Setting the table with antique dishes brings added pleasure to dining

When unexpected guests arrive at holiday time, even the simplest fare can be festively welcoming and enjoyable when served with imagination and flare.

One of the best ways to do this is by using old dishes or serving pieces that you have inherited or have bought at an antique show or shop.

These pieces often nostalgically recall for us traditions and pleasures of holidays past. And, today, when so much emphasis is placed on Americana, the use of antique dishes can bring added pleasure to dining.

If company arrives during morning hours, you may have the happy opportunity to serve them hot chocolate from an old-fashioned chocolate pot.

These decorative, often hand-painted china pots were prized during earlier years of the 1900s. Today, they are especially attractive at holiday time when brought to the table on a tray encircled with greenery.

Pour the chocolate into either matching chocolate cups or pretty teacups.

To garnish, pass marshmallows mounded in a tall celery vase. Or, for a Continental touch, offer whipped cream flavored with almond, served in a small pressed- or cut-glass bowl.

However, if you are not partial to almond flavoring, fill in advance a muffineer, old sugar shaker, or a tall salt shaker with cinnamon to be ceremoniously sprinkled by the guests over a floating dollop of whipped cream.

To accompany this beverage, nothing more than toast is required. Stack the toast in a silver or porcelain toast rack with ribbon and greenery on its handle , or arrange it on a bread tray or handsome old cake plate.

You can glorify the toast by providing homemade jam or marmalade to spread on it. Marmalade takes on special importance when presented in a sparkling glass nappy with a small silver ladle.

Matching napkins, or white ones punctuated with a sprig of holly placed on them while setting the table, make dining doubly pleasurable during the holidays when company arrives unannounced.

Popcorn balls are traditional at Christmas, and they are welcomed by children on a brief visit. They can be made in advance, waiting in a basket trimmed with ribbon and holly. Molasses Popcorn Balls 1/2 cup molasses 1/4 cup sugar 1/8 teaspoon salt 6 cups popped corn Combine molasses, sugar, and salt and cook slowly to hard boil stage, about 270 degrees F. Pour over popped corn, grease hands with butter, and shape into balls.

In years past, New Englanders had a dessert called Cottage Pudding which made use of two- or three-day-old cake. Over it, they poured a hot, tangy lemon sauce. It is a quick and easy way of using leftover cake, such as a pound cake, at holiday time.

Fruit cake is also good when served this way. To serve it, use generous-size dessert plates, and cover the cake thickly with the sauce. Hot Tangy Lemon Sauce 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch 1 1/2 cups water 3 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon butter Juice of 1 lemon

Dissolve cornstarch in a little water; add to water, lemon juice, sugar, and butter and heat in a double boiler, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Pour over slices of cake. Serves 4 generously.

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