Sunday, 12 January 2014

17 December 1881 - 'How to Provide for a Children's Party' by Phillis Browne

Use lots and lots of food colouring. Children love colour.

There is many a household where the children would be allowed to have a “party” now and then, if it were not for the trouble which the necessary preparation would entail upon the elders. Why should not the girls belonging to our cooking class set to work to give a little pleasure to their small brothers and sisters?  So far as the cooking is concerned, I am sure they could do what has to be done easily, and I have very little doubt that if they tried they could manage to entertain the youngsters as well as to feed them. What do you say, big grown-up sisters?  Do you think the little ones would like it?  If they would, persuade mamma to consent, tell her you will take all the trouble of getting ready out of her hands, send out your invitations, and then let us have a little talk together about what is to be provided for supper.

First of all, however, I must tell you that I am a very old-fashioned person. I believe in children being treated as children, and fed on simple wholesome diet. I should be very sorry to ask any of my young friends to spend an evening with me, and then arrange matters so that they should be in the hands of the doctor for two or three weeks after they have left me. Therefore, I warn you that if you admit me into consultation you will not be told of anything rich and savoury, but only what is suitable, plain, and good. I will answer for it, however, that the children will appreciate the dishes which I am about to suggest, and if they are satisfied I do not think we need mind anyone else.

There is one advantage in providing for children, and that is that you soon know whether or not they like what is set before them. Also, you are in no difficulty as to the kind of dishes which they prefer. Meat they do not care much for, and they are better without it at night; therefore, so far as the children are concerned, we need not trouble about meat dishes. Of course, if there are any mammas and papas invited to accompany the children, it is a different thing; we enter upon a new field altogether. Here, however, I am speaking of provision for children only, and I maintain that you may make all sorts of expensive preparations, provide fish, fowl, or good red herrings, etc., and the children will care very little for any of them. Your substantial dishes will all be regarded as so many unimportant details which must be surmounted before the sweets can be arrived at. If, therefore, you will be persuaded by me you will provide nothing in the way of meat excepting a few well-made beef, ham or tongue sandwiches, and a dish of sausage rolls. Even these will be introduced more for form than anything else. You will not think you have made suitable provision unless you have a few sandwiches; therefore have them by all means, but if you consult the wishes of the children you will not provide a large quantity, neither will you pass round those which are there too many times.

But though our supply of meat be thus limited, we must take good care to have plenty of fruit – oranges, apples, almonds and raisins, French plums and grapes, and fresh fruit, if it is in season. Nuts I should not recommend, because nuts very often disagree with children. More than all, however, we must have an ample variety of good sweets, and by good I mean sweets which look well, as well as taste well. We are all influenced by the eye as by the palate, and children are especially so. Moreover, children like colour and appreciate contrasts. The addition of a few drops of cochineal will often determine their appreciation of a dish. As we wish to please the little folks, we must not forget to supply colour.

Before I go on to the all important sweets, however, I must say a word about making the sandwiches. Perhaps you feel inclined to say “Everyone knows how to make sandwiches! Why speak of them?” I suppose theoretically everyone does know, and yet well made sandwiches are very rarely met with. First of all, the sandwiches must be freshly made, and with bread which is firm but not dry; therefore if you do not bake at home, order a square tinned loaf of the baker, and have it baked the day but one before the day of the party. A loaf of this shape is the best, because there is so little waste in cutting it. If you were wanting to make a large quantity of sandwiches it would be well to order a sandwich loaf – that is, a plain tinned loaf of twice the usual length. This would supply you with the maximum amount of crumb and the minimum amount of crust. A loaf of the ordinary size will, however, make a very good dish of sandwiches.

Before cutting our sandwiches, we put the meat of which they are to be made on a plate, look it over very carefully, and remove all the gristle, skin, and inferior portions, then cut the remainder into small mouthfuls. We place the mustard and butter (the latter must not be too hard to spread easily) close to our hands, and then we may commence operations. If the sandwiches were to be made of beef, a little salt would be needed, but  for ham or tongue this is not required.  By the way, I may say that economical housekeepers often make beef sandwiches of the tinned corned beef, for the purpose finding it both convenient and cheap.

Of course, the crust must be shaved from the loaf all around, and the slices must be cut thinly and with a sharp knife. The butter must be spread very lightly, and the mouthfuls of meat must be laid on evenly to cover the whole surface of the under slice. Add mustard judiciously, press the uppermost slice upon the meat gently with the hand, and cut the slice into triangular pieces of a small size; large sandwiches do not look well. Cover a dish with a neatly folded napkin, pile the sandwiches lightly on it, place small sprigs of green parsley here and there upon it, and our dish is ready.

