If you have a fondue pot in your cupboard or a pasta maker gathering dust in your garage, you know firsthand that food prep is vulnerable to the whims of fashion. We may be getting our recipes off the Internet these days, but in wanting to try the newest gadget or cooking process, we aren't that different from our grandmothers. Today it may be goat cheese and marinated figs, but whatever the latest food fad happens to be, in a couple of decades it will become a culinary footnote in the cultural summary of the times. To get a good take on 1930s party foods, you have to explore the trends. They may seem tame today, but back then, they were oh-so chichi. Think of them as the food superstars that could make or break a host's reputation:
- Devil it - Think deviled eggs, deviled ham (or ham salad) and deviled chicken, and you've got the general idea. Grind it up, mix it with mayo and serve it on a cracker or piped into the hollow of a hard cooked egg and you have elegant finger food. Our Spicy Deviled Eggs are a great place to start.
- Give it some jiggle - That kid-friendly gelatin mold in your pantry was once so fashionable no 1930s food fest would have been complete without it. You had to have an ice box or refrigerator to make a gelatin mold, which made it a dish that required modern technology. Gelatin molds also sported ritzy ingredients like mayonnaise, nuts and tropical or seasonal fruits. Our Cranberry-Apple Gelatin Salad is a good representative example. If you were really on the cutting edge of food fashion, you might have served aspic -- a savory gelatin mold using ingredients like tomato juice, cream, salmon, crab or minced chicken. Aspics were served cold like the fruity molds you're used to, so they were often warm weather or light afternoon fare.
- Make it into a ring - If you've discovered how easy it is to slice and serve Bundt cake, you can see why placing food in a ring was considered convenient and attractive. The shape was considered unique, and it could be achieved using a simple mold and inexpensive ingredients. In the 1930s, gelatin molds and aspics were often ring shaped and served with assorted vegetables in the open center. Rings were also made out of rice and even pasta. Want to create the right note for your party? Give our Festive Cranberry Ring Mold a try.
- Stuff it - Filling the hollowed core of any of a number of vegetables with chopped or ground ingredients was also huge. Recipes like tomatoes stuffed with chicken salad, bell peppers stuffed with ground beef and mushrooms stuffed with bacon and breadcrumbs were popular. We've got the perfect stuffed tomato dish to show you how it's done. This one's delicious and pretty to look at: Pesto-Pasta Stuffed Tomatoes.
- Form it into a loaf - Meatloaf may get groans from your kids, but way back when, serving a loaf of magical meat was too cool. Lamb loaf, veal loaf and salmon loaf were all considered party food. A hostess could layer a loaf pan with ingredients like bacon, mushrooms and even mashed potatoes for a striped effect that was bound to elicit oohs and ahhs from guests.
Using the right ingredients was important, too: A lavish shrimp cocktail appetizer like our Pineapple-Ginger Shrimp Cocktail, carried as much cache in the 1930s as it does today. Including ingredients like lobster, squab, oysters, tongue, crab, fruit punch, prunes, peaches, pineapple, honeydew melon and orange marmalade in the menu helped gentrify the meal and add that touch of elegant refinement that was so important. A 1930s dinner party menu would probably also have included dishes that mirrored what Hollywood considered sophisticated European taste with items like scones, crumpets, cucumber or watercress sandwiches, salmon croquettes, trifles, tortes and meringues. A smart hostess could also show her sophistication by serving big city menu items like Waldorf salad or curried lamb.
Now that you understand a little about the food, let's explore some ways to make your 1930s-era party look and sound as good as it tastes.