1950's and 60's meals, memories and trivia

Mid-Century Entertaining

on March 12, 2012

Parties at my grandma’s and grandpa’s were legendary. I remember gowns, rhinestones and long gloves, big band music and enough food to feed an army at their New Year’s Eve party. At all special occasions; birthdays, First Communions, showers, and holidays, she would serve the meal on her Spode India Tree orange and brown china. Sometimes we sat at a table but as the family grew in number, she started serving the meals buffet style. She made a deep impression on me and I adore entertaining! The joke in the family is that I channel my grandma. I tell you all this because my grandma was the ultimate mid-century hostess. She even had two maids who she brought in for the larger gatherings. This wasn’t necessarily just for the wealthy, (my grandparents were on the upper end of middle class.) Amy Vanderbilt even mentions in her book, “Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Cookbook,” that “one needs 2 or more servants to put on a formal luncheon or dinner.” Just about everything I found in my cookbooks and research, my grandma Ria could have written herself. I am going to share some of those ideas below, (ones that don’t include maids!)  For the most part, mid-century entertaining was about elegance, grace and the rules of etiquette were absolute. I am going to give you a general overview today and then eventually, in the future, break down entertainng during this time, into more detailed blogs. They would include, mid-century buffets, fondue parties, dinner for the boss, ladies luncheons, etc.

Informal-centerpiece at the end.

“She welcomes those at the door with a happy smile and cheerful attitude. A spirit of warm hospitality and graciousness prevails,” says Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book published in 1956. “A congenial atmosphere must prevail if entertaining is to serve it’s purpose.” and “Choose your guest list as you would choose ingredients for a recipe. Combine people who would mix well.” These were common themes through all the cookbooks I used for my research. Another tip that is as smart today as it was then, “Never try new recipes when entertaining. Serve foods that you have made before and are comfortable with.”

There’s is big difference between formal and informal service. We still have both today but I think the line has been blurred a bit. In 1963 formal service meant linen table cloths, “Clean crisp tablecloths in a white, cream or pastel, damask, linen or organdy fabric.” (Organdy is a sheer, crisp, typically cotton fabric which is similar in characteristics to silk organza.) Informal service usually starts with simple placemats. The centerpiece should never obstruct the view of the diners. This rule is still absolute! According to several of my mid-century books, a formal centerpiece is always in the “dead center of the table.” An informal centerpiece can be in the center, but it is o.k. to put it on an unused end of the table as well. Candles are appropriate for either formal or informal meals, but are never to be used in the daytime unless it is needed “for illumination.”

I loved reading about the “proper” way to entertain during the mid-century. It was so…well….civililized! After researching, writing and then reading this over, I think I might need to have a good old fashioned dinner party. Now what to serve? A nice, mid-century Frankfurter casserole perhaps?


2 responses to “Mid-Century Entertaining

  1. Paricia Michael says:

    It just keeps getting better!!! Love this site.

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