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Posts Tagged ‘Come for Cocktails – Stay for Supper’

I recently read an article in the Boston Globe about retro food.  Now, my friends know that I am a foodie, and in fact, I have held on to a number of my mother’s ‘classic’ cookbooks from the 1960’s and 70’s which are, in today’s culinary world, interesting relics.  A number of them were written by Marian Burros and Lois Levine, and they have ‘clever’ names, like “Come for Cocktails, Stay for Supper,” and “Freeze with Ease.”  Some of the beauties that I found in my mother’s recipe collection from the same period are just as appealing (or icky):  “Thora’s Hamburger Casserole,” “Raisin m-m-m-Mumbles,” and “Bebe’s Dish,” for instance.

The cover of "Freeze with Ease"

"Freeze with Ease"

Although I am not a “Mad Men” or “Pan Am” TV fan, I do laughingly and lovingly remember those days when Mom would entertain, which formed the basis of my interest in food and party-giving.  She owned a copper chafing dish (which I now have) and it often was set up in the dining room of our house in Akron, Ohio, with Beef Stroganoff in it, or perhaps Seafood Maryland.  In fact, I still use these recipes and they are terrific – but very typical of the time.  Noodles or rice accompanied the main dish, perhaps a green salad, and usually, a jello salad as well.  And this is where my connection to the past kicks in.

Barely a holiday goes by that doesn’t feature Aunt Estelle’s jello salad.  It’s made with raspberry jello, frozen, thawed strawberries, pineapple, chopped nuts, sour cream, layered and molded, and it’s pretty darned delicious.  That seafood recipe I mentioned is one of the best I’ve ever prepared for large parties, and I think of Mom every time I make it.  And Mom’s Olive-stuffed Cheese Puffs are one tasty little appetizer.

The cover of "Come for Cocktails, Stay for Supper"

"Come for Cocktails, Stay for Supper" is another classic cookbook.

Better still are the memories I have from being a little girl on election night, when Mom and Dad held their election return parties.  I remember, most of all, the party for the 1960 election.  Although I had been sent to bed, I crept out to watch the adults with their highballs in a haze of cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke, cussing out Nixon and cheering for JFK.  Because exit polls weren’t a regular occurrance and the television stations didn’t predict winners much in advance of completed vote counts — and all the ballots had to be counted by hand — it took a long, long time for the process to unfold, and everyone who attended these parties settled in for a long night.  The major food item was Mom’s Sandwich Loaf, which was really special:  white bread, unsliced and trimmed of crusts, then sliced long-ways into a number of thin layers.  The first would be laid down and spread with ham salad.  The next held cream cheese with chopped olives and pimentos. The next was tuna salad, and the last was egg salad.  A final bread layer went on top, and the entire loaf was then ‘frosted’ with whipped cream cheese and decorated with sliced gherkins and olives.  The loaf would be hauled out around 10 PM, sliced, and served with potato chips, to be followed by brownies for dessert.

I love this retro treat (and so do some of my friends) but my husband and children think of it as a heart attack in a dish and an abomination.  I guess there’s no accounting for taste, but for me, it takes me right back to my childhood and the ‘good old days’ of  “Mad Men” food. Times have surely changed, though.  A few years ago, in a desperate and hilarious attempt to get rid of the glut of hard liquor we found in our house (the result of having cleaned out my mother’s liquor supply – twice – when we moved her) we decided to throw a New Year’s Eve “Come as Your Parents” party.  We set up an elaborate bar with recipes for highballs, a table with ribbon-festooned bottles of cordials (the rule was:  you come to the party, you leave with a bottle – no exceptions), lots of retro food and Doris Day music.

Folks showed up with narrow ties, pearls and cardigans.  They gamely mixed drinks, and then timidly asked, “Can we have some wine now?”  They begged not to take the creme de menthe and the absinthe home with them.  But they snarfed the meatballs in grape jelly/chili sauce, the pigs in a blanket, and yes, the sandwich loaf.  The next day, Ben and I greeted the new year by pouring many bottles of unclaimed cordials down the drain.

The old days weren’t necessarily better, but they did offer us an interesting perspective on entertaining – one that makes for a pretty amusing party theme today.  So next time you’re looking for some really different food and a party theme that’s off the beaten track, let me know — I’ll loan you Mom’s cookbooks and hand you a few more bottles of bright green cordial, and you’ll be all set!

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