We should not make these sandwiches until the day of the party, and the later they could be made the better. It is quite possible, however, that our friends the providers will have so much to do and think of that they will wish to make the sandwiches early and get them off their minds. They may do this easily, and the sandwiches will take no harm if they are placed in a cool place, and if a napkin wrung out of cold water is placed on them.

If liked, sandwiches can be made of something different to the ordinary ham or tongue. Cold meat, poultry or game may be used, potted meats or potted fish of all kinds, or even cold dressed fish with fish sauce can be converted into sandwiches. The most delicious sandwiches I ever tasted were made with brown bread and butter and filleted anchovy (that is, strips of anchovy freed from bone and skin), hard boiled eggs cut into slices, and small salad. These sandwiches were rather troublesome to make, but they were quite worth the trouble they cost.

The sausage rolls may be very easily prepared. Calculate how many rolls you will need, and procure half the number of sausages, because each sausage will make two rolls. If you buy ready made sausages, be very particular where you get them, because as you know there are sausages and sausages. Do not get very highly seasoned meats, because children are not partial to pepper. Make a little flaky pastry, the recipe for which you will find in a previous number of THE GIRL’S OWN PAPER. Roll this out into pieces the eighth of an inch thick and six inches square. Cut the sausages into halves, lay each half in the middle of a square, fold the pastry over the meat, and join the edges neatly down the centre. Place the rolls on a greased baking tin, brush the tops of the rolls with egg, slightly beaten, and bake in a hot oven. It is best to cook the sausages partially before putting them in the pastry, then the rolls are sufficiently baked when the pastry is done. The fresh sausages may be plunged into fast boiling water and simmered for five minutes; after this the skin can be drawn off, and when cold the sausages are ready.

Jellies, creams and blancmanges are always liked by children, therefore I would advise you to make an ample supply of these either the day before, or the day but one before the party. In arranging for an affair of this kind it is always well to do as much as possible beforehand, and to leave as little as may be to the actual day; however much you do you will find quite enough to occupy you at the time.  There will be rooms and table to prepare, the children to get ready, the games to arrange, and the flowers to look after. As to how you are to make the jellies and creams, I must refer you to my articles on those two subjects published recently. Follow closely the directions given there and your moulds will turn out well, only remember to supply colour and to give ample scope to your ideas of ornamentation.

As to additional sweet dishes, I will mention two or three which you may like to make in addition to those I have mentioned.

Snow Balls- Boil a teacupful of ice with a pint and a half of milk; flavour with chopped almonds, sweeten with sifted sugar.  When tender beat the rice briskly to make it smooth.  Pour it into cups which have been rinsed in cold water.  When cold turn these on a glass dish; garnish with bright-coloured jam, and serve with milk or cream.

Fruit Gateau – Soak half an ounce gelatine in as much water as will cover it for half an hour.  Boil half a pint of water and a quarter of a pound of sugar to a syrup.  Throw in a pound of any kind of firm fruit, without being at all broken, and simmer till the fruit is tender.  Dissolve the gelatine, put it with the fruit, add a few drops of cocineal, if colour is needed, and the juice of a lemon if dry fruit has been used.  Place a jelly-pot in the middle of a mould, pour the fruit round it; turn it when cold on a glass dish and put cream in the centre.

It is astonishing what a number of dishes you can make by following this recipe and using different fruits.  French plums make a delicious mould, which looks dark and rich as well as tastes well.  Apples too, flavoured with lemon and boiled to pulp, are very good; rhubarb also, and cranberries for people who like cranberries, are excellent.  Fresh fruit, of course, may be used in this way, and excellent gateaux may be made of any fruit which is firm enough to keep its shape when boiled.  In winter it is a good plan to make two moulds, one of apples and one of prunes.  The preparations of apple can, if liked, be arranged in layers, each alternative layer being coloured.

Lemon Sponge – Soak an ounce of gelatine in a quarter of a pint of water.  In half an hour put it into a saucepan with three-quarters of a pint of water; the thin rind and strained juice of two fresh lemons, and three-quarters of a pound of loaf sugar.  When the gelatine is dissolved pour the liquid out and let it remain until it is cold and beginning to set.  Take the whites of thee eggs, without a speck of yellow, beat them well, then put them with the dissolved gelatine, and whisk all together till the preparation stiffens and looks like snow.  Pile it high on a dish and make it look as rocky as possible, and at the last moment sprinkle hundreds and thousands, or pink sugar, over it.  Serve with finger biscuits.  To make the pink sugar, crumble a little loaf sugar to powder; drop a little cochineal on the palm of the hand, and rub the sugar in the cochineal.  Spread it out to dry.

Jam with Cream – Rub three or four good lumps of sugar upon a large fresh lemon till all the yellow part is taken off; add more sugar to make up four ounces.  Put this in half a pint of double cream and flavour with a glass of raisin wine, if liked.  Whip the cream with a whisk till it is slightly thick.  Put a spoonful of apricot jam at the bottom of some six or eight custard glasses.  Fill the glasses with the whipped cream, and serve with sponge fingers.

