Show of hands: How many of you remember dinner parties? I’m not talking about the dinner parties where you have a group of friends or family over to the house and everyone crowds around the cheese board or taco dip. I’m talking about those dinner parties from the 1970s, when foods like “aspic,” “finger sandwiches,” “Jell-O mold” and “deviled eggs” were commonplace items found at such events.
I remember these parties well, mainly because Dad always brought home a cookbook from the local liquor store at the start of every new year. I begged my mother to throw a dinner party with the cute little sandwiches cut out in suits from a deck of cards. Our neighbor had thrown quite a few parties, and I remembered the table display of fancy egg halves with a frothy center that was sprinkled with red dust. We were forbidden to eat them, mainly because Mom worried about food poisoning. I asked Mom what a “deviled egg” tasted like, since I hadn’t eaten one at Mrs. R.’s party. Mom’s face made me simultaneously wish I hadn’t asked and grab a barf basin for her. I thrust the cookbook on the kitchen counter at her, and begged for frankfurter sausages, gherkins and those little loaves of bread that came in pumpernickel and rye. Mom scooted me outside with a swift swat on the head with that cookbook.
I don’t know why I thought dinner parties in the 1970s were so chic and fancy. For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would want to eat Jell-O encased ham and tomatoes as a party food. One of the advertisements in the cookbook Dad brought home was a “National Use-Up-Your-Leftovers-In-A-Jell-O-Salad Week.” How many of you would like to sit down to a nice bowl of pasta, potatoes and lime Jell-O? Blech.
For a great laugh, there’s a page on Instagram called 70sdinnerparty. It’s all one word. The user page has posts that include a “bridal meat doll,” who is adorned in enough turkey and deli meat to last until the better part of next week. There’s a liver beehive, which appears to be piles of liverwurst broken up by layers of Cool Whip. There’s also a post about “soup on a stick,” although the visual for that one literally had me on the floor in hysterical tears. Tomato soup pops. Yummy. Guaranteed to have your kids hate you for the rest of your life, and then some.
And then there’s aspic. For those of you who aren’t savvy, aspic is a dish made with meat stock or consommé gelatin. Aspic is a fancy name for Jell-O Salad or gelatin salad. Fruits, meat pieces and/or vegetables were mixed with the gelatin. Aspic was served cold so it didn’t melt before it was eaten by hungry guests. Or maybe just polite guests, I’m not sure which. As an aside, I once had the role of Mrs. McCutcheon in The Man Who Came to Dinner. I had shuddered at the thought of the “calves foot jelly” inside the jar I held onstage. Calves Foot Jelly is aspic. I tried it once, before I became a vegetarian. It was the last time I ate meat and Jell-O on the same plate. Facts.
I think I understand why Mom was dead set against dinner parties like this.
I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful that we’ve steered away from the 1970s style dinner parties and the foods served at them. Within the next few weeks, it’s my intention to invite our family here for dinner and lively conversation. Our menu will not be including Fritos Prune Whip, baked beans and French dressing, or any kind of salad that includes chunks of turkey, mushrooms, green olives and celery. And you can be doubly sure that Jell-O in any of its many forms will not be making an appearance anytime soon.
Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group contributor.