A Sparkling Vintage Life

Monthly Archives: December 2013

Mama and the Occasion: A warm treat for a cold afternoon


Photo source: Taste of Home

In this season of partygiving and -going, I happened across a charming story taken from Mama’s Bank Account, Kathryn Forbes’ sweet memoir of growing up with her Norwegian parents in early 20th century San Francisco.  (You might remember the stage-play or movie version, called I Remember Mama).

In this story, the girls at young Kathryn’s school are hosting an Occasion–a fancy tea for Mrs. Reed Winford, a distinguished visitor to the school. Kathryn’s Mama, bless her heart, sends her famous Norwegian-style meatballs in a chafing dish. At first Kathryn is delighted with this plan, dreaming of the social success it would bring her, as up until now she’s been sort of an outcast among the snobbish girls.

“I was obsessed with the idea of showing the clique what a wonderful cook my mother was; of bringing some ‘tidbit’ that would so outshine the other contributions that the Occasion would stand out in their memories forever. The girls could not help liking me–wanting to be my friends–if I made the Occasion a big success. . . . I was quietly happy. After the reception, I dreamed, after the teachers and Mrs. Reed Winford had smacked their lips over Mama’s delicious meatballs, the girls would notice me even more.

‘I simply must have the recipe,’ I could hear Miss Grimes say.

And Mrs. Winford would ask to meet the girl whose mother cooked so wonderfully. ‘Quite the nicest tidbit,’ she would say, ‘of this whole reception.’

And the girls would smile and nod at me. They might even clap. And I wouldn’t blush a bit.”

But on the day of the Occasion, Kathryn is mortified.

“‘And what are you being so mysterious about?” Hester asked me impatiently. What have you got in that old chafing dish?’

Reverently I lifted the cover. ‘Meatballs,’ I breathed. ‘In cream sauce.’

It was the signal for laughter. Harsh and highpitched laughter, vainly smothered by crammed handkerchiefs. Hester and Madeline and Thyra giggled and sputtered; then held tightly to one another and kept repeating, ‘Meatballs! To a fancy tea she brings meatballs!’

The girls wiped streaming eyes–looked at me–and collapsed into one another’s arms again.

‘Meatballs!’ Hester grimaced. ‘Poor people eat meatballs.’

‘For dinner, if ever,’ Madeline hiccuped,’not at a tea.’

My cheeks burned. My eyes smarted. But I dared not let the tears fall. Nobody liked my lovely, lovely surprise. Soon, now, Miss Grimes and Mrs. Winford would discover my stupidity. And the teachers. And everyone would laugh and laugh. And never, now, would my classmates be friendly.’

But Kathryn has the last laugh. On the stormy, cold, dark afternoon, the heat in the school goes out, and the janitress can’t be found. Everyone is shivering and miserable when Mama comes to the rescue with a big urn of hot coffee.

“The guest of honor sighed, ‘What I wouldn’t give for a hot cup of coffee!’

Mama clucked sympathetically. . . . She set her packages down. ‘In this one–the hot coffee.’ Mama brought forth our copper pitcher, fragrant steam escaping from it. ‘And in this one,’ she unwrapped the other package, ‘is the hot chocolate for Katrin’s friends.’

Within a few minutes, Mama had us all comfortably seated about the tea table. Mrs. Winford and Miss Grimes drank great, loud draughts of the steaming coffee. The girls and I were just as greedy with the blessedly hot chocolate.

Mama was always good at making folks comfortable. Now she passed the fancy cookies and the crumbs of currant cake. She said that Mary’s cookies were about the nicest she had ever tasted, and she complimented Madeline on the delicious cake. She also commiserated with Thyra about the collapse of the cucumber sandwiches, and wholeheartedly admired Hester’s tea set.

After Miss Grimes and the visitor had gone, we began to clear the table. Mama worked with us. Hester started to speak several times. Finally she blurted: ‘I would–excuse me, but00I would like to taste the meatballs!”

I gulped indignantly and started to say something, but Mama shook her head at me. Serenely, she took a clean saucer, heaped it with [meatballs], and passed it to Hester. Hester tasted bravely. ‘Why,’ she said wonderingly, ‘why, they’re delicious.’

And the rest of us passed our saucers to Mama for portions, she spoke of other Norwegian dishes. Of svisker grod, of the festive Yule kage, and pannkaka med lingon. The girls seemed interested.

‘You must bring your friends to our home, Katrin,’ Mama said to me. ‘I will make for you the Norske kroner–the Norvegian cookies. . . . Come next Wednesday after school. We will make of it a party, yes?’

The girls said they would come. We locked the auditorium door and went out into the schoolyard. Hester, Madeline, Thyra, and Mary not only smiled as they left but waved, too. . . . And Carmelita and I giggled happily all the way home.”

I love that story. Who among us hasn’t been terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing? And yet, the heart of hospitality can be summed up in this sentence: “Mama was always good at making folks comfortable.”

Click here for a meatball recipe that’s a lot like Mama’s. And read all of Mama’s Bank Account if you get the chance. It’s not very long, and it’s a treat!

Tips for Throwing a Party, Downton Abbey Style

downton abbey dinner partyAre you aching for an opportunity to trot out your Lady Mary drop-waist dress, your Carson-like encyclopedic knowledge of etiquette, or your Lady Violet zingers? Try throwing a Downton Abbey dinner party! Go here for some inspiration.

Here are a few additional dinner-party hazards to avoid, courtesy of our dear friend Florence Hartley:

    • Be careful in selecting the guests for a dinner party. Remember that conversation will be the sole entertainment for several hours, and if your guests are not well chosen, your dinner, no matter how perfect or costly the viands, will prove a failure. The most agreeable dinners are those whose numbers will allow all the guests to join in a common conversation, and where the host has spirit and intelligence to take the lead, and start a new subject when the interest in the old one begins to flag. Dinners where the guests depend entirely upon the person next them for conversation, are apt to be stupid, as it requires marvelous tact to pair off all the couples, so that every one will be entertaining in tête-à-tête conversation.
    • As the time just before dinner is very apt to be tiresome, you should bring forward all the armor against stupidity that you possess. