Monday 27 August 2012

The doghouse - party food - 1

I can't really remember much about the food served at dinner parties.  I should think the main course was fairly classic in the French style, boeuf bourguinonne, boeuf stroganoff, chicken Marengo, that sort of thing.  I remember koulibiac, if that's how it's spelt, which was a sort of fish and rice pie encased in pastry, I think. The focus was usually on the main course - I'd have to look up recipes because I still have all her books and could look for the stained pages - the rest was usually fairly quick and easy, often cold and prepared in advance - the first course might have been avocado - avocado vinaigrette was quite avant garde in Oulton Broad in the early sixties.  Otherwise, pâté (home made), smoked salmon, a fairly sophisticated soup, oeufs en cocotte, scallops - that sort of thing.

Mummy had little interest in sweet courses, but lemon syllabub was a staple (and still is with me, can't go wrong, totally delicious) and I remember her recipe: juice of a lemon and half the grated rind, a sherry glass of sherry, 4 oz sugar, 1/2 pint cream.  Although actually I adapt it now because the modern taste is for more alcohol and less sugar.  So I put in 3 oz sugar (about 80 grams, darlings), all the rind of the lemon and, as well as the sherry, a slug of brandy.  Otherwise, she had no compunction about serving bought ice cream.  Cherries jubilee was a tin of black cherries heated in a chafing dish, then kirsch heated, set fire to and added so that they were brought to the table ablaze, then served with vanilla ice cream.

When I was in my teens, I liked baking so it was quite likely that I'd make a gâteau for a pudding.  I remember a very good lemon one, where several layers of sponge were sandwiched together with a lemon icing.  You did some very thin slices of lemon and simmered them until soft and then added sugar and reduced and poured the liquid over the sponge, then topped it with the lemon slices to decorate.  I also made chocolate cakes and mousses - oh, my mother did a very good raspberry mousse - and we did poached peaches or pears.  Nothing elaborate, ever.  For my father's birthday and at Christmas she made a trifle, which never contained fruit or jelly, it was sponge cake with jam and sherry, then custard and cream, decorated with glacé cherries, almonds and angelica.  I haven't seen candied angelica for years.  The almonds were whole in their skins, you poured boiling water over them, let them cool a bit then slipped off the skins.

I remember the party food rather better.  She did big cold buffets, lots of salads - green and tomato salads of course, also classic Caesar, Waldorf, coleslaw (always made with vinaigrette, not mayonnaise) and so on, and her elaborate party pieces were a big hand-raised pork pie and a French raised pie.  These both were made with hot water pastry and I never learned how to make them myself.  Because they were quite complicated she did the whole thing.  The meat was cooked first, then the hot water crust was made and constructed.  I don't think she used a mould to shape the pork pie, she certainly did the French raised pie.  The latter was oval with incurved sides, pointed at both ends, she had to roll and fit the pastry while it was still warm and malleable, then fill it with the various meats and top it with another rolled-out batch of pastry, then pierce holes, cook it and fill it again (this was the case with a pork pie and probably the French raised pie too) with liquor which would set to a jelly.  I think she used a calf's foot for that, can't quite remember.  They both did look spectacular and taste delicious.  I still have her pie mould but I've never used it.

For a big party she might cook a whole ham and a salmon.  Decorating the salmon was several hours' worth in itself.  I remember my engagement party, when she peeled cucumber, sliced it so thin you could see through it, quartered each slice and carefully laid them as if they were scales.  It was so pretty.  Very simple food, elegantly served.  Mayo was home-made of course, it was always the quality of ingredients that mattered, also its presentation.  She made salmagundi, which was a big mixed salad containing cold meat and cheese, all arranged in concentric circles on a huge dish.

