Sunday, April 26, 2009

Autres Temps, Autres Moeurs

These books were found during a recent stop at the local Habitat for Humanity resale store and are chock-full of advice on that most ticklish of mid-century social problems--entertaining.

James Beard's approach is the most laid-back; he offers his guests plenty of good things to eat and drink and assumes everything else will fall into place. The Good Housekeeping book is exhaustingly thorough and I'm going to have to include their Party Pointers for Juniors in another post.

The Betty Crocker book was published in 1959 and is subtitled How to Have Guests - And Enjoy Them. Here is Betty's opening lament:

"The lives of all of us have changed vastly since we watched our parents preparing for the first big party we can remember. This is true of brides as well as of the grandmothers among my readers. Almost without exception, our houses are smaller than those of our parents. Our clothes and manners are far more casual. And our entertaining is less formal, because most of us now care for our homes with little or no help."

Less formal being a relative term. How many middle-class American women give lunches like these, and with written invitations, no less?

"An invitation to lunch means that guests are expected to arrive promptly at the time mentioned, and leave about an hour after the meal is finished unless the hostess adds a specific invitation to stay longer, such as "Lunch at one, and bridge later," or "Lunch at twelve-thirty, and the rest of the afternoon sewing for the Red Cross."

"Table settings and decorations for lunch have their own special attractions and opportunities. No matter how formal a lunch may be, the table is set somewhat less formally than for a dinner party.

"Mats, runners, or the smaller tablecloths are preferred to great sweeping damask cloths. These may be of colored cotton, rough peasant linen, intricate cut-work, or delicately embroidered organdy, just so long as they are in keeping with the rest of the table setting.

"It looks a little strange to see heavy pottery plates, colorful and charming as they are, on exquisite lace-edged mats. Water glasses are chosen to match china in mood--fragile chrystal with fine thin china, simpler glassware with a pottery service."

(Modern mother had to count every penny, but since as a university professor's wife she was obliged to a certain degree to keep up appearances, she had three sets of china; Wedgewood for everyday, Noritake for entertaining, and Haviland for really special entertaining!)

"Flat silver is the exception to this rule. Knives and forks with novelty bone or wooden handles are suitable for a meal served on heavy chinaware or pottery, but it is entirely proper to use sterling flatware at any meal, from a backyard barbecue served on paper plates to the most formal of dinners."

Betty's suggested menu for a hostess with no maid is two courses only, something hot like a risotto or Shrimp de Jonghe, and a dessert.

"Lunch desserts usually are lighter and somewhat less fancy than those chosen for dinner. Fruit compote, small fruit tarts, chiffon pies, light puddings, fluffy gelatins, sherbet served with cookies are good choices. The rich, elaborate Charlotte Russes and the more complicated iced cakes usually are reserved for later in the day, but local custom and the appetites of your guests are the best guide. A delightful cake combined with fresh strawberries or any other berries in season is one I like to serve at lunch; it is one of the most striking as well as one of the most delicate and tempting final courses for lunch or dinner."

And it is made, of course, with a Betty Crocker boxed cake mix.

Berry Basket Cake. Bake Betty Crocker Yellow or White Cake Mix in two 9" layer pans as directed on package. Put one baked layer on a baking sheet; save second layer for another meal. Make meringues by beating 2 egg whites with 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar until foamy then gradually beating in 1/2 cup sugar. Pile mounds of meringue around the top of the cake for a basket effect. Bake in a 400 degree (mod. hot) oven 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold with sweetened fresh strawberries heaped in the center.


Amy said...

cool finds! that betty crocker book is a treasure :-)

Blushing hostess said...

Oh I do love those old books for a million reasons, fascinating the social mores they betray and where else can you find them these days?
Be well, The Hostess

Packrat said...

That was interesting. Thanks for sharing. This (1959) is my mother's generation; she had 3 children by then. Actually, I remember that my paternal grandmother often had her friends over for lunch with cards after.