Stewed Prunes are always liked by children, and served with milk or cream they are both wholesome and excellent.  The prunes should be soaked overnight in plenty of cold water, they should then be simmered gently in the same water till they are quite soft; a little lemon rind and two or three cloves may be stewed with them.  When done the fruit should be drained (stoned or not), allowed to cool a little, then piled high in a dish.  The syrup should be strained, sweetened and thickened slightly with a little arrowroot, coloured with two or three drops of cochineal, and poured over the fruit. 

Peach Compote, or Pine-apple Compote – Procure a tin either of preserved pine-apple or preserved peaches and a small and rather stale sponge cake.  Pour off the juice and put it into an enamelled stewpan with a breakfast-cupful of white sugar and a teacupful of water, and boil a minute or two till the sugar is dissolved; then put in the fruit and stew gently till it is quite tender.  Cut a piece out of the centre of the sponge cake, leaving a good wall all round which is not likely to break.  Put the fruit (when quite cold) gently into the centre of the cake, place a slice of sponge cake on the top as a cover; pour the syrup all over, and let the cake soak in the syrup.  Pour a thick cream or custard over all; sprinkle pistachio kernels, which have been blanched like almonds and chopped finely, on the top, and the compote is ready.  The sponge cake which was cut out may be crumbled, put into a glass dish, soaked in cream, and covered first with jam and then with good custard.

I must not, in speaking of the sweets, forget to mention the fruit.  As I said before, have plenty of fruit; it is wholesome and comparatively inexpensive and convenient.  If the party is given in summer time when we can get fresh fruit, we possess a great advantage.  A large dish of ripe strawberries or currants will go a long way towards furnishing one table, and with the addition of white sugar and cream, will constitute luxury by themselves.  The more usual time for parties, however, is in winter, when apples, oranges, and dried fruits only are to be had.  The value of these will be greatly increased if they are prettily dished with green leaves for garnish.  May I remind my friends that when fresh leaves are not available artificial leaves may be bought at the fancy shops?

Ripe juicy oranges are always popular when they can be eaten in private; but they are rather more than children can manage who are seated, not at the table, but round the room; who have a plate, and a fork, and a spoon on their knees; and who are specially desirous of conducting themselves with elegance and propriety.  I never see children at parties eating oranges but I think of the two old ladies in Crawford who made a point of retiring to their bedrooms when they were about to indulge in oranges, because they so much enjoyed sucking the fruit, and did not like to do so before each other.  Besides, with children pretty best dresses have to be considered, and we do not want them to come to grief.  Why then should we not prepare the oranges so that the children’s difficulty will vanish? 

The usual way of preparing oranges is to cut them in half, but a half orange is almost as difficult to manage as a whole one; far better adopt the following plan, which comes to us, I believe, from America.  Peel off the skin of the orange, leaving only a band round the middle about an inch wide.  Divide the orange into sections, but let these remain connected by the band.  The strip of rind can (if liked) be divided into two, so that each child can have half an orange instead of a whole one; but in either case it will be found that the sections can be removed when wanted and disposed of one by one, and that without any discomfort.  Oranges thus prepared do not look very well, but they are most convenient for eating. 

When the time has come for laying out the supper, be sure to arrange the dishes so that the different colours shall contrast prettily.  Intermix the white creams with dark gateaux or pink jellies, and let there be plenty of flowers upon the table; be sure also that there is an ample supply of forks, spoons and clean plates.

Of course we must provide something for our little friends to drink, and what shall that be?  A great many hospitably disposed people out of the kindness of their hearts offer wine to children – sherry or raisin wine, or even champagne.  Be sure this is mistaken kindness.  If the children are judiciously brought up they will not be accustomed to wine at home, and wine is more likely to disagree with them than anything else.  Have plenty of lemonade and raspberry vinegar; simple drinks like these will quench the thirst of your guests and will do them no harm.

The raspberry vinegar and water may have a little carbonate of soda stirred into it and be drunk during effervescence.  The lemonade may be made as follows –

Lemonade – Pare the thin yellow rind of two lemons and throw it into a pint of cold water.  Boil this with half a pound of loaf sugar till it is a clear syrup; strain and cool it, and mix with it a quarter of a pint of lemon juice.  Two tablespoonfuls of this syrup mixed with a tumbler-ful of cold water will make an excellent drink.  If liked, the lemon syrup can be mixed with water beforehand, put into decanters, and served in large claret glasses instead of tumblers. Some people use lemon juice sold in bottles for preparations of this kind, but bought lemon juice never tastes so well as juice newly strained from fresh lemons.

Last but not least, whatever else you omit, at a children’s party have plenty of bonbons.

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