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Holiday Menus

November 23, 2018

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

“Cookery is the most ancient of the arts, for Adam was born hungry.” - Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I love cooking and so, naturally, I love old cookbooks. The holidays present a perfect time to rummage through my cookbooks. I learn so much about culture just from these pages. I also enjoy the pamphlets and chapbooks that small entities publish, such as church groups and non-profit organizations. Though some recipes are redundant, each publication adds a little flavor to the shelf. Today, I just wanted to share holiday tips from a variety of magazines and cookbooks over the last 100 years. As the years change, so does the style of food and the description of ingredients. It is fun to see recipes change from “a peck of potatoes” to “a pound of potatoes” and also to note changes introduced by accessibility to freezers, microwaves and other devices. If you have a favorite tradition or table setting, please, share it below!

Though it has no special section dedicated to Thanksgiving, the 1930 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook explains, “At the formal dinner, butter is not served. None of the food is on the table when guests come into the dining-room. The napkin is on the service plate. Suppose the menu consists of a fruit cocktail, a soup, an entree, a main course, a salad, a dessert, and after-dinner coffee.”

 From January 1951 article in EveryWoman Magazine. Article by Mary Grovesnor Ellsworth. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

From January 1951 article in EveryWoman Magazine. Article by Mary Grovesnor Ellsworth. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

Tucked inside a corner of this same cookbook, my grandmother saved an article by Mary Grovesnor Ellsworth titled “Blue Print for a Winter Party” from the January 1951 edition of EveryWoman Magazine. It recommends Jambalaya as the best holiday feast because it is a dish that “is much, much easier than pie – and that nobody will have had yesterday.” The page includes a map of footprints to guide your guests from serving table to dining tables and strictly advises that the traffic between kitchen and serving tables should never cross. She prepares everything the day before and suggests that men make the salad. Ellsworth writes, “The easiest and showiest way of coping with the salad is to dress it in the bowl. Men love to do this! It looks complicated and professional, is very easy to do, and actually produces a dressing that for some reason tastes different from the same ingredients combined before they hit the greens.”

A small book called the Foodorama Party Book, published by Kelvinator (at that time a division of American Motor Corps out of Detroit), 1959, contains recipes centered around frozen foods (which makes sense for Kelvinator, one of the first big names in freezers). For example, their Thanksgiving includes “Broccoli California” which is frozen broccoli cooked according to directions and topped with olive oil, garlic, almonds, and olives. To prepare for the feast, they write:

“The Thanksgiving table is set with your prettiest cloth and appointments. The ever-perfect centerpiece is that traditional symbol of a plentiful harvest: red cabbage, acorn and yellow squash, white and yellow onions, pumpkin, eggplant, green peppers, apples, grapes and oranges – all arranged on a tray lined with autumn leaves. … Simple family games for after dinner include Nut Throw (take turns pitching unshelled nuts into a bowl set a few feet away), Thanksgiving Day (make words from the letters in Thanksgiving Day), Nut Relay (push a nut along the floor over the finish line – but push only with your nose!).”

The Thanksgiving Feast suggested by Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook (from 1961) is as follows: Roast Turkey, Bread Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, Giblet Gravy, Creamed Onions, Mashed Squash, Carrot and Celery Curls, Ripe and Green Olives, Assorted Hot Rolls, Old-fashioned Mince Pie, and Autumn Pumpkin Pie. They also included a picture of their advised table setting (below).

 Thanksgiving table setting according to  Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook , 1961. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

Thanksgiving table setting according to Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook, 1961. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

And finally, jumping up to 2007, in The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters displays her love of entertaining with the following advice:

“Here are a few practices I employ to help me plan a menu, think it through, and cook it. These are critical for large gatherings and complex events, but they are useful for simple dinners, too. Once you have decided on the menu, make a game plan. First write out the menu and draft a shopping list. If, when you make the shopping list, you discover that the shopping, not to mention the cooking, is too complicated, go back and revise the menu – or see if anyone can help. … I also like to have a little something ready to nibble on when the guests arrive. This can be as simple as a bowl of warm olives or roasted nuts. I often make croutons topped with a tasty tidbit. Another of my favorite little somethings is a plate or bowl of freshly cut seasoned vegetables (carrots, fennel, radishes, celery, sweet peppers) served with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon.”

Whatever your holiday tradition or feast, enjoy! We wish you all the best.

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