Dinner at Emo Court in the Early 1800s
A Sample Dinner Menu for the Party of 12 Guests at Emo Court in 1821
Dinner at Emo Court in Victorian Times
A Sample Dinner Menu for Eight Persons (1890)
A Sample Dinner Menu for Six Persons (1892)
Special Dishes for Dinner Parties and Balls
A Sample Menu for the Ball Supper held at Emo Court, December 1879
Entering the Dining Room
By the 19th century, it was customary to have an aperitif in the drawing room before dinner. Ladies and gentlemen always wore formal dress for dinner, even if it was just an ordinary affair of five courses (soup, fish, meat, sweet and savoury courses). When the dinner gong was sounded, the ladies and gentlemen would rise and file into the dining room in a previously-arranged pattern of precedence. Each gentleman took the arm of the lady who would sit on his right, the host and honoured female guest entering first, the hostess and highest ranking gentleman last.
|Table manners were extremely important at dinner. The correct cutlery and glass had to be used for each course, and one ate only a little of each dish, and that delicately. When wine was taken, it was customary to drink to another person, making firm eye contact across the table before raising glasses together and drinking with great gravity. During the meal, each gentleman attended to the lady seated to his right, ensuring that she was served with the wine she preferred, choosing the same wine for himself, and bowing his head to her with each sip taken, for even the gruffest country gentleman sipped his wine rather than quaffed it. If a dinner was given in someone’s honour, toasts were made after the main course.|
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Until the mid-19th century, dinner was served à la française, with all the food laid on the table at the same time. As many dishes were served, dinner was laid in two vast courses of firsts and seconds. Carving was done at the table and to carve well was one of the gentlemanly arts. Ladies were also expected to carve and serve well, although at large dinner parties they only served the soup and sweet dishes. Around 1860, the French system was replaced by service à la Russe, where food was served up course by course by liveried footmen. With this new serving method, which needed an average of one servant to every three diners, each diner was now guaranteed a taste of every course on offer and the food reached their plate at the correct temperature. The hard part was choosing which of the many courses to partake of, and which to pass over.
Plate bucket from
the dining room at
In this period, dinner would have been served à la française. A plain everyday dinner might consist of only three or four savoury dishes, followed by dessert or cheese. A formal dinner, however, consisted of a large number of dishes served in two main courses or ‘services’. The first course began with a light broth and a fish dish, perhaps crimped salmon or fillets of sole de Savoy.
A selection of salads
second course consisted of another six or more lighter
dishes of vegetables, meats, cold sweets and savouries. These too
were placed on the table together. Typical seconds were oyster vol-au-vents,
mutton soufflé, pickled salmon, lobsters, sweetbreads, macaroni, scallops,
roast quail, peas, asparagus, omelette, wine jelly, almond blancmange,
lemon soufflé and orange tart. After the second course, the outer table
cloth was removed to reveal the finer one underneath, upon which the dessert
was set. Dessert might comprise hothouse fruits, preserves, and stomachic
ginger, washed down with claret, port, and sherry or
used to serve drinks in the dining room at
(based on the Abbeyleix menu book
in the National Library of
Beef head soup
Veal à la chicore glace
Ragoût de mutton
Sausages with marinated cabbage
Chicken à la tartare
Roast suckling pig
Four roast pigeons
Oysters in the oven
Biscuit à la crème
In the Victorian
By about 1860, there had been a radical change in the way that dinner was served, with service à la Russe taking the place of service à la française. With this change, dishes were now served up in many successive courses. The quantity of food eaten at a Victorian dinner party was enormous - even a modest dinner for six diners typically contained at least 13 courses and dessert. As one butler observed, a dinner under five courses was hardly considered a dinner!
According to Mrs Beeton, a complete dinner consisted of the following courses:
1. Hors d’oeuvres
This list is deceptive, however, as two soups or fish dishes might be served, along with a choice of entrées, while the ‘entremets’ course typically contained three distinct courses.
Fish dishes: turbot, whitebait and mackerel
Next followed the soup course: usually a clear consommé although if there were more than twelve guests a second soup of a thicker consistency was also served. Victorian favourites included mulligatawny, potage à la Reine (a thick soup with chicken, bacon, vegetables and almonds), and chestnut soup, which was laborious to prepare, as the roast chestnuts had to be rubbed through a fine sieve. Soup was followed by one or more fish courses, often a boiled or fried fish followed by a cold fish plate.
