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Art of the Table – Book Review

Suzanne Von Drachenfels’s The Art of the Table: A Complete Guide to Table Setting, Table Manners, and Tableware (Simon & Schuster, 2008) delights readers with its evocation of pre-World War I formal dining and its informal dining heir that almost everyone except heads of state practices now.

Von Drachenfels begins her discussion of dinnerware with a quick history of the subject from Neolithic times (circa 10,000 B.C.E.). She writes about Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman pottery; Chinese pottery and porcelain; Islamic pottery, European pottery and porcelain; English pottery and porcelain; and American pottery and porcelain. She then treats readers to an extensive study of decorative methods and styles used in dinnerware and a piece-by-piece discussion of the uses, care, and purchase of plates, bowls, and cups. She repeats this same organization of information when writing about flatware, stemware, and table linens

She lays out at length how to serve meals at a formal dinner service, at an informal dinner service, at a dinner service from a buffet, at formal and informal luncheons, and at afternoon and high teas. She aces the chapter on dining finesse where she addresses the issue of seating arrangements, giving thanks, and making toasts.

The book’s star section is about menu planning, which has one of the best summaries of European wine classifications around. She also discusses the order of the wine service and how to correctly open a bottle of wine. Coffee, tea, and table manners receive air time in the book as well.

The Art of the Table is a superlative reference for those people catering large scale functions or sweet luncheons or even sweeter bridal couples making their wedding wish lists.

(Cookbook reviews will be the topic of the radio show Culture with Ruth Paget on Sunday, November 7, 2010 at noon ET – New York Time – on the Asnycnow Radio 3 channel on http://www.blogtalkradio.com. A podcast of the program will be available on iTunes and at blogtalkradio.com.)

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