She also decorated the house very beautifully.  I have somewhere a photo of Wink standing in front of the buffet table at her 21st birthday party.  It was decorated with garlands of flowers.  For one party, she made big flowers out of crêpe paper and stuck one on every door.  This was a great success and was repeated with different flowers according to the time of the year - I remember anemones and daffodils.  She never counted the time it took, whereas I'll drop a job if I run out of time (and always schedule at least one thing that I'd like to do but can be omitted if necessary), she just stayed up all night to complete it.  We helped a lot, my sister and me, but we flagged long before she did.  Mind you, after the event she might well collapse with a three-day migraine, I don't think a more balanced view is a bad thing.

I've just remembered one spectacularly successful party, at a time in the late '60s when food was getting more and more sophisticated and she decided to turn it on its head and made several big steak and kidney puddings instead.  Everyone was thrilled at the traditional, delicious food, especially the men.

I'm remembering more about parties and celebrations.  I'm going to have to come back to this.


Ms Scarlet said...

Okay... going to have to totter off to eat more breakfast now... and then I am going to make a cake.

allotmentqueen said...

Lucky I was eating my lunch when I read this.

Beryl Ament said...

I'm not sure I should continue reading your blog—you have such a sophisticated background.! All I can remember in our house was a dish with the descriptive title of "skirt in a casserole, carrots and onions." I don't think it as very good, but my mother did make a killer apple and blackberry pud, with a suet crust steamed in a saucepan.

As for dinner parties, not in our part of the world. I envy you.

kippy said...

I remember it was often a cold buffet, with a plate of black olives, carrot and celery sticks, with Ranch dressing to dip them in. Your mother's idea of entertaining was far more sophisticated than mine.

Pat said...

So glad one doesn't feel the need to go to all that sweat again. I remember doing a paella for 30. My then husband had to get lobsters tails in Soho. It was a great success - gallons of wine and complicated puds so apart from tasting when I was cooking it I never got to eat any.

Unknown said...

A good friend of ours used to make the best steak and Kidney pudding I ever tasted. It had suet pastry, and she always said that if she'd invited friends for lunch, she had to get up at 5 a.m. to make and cook the pudding to have it ready for lunch at one p.m. I call that devotion to friendship and hospitality over and above the call of duty.

Wendy said...

Marvellous. Thank you. :)

Beef Stroganoff was still around in the 70's because I remember, very clearly, eating that at various 'do's' we went to as a family. And I loved it. Black cherries with kirsch was very sophisticated to me, and something I was introduced to at a friend's house in my late teens - my family was/is teetotal. (Baptists, you see.)

Lovely jubbly Z - look forward to the rest, once you've had a think.

Liz said...

It's no wonder you are so good at catering Z.

Z said...

Pat, wasn't it a lot of work? And there was a strange anomaly, whereas almost everything was made from scratch but it was quite all right to use tins of certain things. You're younger than my mum of course!

If I make you all hungry, that's got to be a good thing. Well, as long as none of you is on a diet (I'm on a diet, by the way!)

Beryl, I envy you your mum's puddings. We never had proper puddings.

My mother's steak and kidney puds were marvellous, Mike, suet pastry and all. And she made lovely dumplings to go in stews.

luckyzmom said...


Just catching up after several days when we were having trouble with our internet connection.

dinahmow said...

Haven't done it for years, but I used to get kidneys from the butcher, still in their suet "jackets" for steak and kidney pudding.(I hated kidneys so never ate it!)
As I've mentioned on the blog things were still tight just after the war and most meals were "the basics."
One strange thing though - although Mother was a good cook, I don't remember garlic til I was 10.
A friend's sister asked me if I liked garlic and I, not wanting to seem ignorant said I loved it,so she tossed me a whole bulb of the stuff. And I ate it!
D'you know, I wonder to this day that Mother never said a word!Now, of course, I can't be without it.

Yoga Gal said...

Damn: your post made me so hungry!

Z said...

Our internet connection is painfully slow, LZM, but at least we've got it most of the time.

My parents were running a large hotel immediately after the war, trying to serve interesting and ambitious food, so when rationing was lifted things really took off for them, gastronomically. I was brought up with garlic, they grew rows of it!

Me too, YG, re-reading it reminds me I haven't had breakfast.