The Art of 1950s Party Planning

Author and chef Sara Hervey shares the essentials of a laid-back party, circa 1950: Benny Goodman swing; artfully sculpted coleslaw; and at least one hot dish.

Come and Get It

Originally published in The Country Gentleman, May 1, 1950

“Best party of the year.” That’s what the whole crowd will be saying about this informal “cook-your-own” supper.

Get set for a good time at this informal gathering of the gang, whether you’re giving the party or you are a guest. For any way you look at it, this means fun, with everyone getting into the act.

A self-appointed disk jockey will fill your requests for Benny Goodman swing, Calypso, or Dixieland jazz. You may be challenged to a game of darts or a fast set of table tennis. You’ll want to be ready with some bright ideas for charades or “20 questions.” And when it comes time to clear the decks for action from the kitchen, you’ll have a chance to help out with the food production.

For easy, informal entertaining the cook-your-own and serve-yourself plan works out well. It means less preparation beforehand for the hostess and good fun for the guests.

The “makings” for sandwiches can be arranged on a large platter so that each person can assemble his own, tailor-made to fit his own appetite. A tray of assorted breads gives guests a choice.

If an electric table grill or sandwich maker is available, hamburgers, frankfurters, luncheon meats, and cheese sandwiches can be grilled right on the spot. All the “trimmings” — slices of tomato, green pepper, and big sweet onions — can be arranged attractively on beds of lettuce on another large platter. And, of course, pickle relish, mustard, catsup, and seasonings should be on hand for those who want them.

One hot dish is always welcome. This might be the spicily seasoned Spanish Lima-Bean Casserole or it might be our Savory Potato Casserole, New England-style baked beans, baked macaroni and cheese, corn pudding, or Spanish rice. To be sure the food stays hot, an electric table casserole or a chafing dish is an asset.

A salad tray isn’t a must, but it’ll be appreciated by the more energetic members of the crowd. Mustard Cole Slaw [can be] packed in a ring mold for attractive buffet service.

Soda pop is kept well chilled in a tub of ice cubes or crushed ice. The brightly colored plastic mugs and the plastic-coated paper plates make housekeeping easy.

“Make-your-own” sundaes are bound to be a hit for dessert. A 2-quart or gallon carton of ice cream can be kept firm, when packed in a bucket of ice. A trayful of different sundae toppings, including whipped cream, cherries, and nuts, gives each person a chance to step up and order his choice of flavors.


Spanish Lima-Bean Casserole

Soak Limas in water overnight. Salt the water and bring to a boil. Simmer until beans are tender, 21/2 to 3 hours Add more water, if necessary. Chop onion and saute in bacon fat. Add tomato paste diluted with 1 can of water. Blend in the chili sauce, red pepper and 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Combine with the drained Limas, and pour into a greased casserole. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake in a moderately hot oven (375° F.) 30 to 40 minutes, or until thickened. Makes 6 servings.

Savory Potato Casserole

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until almost tender. Cool. Slice thin. Combine with chopped green pepper, chopped onion, grated sharp cheese, flour, salt and chili powder. Turn into a shallow greased casserole. Heat milk and pour over potatoes. Sprinkle the top with but- tered crumbs. Bake in a moderate oven (350° F.) 30 to 40 minutes, or until thickened and browned on top. Serves 6 to 8.

Mustard Cole Slaw

Combine cabbage, green pepper, parsley, celery, onion, and celery seed. Mix salad oil, lemon juice, mustard, sugar, and salt together thoroughly. Pour dressing over chopped veg- etables. Toss until vegetables are well coated with dressing. If desired, pack salad in a ring mold and chill. The above recipe will serve from 8 to 10 persons.

Peanut Butter Sundae Sauce

Combine sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in a heavy pan. Bring to a boil and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a very soft ball (220° F). Remove from heat. Cool without stirring until syrup has reached room temperature. Add peanut butter and blend until smooth. This sauce keeps well when stored in a covered jar in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce.

Marshmallow Cream Sundae Sauce

Bring corn syrup to a boil in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until a small amount of the syrup dropped into cold. water forms a firm ball (246–248° F). Pour the hot syrup slowly over the beaten egg white in a bowl, beating constantly. Mix gelatin and cold water. Add to the hot mixture. Add the vanilla and beat until light. This sauce keeps well when stored in a covered jar in the refrigerator. Makes 1 3/4 to 2 cups of sauce.

Coffee-Butterscotch Sundae Sauce

Combine soluble coffee, brown sugar, water, corn syrup, butter, and salt. Bring mixture to a boil and cook slowly over low heat until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms a soft ball (236° F). Remove from heat and cool the syrup slightly. Then add evaporated milk and vanilla. Serve hot or cold. This sauce keeps well when stored in a covered jar in the refrigerator. The above recipe will make about 1 3/4 cups sauce.

Favorite Chocolate Sundae Sauce

Melt chocolate in water. Add corn syrup and salt, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring constantly until thickened. Add vanilla. This sauce may be served either hot or cold. This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce.

Click to read “Come and Get It” by Sara Hervey. Published May 1, 1950.