The Kettle-drum and the Winter Picnic: 1874

tea-party-1902-5

“KETTLE-DRUM.”
Another Fashionable Folly – Winter Picnics.

In this country we have few gentlemen of leisure, and in society, ladies’ clubs to the contrary notwithstanding, you can do little without gentlemen. While these are daily absorbed in some pursuit, ladies have been compelled to abandon themselves to lounging, dressing, calling, lunching, reading novels, and other weak efforts to kill time, cultivating society principally as an evening amusement, which usually resolves into the crush and jam of a party. Now, however, in large eastern cities, ladies are turning young men who have leisure, into account. They are invited to “kettle-drums,” a species of entertainment something like a high tea, where ladies are in the preponderance, where the rigidity of full evening dress is not required, where the proceedings are easy and informal, servants only being admitted with trays of refreshments, and then excluded, the hostess herself pouring tea or chocolate for her guests, and where society plans are discussed, suggestions made, and people decapitated without mercy. The “kettle-drum” has in it the elements of immense success, but it is necessarily confined in its sphere of operations. It was at a party of that character that the notion of a “winter picnic”—another scheme to kill time of those who have nothing to do during the day—was proposed. The modus operandi of the latter is thus described: A lady volunteers the use of her house, which she is expected to decorate with evergreens in profusion—holly, mistletoe, cedar, pine and the like—and also provide tea. The rest of the eatables the gentlemen contribute. One sends a hamper of ready cooked game, another fruit, another cakes and biscuits, another the creams and ices, and so on, until the collation is complete. Wine is not favored; instead, “Russian” tea is the vogue, simply Pekoe, choice Bohea or Mandarin tea, with thin slices of lemon floating in it instead of milk. As much of the house as possible is thrown open, halls are festooned with green, tubs and pots containing plants from the conservatory, or hired from a neighboring greenhouse, are placed here and there, and the table is spread picnic fashion by the company themselves, who also restore the dishes to the baskets and wind up with a dance. We heard it rumored that a lady, prominent in society in this city, is making preparations for a “winter picnic” at an early day.

Morning Republican [Little Rock AR] 13 January 1874: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To be Relentlessly Informative, the origins of the term “Kettle-drum” are shrouded in the mists of the seventeenth century:

The origin of the Kettle-drum as somewhat obscure, but if history speaks truly, they were very common during the reign of that gay monarch, Charles the Second. The ladies returning from the hunt, gathered together for a tea-drinking and some light refreshment, the entertainment being known as a “drum,” to which the term kettle was later prefixed. The term Kettle-drum can not, therefore, be applied to anything but a tea-drinking; and, strictly speaking, should include only a light refreshment of sandwiches, cake, and biscuits. At no afternoon entertainment, at present, unless a full dress reception, is coffee or wine fashionable, chocolate or bouillon being the substitutes; and these, as well as tea, should be served in small dainty cups, the cream and sugar being handed each guest on a salver. Cook Book of the Northwest 1887: p. 167

Naturally, it was an English importation.

The kettledrum, or five o’clock tea, is really a very admirable institution, and a great relief in the severe formality and heaviness of average English entertainments. The guests drop in a little after four, the ladies retaining their hats and wraps. There are pictures and books to discuss, music at intervals; the rooms and balconies are filled with flowers; there is presently an ethereal little refection of wafer-thin bread and butter, delicate cakes, coffee and tea, served upon exquisite porcelain; and then after a little more talk and music the company melts unceremoniously away, and the little meeting has been simple, inexpensive—not–gay, for that would not be English, but pleasantly content—an excellent thing in the right houses, and in the wrong ones an evil of bearable weight and duration. The Galaxy, Vol. 15, February 1873: p. 260

Mrs Daffodil has long served the leisured class and no fashionable folly such as a “winter picnic” would surprise her. Still, one is rather shocked at the “soft” socialites holding such a soirée indoors. Where is that rugged American spirit? Here is how a proper “winter picnic” might be achieved: 

WINTER PICNIC HINTS

A winter picnic may be great fun

Ice and snow offer as many inducements for out-of-doors sports as any thing we have in summer. Two things, however, are essential really to enjoy a winter picnic. The first is proper clothing. Sweaters, woolen gloves and arctics are essentials. The second is the lunch. This should be much more substantial than the summer fare. If possible, have a good fire and cook at least one hot dish. In cold weather metal is disagreeable to handle, so use enameled ware cups and plates, which won’t break if dropped by cold fingers. Ham and eggs fried over a camp fire make a hearty lunch, and if an enameled ware frying pan is used it will be found easier to manager than the heavier iron variety. A little ingenuity will suggest many tasty hot dishes and winter picnics once tried will become a favorite pastime.

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 23 November 1915: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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