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Page:Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.djvu/1911

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Origin of Menus.—The menu is said to have originated in the reign of Henry VIII, at a banquet given in 1541 by the Duke of Brunswick. It is recorded on good authority that some of the guests sitting near His Grace noticed that he, from time to time, consulted a piece of paper which lay on the table by his side. One, more curious than the rest, ventured to ask the reason, whereupon the Duke explained that it was a list of the dishes to be served, and which he consulted, just as we do now, in order to reserve his appetite for those dishes he liked best. The idea greatly pleased the guests, and soon became generally

known and adopted. For many years the menus must have resembled the smaller play-bills formerly in vogue, for they were gaudily decorated with gastronomical symbols, and so large that two only were needed for a dining table. The peacock, a whole pig roasted, a boar's head, and the baron of beef, which constituted the substantial fare of the Tudor era, could not provide very artistic subjects for ornamentation; but in course of time the menus not only became smaller, but they also increased in artistic and intrinsic value. Many of the hand-painted menus of the present day are works of art (see coloured plate), some of them being fashioned more curiously than tastefully in satin, parchment, and cardboard, with designs more or less appropriate. The plainer menus, in some useful shape that will stand firmly on the table, are in much better taste, and more in keeping with the elegant simplicity that characterizes the table appointments of the well-ordered establishments of the twentieth century. The dinner should always be more elaborate than the menu. One may have a simple menu and an elaborate dinner, but if the order be reversed and long pompous names given to simple inexpensive dishes, the repast may prove a disappointment to those who partake of it.

The slip of paper which the Duke of Brunswick consulted with such evident interest was doubtless a copy of the bill of fare given to the "master cook," a personage so important that his accomplishments, even in those days, would include reading and writing. Therefore, to trace the menu to its real source we must go back to a remote period, to a primitive age when a few verbal instructions from master to man, or mistress to maid, would constitute the only bill of fare. No matter how simple a meal may be, it must be planned and provided for, although written instructions may not be required. But when dealing with increased numbers and more elaborate repasts, cooks need some guide to their work, and aid to their memory, and so necessity, "the mother of invention," introduced the bill of fare, the antecedent of the "menu."

Use of Menus.—The use of a menu has already been indicated: it enables the guest to choose the dishes he prefers; it serves as a guide to the cook not only in assisting her memory, and aiding her culinary operations, but it also and this is an important point helps her to provide everything necessary for the repast; although there is not