And so dear reader once again we hear the call for a dry January. I shall respond in time-honoured fashion by taking no more than two Dry Martini cocktails of an evening. This is really an excuse to bring in my drinks tray, laden with the necessary bottles – such a lovely holly-green colour – ‘v’ shaped glass, mixing jug full of ice, the strainer and a long-handled stirring spoon, and place it on the coffee table in front of the fire. Even before beginning the ritual of preparing the drink I feel better just watching the sparkle of reflected candle and fire light in the worn but still-bright surface of Old Sheffield Plate. Oval or rectangular, silver or plate any such tray will create the same effect. In summer I like to use an 18th century mahogany one, with a brass banded border. These also come in all shapes and sizes, ages and price range, and the deep brown timber can look so evocative of the past in the early evening light of the garden. Trays have been with us for a long while and can give us a fascinating insight into our social history as far back as pre-Tudor times when they were called Voiders, sometimes spelt with a ‘y’. This was because formal meals in great households were held in the main Hall followed by dancing, and the time it took to clear the dining accoutrements was called the ‘void’ – Old French for ‘empty’ – and the trays the staff used took their name from that. During this interval the revellers would take their sticky pudding, also known as ‘the void’, and stroll around the house or walk along the roof tops depending on the season. And here we come to the point. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I we adopted the New French vocabulary, wherein the term for ‘empty’ was translated as ‘dessert’. What with Entrée and Dessert it’s a wonder we don’t have a French word for Menu. Anyway my first drink today will definitely be an English Dry Martini, as an aperitif naturally.