machine. Grass table-mats are also used, but always under cloth or doily. Canton flannel, quilted, three layers to a mat, is easily washed, and furnishes a great deal of protection.
Breakfast, most assuredly, is not dinner, and there should be a distinct difference in the laying of the table. The small doilies are easily washed, and fresh ones are possible every morning — an assured gain in the way of daintiness.
Let us suppose that we have a handsome tabletop, and an unlimited supply of doilies, tray- cloths and centrepieces. First the centrepiece goes on, exactly in the centre, by the way, and not with a prejudiced leaning to one side or the other. On this belongs the pot of growing fern, the low jar containing a few simple flowers, or a bowl of fruit, decorated with green leaves, if green leaves are to be had.
At each place the breakfast doily, nine or twelve inches square, a small doily for the coffee cup, and another for the glass of water. At the right of the plate, the small silver knife, sharp edge toward the plate, the spoons for fruit and cereal; at the left, one fork, or two, as needed, and the coffee spoon.
In front of the master of the house the small platter containing the pièce de résistance will eventually be placed; in front of the mistress of the mansion, the silver tray bearing the coffee service — coffee pot, hot-water pitcher, cream jug, milk pitcher, and sugar bowl.
Breakfast napkins are smaller than dinner napkins, and the small fringed napkins are not out of place. "Costly thy habit as thy purse will buy" might well refer to linen, for it is the one thing in which price is a direct guarantee of quality.
Satisfactory breakfast cloths and napkins are made of linen sheeting, fringed, hemstitched, or carefully hemmed by hand, and in this way a pretty cloth can be had for less money than in any other. The linen wears well, washes beautifully, and acquires a finer sheen with every tubbing. Insertions and borders of torchon or other heavy lace make a breakfast cloth suitable for the most elaborate occasion, and separate doilies may easily be made to match. The heavy white embroidery which has recently come into favor is unusually attractive here.
Finger-bowls wait on the sideboard, to be placed after the fruit course, or after breakfast. The rosewater, slice of lemon, geranium leaves, and other finger-bowl refinements in favor for dinners are out of place at breakfast. Clear, cool water is in better taste.
The china used at the breakfast table should be different from that used at dinner. Heavier ware is permissible, and more latitude in the way of decoration is given. Much of the breakfast china one sees in the shops is distinctly cheerful in tone, and one must take care to select the more quiet patterns. It is not pleasant to go to breakfast with a fickle appetite, and be greeted by a trumpet-toned "Good Morning" from the china.
Endless difference is allowed, however, and all the quaint, pretty jugs, pitchers, and plates may properly be used at breakfast. One is wise, however, to have a particular color scheme in mind and to buy all china to blend with it. Blue and white is a good combination, and is, perhaps, more suitable for the morning meal than anything else. As a certain philosopher says: "The blue and white look so pretty with the eggs!"
The carafe, muffin plate, platter, and all other bowls, platters, plates, and pitchers not on the individual cover have each a separate doily, with the protecting mat always under hot dishes. A well-set table is governed by a simple law — that of precision. Dishes arranged in an order little less than military, all angles either right or acute, will, for some occult reason, always look well. Informality may be given by the arrangement of the flowers, or by a flower or two laid carelessly on the table. But one must be careful not to trifle too much with this law of precision. Knives, forks, and spoons must all be laid straight, but not near enough together to touch, and napkins and dishes must be precisely placed, else confusion and riot will result.
The breakfast selected as a type consists of fruit, a cereal, salt fish, or salt meat, or eggs, or omelets, hot bread of some kind, and pancakes or waffles, or coffee cake, one dish from each group, and coffee. Six dishes in all, which may be less if desired, but never more. All six form a breakfast sufficiently hearty for a stonemason or a piano mover; one or two give a breakfast light enough to tempt those who eat no breakfast at all. For serving it are required small and medium-sized plates, knives, forks, spoons, egg cups, platters, service plates, cups and saucers, glasses, coffee pot, pitchers, sugar bowl, and cream jug, syrup pitcher, and fruit bowl.
Fruit is said to be "gold in the morning," and it is a poor breakfast, indeed, from which it is omitted. Even in winter it is not hard to secure variety, if time and thought be taken, for the dried fruits are always in the market and by careful cooking may be made acceptable to the most uncertain appetite.
Medical authorities recommend a glass of water taken the first thing upon rising, either hot or cold as suits one beat. A little lemon juice takes the "flat" taste from plain hot water, and clear, cool water, not iced, needs nothing at all. This simple observance of a very obvious hygienic rule will temper the tempestuous morning for any one. One washes his face, his hands, bis body — then why not his stomach, which has worked hard a large part of the night, and is earnestly desirous of the soothing refreshment of a bath?
To those carping critics who cavil at the appearance of the stomach in a chapter entitled "How to Set the Table," we need only say that the table is set for the stomach, and the stomach should be set for the table, and anyway, it comes very near being a table of contents, n'est-ce pas?