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Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the subject of food - Entertaining 80s style

It has been four days since Christmas Day and it seems like I am still cleaning up. Not that I grudge it. I adore Christmas and the opportunity to share the day with my family. This year was extra special because my eldest son announced his engagement on Christmas day...the best Christmas present we could have asked for.

With no extras living at home these days, it falls to DH and myself to work our way through the left overs. Turkey? Ham or...Turkey and Ham? There is cake, mince pies, shortbread biscuits. We could withstand a siege and none of this is doing my future "mother of the bridegroom" figure any good whatsoever.  

Christmas lunch is (generally) at our house. The baton was handed on from my mother many years ago. Everyone pitches in to help with the food...#2 son made the soup, my mother the trimmings for the pudding, #1 son contributed a side dish and my brother and family provide the "nibbles". The result is we all roll away from the table, which I love decorating. The silverware comes out and my best crockery and glasses.

The Christmas lunch table with Alison's nice things 
When it comes to  Christmas Day, I am reminded of a documentary on the Queen (of England). In preparation for the imminent visit of Someone Important, her Maj was throwing a little "Welcome to England" dinner. As she strolled the dining room where battalions of footmen in white gloves were painstakingly laying a table that resembled the landing deck of an aircraft carrier for a multi course dinner party, Her Maj remarked casually, "When one entertains, one does like to get one's nice things out." I feel like that about Christmas Day. It is the one day of the year when my "nice things" come out. Mercifully I do not have to contemplate a 10 course dinner for 50 people or I really would be still washing up.

The Queen's "nice things"

I inherited my dinner set off my grandmother. It came with 24 dinner plates. Obviously my grandmother used to entertain on a scale commensurate with Her Maj. Her many weddings contributed to my stock of "nice things".  A set of 12 fish knives and forks for example. Who uses fish knives and forks these days?

When I was a young bride (back in the 1980s), we entertained often and formally. Weddings in those days generally entailed a good haul of Cristal D'Arque glassware (none of it matching) and Strachan "silverware".  An obligatory fondue set was also de rigeur as a wedding present and I recall a couple of dinner parties which were entirely fondue...starting with the cheese entree, the meat main course and the chocolate dessert. The fondue set (mission brown pottery) still lives in a cupboard in the hope it will one day see a resurgence in fashion. And yes, the fish knives and forks would get the occasional airing.

The Women's Weekly produced two wonderful "Dinner Party" cook books (available on eBay for under $5). Not only were the dishes "doable" but they were set out in whole menus. As we all had the same set of books, our dinner parties had a certain sameness about them (Frozen Grapes featured at quite a few dinner parties).

We spent days in preparation for our dinner parties. Trips to the market were obligatory to  ensure we had just the right ingredients and cheeses (for afters). Dress was formal (in some cases with my former flat mates - black tie).  Guests were carefully selected for compatibility and interest. Seating plans were meticulously calculated and rigidly adhered to. No one seemed to be allergic to anything and the word "low fat" was not even considered ... gluten and butter and cream reigned supreme. A typical "menu" for 4 people from Dinner Party Cookbook #1:

  • Smoked Trout Pate
  • Steaks with Brandy Cream Sauce
  • Vegetable Platter (with buttered lemon sauce)
  • Minted Cucumber Salad
  • Cherry Rum Cake (topped with cream)

No one seems to give "dinner parties" any more. Are we all too busy? I rather miss those elegant, interesting evenings, planning the perfect menu, the trips to the market, the days of preparation, laying the perfect table and the endless cleaning up afterwards (well maybe I don't miss that bit).

Entertaining these days is so much more casual. We still have friends "over for tea" but the menu tends to be more quick and easy - pastas, curries and roasts, eaten off my every day crockery. In fact I love nothing more than a crowd of people around my table... a lasagna and a huge salad in the middle of the table. Everyone eating, talking and happy.

But at least I have Christmas and an opportunity to "get my nice things out"...

Do you have any memories of entertaining in days gone by?