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Refreshments at Balls

Refreshment options and service methods during a ball

Private balls and assemblies offered different types of refreshments. Private balls typically had far more sumptuous foods and elaborate suppers, while assemblies rarely offered more than cold meats, fruits, dry cake, and stale and thinly sliced bread. Assemblies typically only offered lemonade and tea as beverages, alcohol not being permitted to avoid drunkenness. Meanwhile, a private ball would have a hearty supper of salmon, soup, savory pies, etc., and with such drinks offered as white wine claret, sweet madeira wine, tea, coffee, and lemonade.

A typical ball began around 8pm or later with supper around midnight to 1am. This meant refreshments may be available between about 9-11pm. Refreshments in the ballroom were a bit of a no-no, but if a refreshment room was not available, then footmen would hold a tray of drinks along the perimeter for anyone wanting to quench their thirst, but these would only be available between every 2-3 dances, not continuously, not circulating, and not during dancing.

Most common was to have a refreshment room, which could be a ladies-only retiring room or it could be an all-inclusive room with a tea board, i.e. a tray on a table with a few snackish items and drinks. All drinks were available in glasses, at the ready, no punch bowls or serving oneself or requesting specific drinks not on immediate offer. Drinks on offer were usually negus (wine mixed with hot water, lemon, and nougat), orgeat (sweet syrup of orange and almonds), ratafia (sweet cordial with fruit or almonds), and punch.

This is a fun post from Jane Austen’s World on what might have been served at the Netherfield Ball:

Supper at Netherfield Ball

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