A selection of cold entrées:
The next course was the remove, a joint of meat which formed the most substantial part of the meal. The remove was perhaps a saddle of mutton or fillet of beef, or a side of ham chaudfroid. It was the pièce de résistance of the meal. The joint was, of course, served with the most appropriate vegetables, fresh from the garden, and liberal amounts of sauce or gravy.
Although at this point the diners had eaten a substantial quantity of food (or at least picked a little at each course), there were still many courses to go! The next was the rôti, a dish of roast poultry or game, such as stuffed quail, roasted plovers, or dressed woodcock.
Cold Sweet: Gateau St. Honoré
three distinct courses: dishes of dressed vegetables and salad, followed
by sweet entremets and then savoury. Sweets might be hot and cold, with
hot sweets served first, as the cold sweets of jelly, blancmange, whipped syllabub
or sorbet were designed to clean the palate before the savoury dish.
Jellies were set in elaborate, highly decorative moulds, and often contained
layers of fresh fruit. Macédoine de fruit à la gelée, for
example, contained mixed fruit such as grapes, strawberries, red currants,
Macédoine de fruit à la gelée
The savoury was the last course before dessert, and as the diners were undoubtedly feeling quite full by this point, it was merely a mouthful or bonne bouche. As this small dish should have a piquant flavour, items such as cheese straws or anchovy aigrettes were deemed appropriate. When the savoury course was finished, the dessert course was laid – a plethora of fresh, dried and crystallised fruit, with an array of bon-bons and homemade biscuits.
This substantial meal was, of course, accompanied by fine wine and spirits. As it was customary by the Victorian period to serve a different wine with each course, one wonders how the guests could stand up by the end, in order to retire to drawing room for tea and coffee!
(From Mrs Beeton)
Meringues à la Crème
Desserts and Ices
A supper table laden with delights
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(From Mrs Beeton)
Fried Slices of Codfish with Anchovy Sauce
Stewed Rump-steak à la Jardinière
Leg of Mutton
Curried Rabbit and Boiled Rice
Tartlets of Greengage Jam
Desserts and Ices
Dinner parties were lavish events, and could include such rare delicacies as speckled blue plover’s eggs served in their original nests or showpiece dishes such as salamangundy, a magnificent salad with pickled herrings as a centrepiece, surrounded by dishes of cucumber, celery, apple, lettuce, anchovies, eggs, grapes and cooked fowl, all garnished with watercress and nasturtium flowers. Such dishes allowed the cook to display her expertise in combining different colours and tastes to the most decorative effect.
A selection of tempting hors d’oeuvres:
At special dinners, turtle soup might grace the menu. This was usually made with sun-dried turtle meat, as fresh turtle was hard to come by. Other special dishes included Prince’s soup (a consommé with turnips, peas and finely shredded truffle), caviar pancakes, ‘angels on horseback’ (oysters rolled in thin strips of bacon, baked in the oven and served on pieces of fried bread), and roast quails stuffed with liver and served with slices of ham and truffle. The most extravagant showpiece dishes, however, were surely the ‘coffin’ pies in which live birds were encased, to the surprise and delight of the unsuspecting diners.
parties and fêtes were invariably catered for - a fête held at Emo Park in
1911, for example, which 400 people attended, was catered for by George
Matthews of Portarlington. Similarly, the supper and wines for the 1858
subscription ball organised by the Countess of Portarlington, were brought in
At ball suppers,
the food consisted mainly of cold dishes, including various types of
mayonnaise, game, poultry, pies, galantines, salads, jellies and fresh fruit,
all laid out beautifully on a buffet table, garlanded with flowers and foliage.
At larger-scale events, the food was also of the highest quality. In 1848, for
example, 200 gentlemen and farmers who dined at Emo enjoyed a profusion of
pies, tarts, jellies, blancmanges and pineapples, as well as lobsters caught
fresh that morning in
(Based on Mrs Beeton)
Pigeons stewed in a casserole
Fillet of sole in aspic
Partridges masked with sauce
Galantine of turkey
Stewed pears and cream
Meringues with vanilla cream