Soooo, a bit of time has passed since I last wrote anything (cooking for the tree-planters really tuckered me out this year, and I found it tiring to think, let alone write, for most of the summer). But I'm back at it. Hugely because (besides sleep) I now have a number of non-planting related things to write about. As anyone who received emails from me can vouch for, my letters between May and July consisted of little else than “guess how many eggs they ate this week.....1000. I know, gross.” But here I am, fresh out of a 3 week road-trip all over BC and Alberta during which I watched multiple friends get married, picnic-ed my heart out, swam in lakes, sat for hours in pubs, and enjoyed the bounty of food summer has to offer. This is THE LIFE. And now I am fortunate enough to get to continue the fun by heading to Italy this September, where I'm first attending the Slow Food Cheese festival with two dear friends, then rolling my cheese-laden self down to Tuscany to WWOOF on several organic farms. WWOOF, by the way, stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms, and I'm lined up to spend a month learning to make goat cheese at one, then help out with the olive harvest at another. All in exchange for some home-cooked Italian food, a roof over my head, and some help with my currently non-existent Italian language skills.
But more about that later. Right now, I would like to pay tribute to one of the most glorious things I have ever received: “Christina Foyle's Party Book,” the quintessential 'how to' book for women looking to throw swanky parties but not knowing where on this gosh darn earth to start. This complete and utter gem was bestowed upon me by my friend MTH, who knew I would swallow it up like a piece of Rebar chocolate cake. And I did.
Published in 1968 in England (can you say gherkin on a toothpick?), Party Book explains in nine memorable chapters the ins and outs of stylish entertaining. Not only does it provide recipes for every occasion, but also gives tips on etiquette; follow these rules, promises Christina, and your guests too can have a killer time eating processed foods moulded into ungodly shapes and garnished with every kind of vegetable flower possible.
We as readers are welcomed to the book with an introduction so full of golden lines I have read it over and over again. Here are some of my favourites:
“Every woman loves to entertain to show off her husband, children, and the home they have built together.” (I'm 0 for 3 and should probably just stop throwing parties. Maybe even going to them.)
“Give each arrival a really warm welcome, and use their christian names if you know them well enough. People who you do not know should be welcomed just as warmly.”
“Sometimes a party goes over the time set and some guests look as though they are never going to leave. The important thing is to stay happy and smiling no matter how tired you feel.” (AMAZING!!)
“When your last guests have left you can relax a little and survey the scene of your successful party. Empty glasses, dirty cups, plates, full ashtrays, and leftover food litter every available table.” (If this doesn't make someone want to throw a party, I'm not sure what will.)
Now that you've got the etiquette basics down, here are a few recipes offered by Christina which I'm sure you'll be itching to try for yourself. You may, however, have to call up your grandmother to borrow her salad mould....
Tuna Fish Mousse:
2 cans solid pack tuna fish
½ bottle salad cream
1 Tb double cream
1 Tb tomato ketchup
salt and pepper
1 level tsp gelatine
4 Tb water
2 dilled cucumbers
lettuce leaves, shredded for garnish
prawns for garnish
“Mix the tuna, salad cream, cream, ketchup, cream, salt and pepper together. Dissolve gelatine in water, meanwhile dice the cucumbers. Keep a few slices for garnish. Stir the cucumbers and gelatine into the tuna mixture, pour into suitable mould, place in refrigerator to set. When firm turn out onto a serving dish and garnish with lettuce, prawns, and slices of cucumber.”
If this isn't the height of sophistication, I don't know what is. Never before has so splendid a menagerie of ingredients ever graced a recipe book. I can only imagine that the greyish colour it takes on, when moulded, must be equally as appealing as its taste. I dare someone to make this.
“Try these at a teen-age party. They look very sophisticated indeed but are surprisingly, easy to make. Prepare aspic jelly, let it cool, but not set. Wet a jelly mould and pour a thin layer of the jelly over the bottom. Allow this to set in the coolest place you have. Arrange diced tomatoes on this and cover again with jelly. Repeat the process with a layer of sliced, cold hard-boiled eggs, and a layer of cooked ham cut into shapes. Let the jelly set between each layer. Finally cover completely with aspic jelly and leave to set firmly. Turn out when you want it – as you would any ordinary jelly; serve garnished with tomato and watercress.”
All this years I've been missing out on the glory of sandwich fillings suspended in jello. Darn my 1980's birth.
The absolute favourite recipe of both MTH and I is Party Layer Loaf. At first the picture appears to be a delicious, creamy, loaf-shaped ice cream cake and then HORROR!! you realize that's not ice cream, it's wonder-bread, and those layers in between aren't fruity deliciousness, but 'assorted sandwich fillings.' Worse yet, all that creamy-looking icing on the outside is actually cottage cheese blended with whipped cream and mayo. Oh, and it's all meant to be eaten.
I could go on and on I love this book so much. Yes, I make fun of it, but it is so amusing to read from an era that prided itself on its food preservation 'progress' (welcome canned mushroom soup). And besides, Christina Foyle's overall intention with her book is to give all women a chance to entertain, whether they be “busy business women or have small children to care for.” Not bad for 1968. Mostly, it's just hilarious to witness the western world's rising and falling ideas of what's 'classy.' I think we can count aspic as one of the fallen, thank goodness, but I'm really hoping for devilled eggs to make a comeback.