Antiquated Etiquette: The Hostess with the Mostess

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While I was in the previously mentioned Street of Shops scouring the aisles for my beloved Fire King – Primrose or Peach Lustre patterns, please –

The charm of Primrose...

The vintage zazz of Peach Lustre.

I came across a book, another one.  A very special one, for the excellent hostess, circa 1967.

Recipes! Four hundred of them! From 1967! *swoon*

Check out the swingin’ house; I think they’re going to visit the Bradys.  When I can work myself up to it I promise I’ll scan some pictures for you, because they’re almost all uniformly eye-poppingly bad…

What’s that?  Just one?  Oh…OK.

Don't stare too long, lest you go blind.

And for dessert, we’ll be delighted to serve you the specimen from a biopsy.  In all seriousness, I suspect the people vacationing on the Riviera wouldn’t touch these things with someone else’s silver spoon, melted raspberry jelly or no.  I also love with all my snarky little heart that they give you a recipe for making buttered rye toast, because who on Earth would have thought of combining bread and butter and heat?  Not I, sir.  Not I.  And before you think that was just symptomatic of the time and the domestic arts industry looked at American housewives as relative simpletons who needed direction in all things food-preparatory, let me direct you to its modern-day equivalent.  Feast your eyes upon the recipe for Rachael Ray’s “Late Night Bacon“.  I’ll just post it–the whole thing–right here.

Ingredients

  • 8 slices bacon
Directions

Place 2 sheets of paper towel on a microwave safe plate, lay the bacon out on the paper towel not overlapping the slices. Place 2 more sheets of paper towel on top. Place in the microwave on high for 4 to 6 minutes.

{end recipe}

Thank all the merciful beings of the universe that in 1967, Betty Crocker was there to tell domestically challenged ladies how to make buttery, toasty bread and that in 2012, Rachael Ray provides stoners with the know-how to stave off mad midnight munchies by putting bacon in the microwave.  (And if you go to the recipe, scroll down to read the comments.  They’re worth it.)  I don’t necessarily resent that there are instructions for these sorts of things.  I resent that Rachael Ray got paid a lot of money to tell people to nuke their bacon.

OK, but seriously.  I am so lucky, and glad, and happy, that I was not a party-throwing hipster back in 1967, because I would have rained shame down on my family’s name.  I like to give parties–I can throw down a pretty decent one by today’s standards, with or without the microwaved pork products–but I.  Would.  Have.  Been.  Shunned.  Ostracized!  Committed.  By my family or the community, for my failure to conform to party standards.  Here’s one of my favorite passages from the Hostess Cookbook so far:

***

Hostess on Her Own

No one will deny that the greatest asset any hostess can have is an obliging husband.  But lacking this advantage, it’s still possible for a girl on her own to earn her stripes as a party-giver.

And why is he a great asset?  Because he’s thoughtful regarding his guests and helpful in the kitchen?  Or because he’s present and that means the hostess isn’t a singleton?  It’s presented to the reader without a syllable of explanation, so it’s up to the reader to decide…

First, choose a menu that requires the absolute minimum of last-minute time in the kitchen–for either cooking or serving.

This is good advice whether you’ve got a husband who…obliges…or not.

Second, avoid a roast or bird that needs to be carved.  This is really man’s domain, and you’ll look more graceful serving if no surgery is involved.

Because nobody wants to see an armed, stressed, and potentially stabby unmarried hostess.

Third, if you’re having cocktails, set up a bar in the living room with glasses, ingredients, shakers and ice on a table, chest, or bookcase.

 This is America, and it’s not like people have books on their bookcases.

Now delegate.  Ask whichever of your men guests you know best–your beau, your brother-in-law, the husband of your best friend–to act as bartender.  Most men enjoy this role, but may hesitate to assume it without a specific go-ahead from you.  If you have to leave the room, ask the woman guest you know best to take over such hostessly [yes, that's what they wrote] duties such as door-answering, introductions and peanut-passing.

’tis a sad tale, the plight of the unpassed peanut.  Which would surely happen if–Heaven forfend–a woman had to mix a martini.

*** {end scene} ***

They also gently inform the hostess that if she’s serving cocktails, she should have at least one non-alcoholic beverage so “…if your guest doesn’t want one of your stronger potions, he or she can elect fruit punch or ginger ale without calling attention to the choice.”  I’m not sure why discretion gets called into play here, particularly because the person whose image the hostess is protecting is that of the sober one.  The implication is that the soft-drink-drinker is the weirdo that you don’t want to let harsh on everyone else’s buzz.  This reminds me of all those great movies where everyone drank gin all day and smoked their faces off; extra points if Grandpa made the gin himself in the back corner of the barn.  (OK, even if you never click the links I embed, click this one, because this page is a LOT of fun.)

People, I read these things so you don’t have to.  You’re welcome.

This book has it all.  Mexican medleys!  Ham buffets!  Pancake parties!  Brunch Parisienne!  Jiffy Jam sticks!  Mock cheesecake!  Bacon curls!  It’s not just frozen medical waste over peaches, it’s so much more.

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4 responses »

  1. I like these books from the second half of the 20th century because they remind me of how much things have changed in a relatively short period of time. I thought you might appreciate a few gems of 19th century etiquette from an 1840 book called “Etiquette for Ladies: With Hints on the Preservation, Improvement, and Display of Female Beauty.” (Full text here: http://tinyurl.com/7m43z9d)

    “A lady cannot refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she has already accepted that of another, for she would be guilty of an incivility which might occasion trouble.”

    “Men frequently look with a jealous eye on a learned woman… be cautious, therefore, in a mixed company of showing yourself too much beyond those around you.”

    “If at any time the society of your husband causes you ennui, you ought neither to say so, nor give any suspicion of the cause, by abruptly changing the conversation.”

    As far as I know, there is no analogous genre of literature aiming to instruct men in the proper conduct of life. How did they ever know what to do with themselves?

    • I suspect there’s so much women’s literature because there had to be a more concerted effort to convince women that they were second-class citizens. You don’t have to propagandize to the top dog.

      This one: “Men frequently look with a jealous eye on a learned woman… be cautious, therefore, in a mixed company of showing yourself too much beyond those around you.” is particularly poignant to me. My grandmother actually told me, when I was in…mmm…maybe fourth or fifth grade…that I had to be careful not to let myself get too smart or else I’d never find a husband. Which, you know, fifth grade, I was just hoping I’d find the signs of boobs some day, never mind a husband. So, yeah. That logic existed well past 1840.

      I will absolutely be checking out that text, and thanks so much!

  2. I think I will never be able to un-see those gory neon orange, pink and green blobs. They look like Oedipus’ eyes after he finished up with the pins. And in sherbet cups, no less!

    Plus I just found out that according to Mad Men era Betty Crocker, I should never, under any circumstances, for any reason, have ever thrown a party. My bad!

    And still no maid to tend to my unexpected houseguests! Is there no end to my social barbarism?

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