No dinner, however beautifully cooked and served, no fine raiment, however costly and becoming, can ever atone, in the memory of a man, for the wild and untamed morning which too often prevails in the American household. His mind, distraught with business cares, harks back to his home—with pleasure? None too often, more’s the pity.
Some one has said that, in order to make a gentleman, one must begin with the grandfather. It is equally true that a good and proper breakfast begins the night before—or, better yet, the morning before.
Careful, systematic planning in advance lightens immeasurably the burden of housekeeping, and, many a time, makes the actual work nothing but fun. Those who have tried the experiment of planning meals for the entire week are enthusiastic in praise of the system. It secures variety, simplifies marketing, arranges for left-overs, and gives many an hour of peace and comfort which could not be had otherwise.
Even if a woman be her own maid, as, according to statistics, eighty-five per cent. of us are, a dainty, hygienic, satisfying breakfast is hers and her lord’s for little more than the asking. By careful preparation in advance, the morning labor is reduced to a minimum; by the intelligent use of lists and memoranda, the weary and reluctant body is saved many an unnecessary step.
An alarm clock of the “intermittent” sort insures early rising, a dash of cold water on the face is a physical and mental tonic of the most agreeable kind, and one hour in the morning is worth two at night, as the grandmothers of all of us have often said.
Fruit, usually, may be prepared for serving the night before, and will be improved by a few hours in the refrigerator. Cereals should be soaked over night in the water in which they are to be cooked, and a few hours’ cooking in the afternoon will injure very few cereals destined for the breakfast table the next morning. Codfish balls and many other things will be none the worse for a night’s waiting; the table can be set, and everything made ready for a perfect breakfast, which half an hour of intelligent effort in the morning will readily evolve.
A plea is made for the use of the chafing-dish, which is fully as attractive at the breakfast table as in the “wee sma’ hours” in which it usually shines; for a white apron instead of a gingham one when “my lady” is also the cook; for a crisp, clean shirt-waist instead of an abominable dressing-sack; for smooth, tidy hair, instead of unkempt locks; for a collar and a belt, and a persistent, if determined, cheerfulness.
In the long run, these things pay, and with compound interest at that. They involve a certain amount of labor, a great deal of careful planning, eternal getting-up when it is far more pleasant to abide in dreamland, quite often a despairing weariness, if not a headache, and no small draft upon one’s power of self-denial and self-sacrifice.
But he who goes in the morning from a quiet, comfortable, well-ordered house, with a pleasant memory of the presiding genius of his hearthstone, is twice the man that his fellow may be, whose wife breakfasts at ten in her bed, or, frowsy and unkempt, whines at him from across a miserable breakfast—twice as well fitted for the ceaseless grind of an exhausting day in the business arena, whence he returns at night, footsore, weary, and depressed, to the four walls wherein he abides.
“How far that little candle throws its beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
To some, this may seem an undue stress laid upon the material side of existence, but the human animal needs animal comforts even more than his brother of forest and field, and from such humble beginnings great things may come, not the least of which is the fine, spiritual essence of a happy home.
HOW 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 table-top, 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 rose-water, 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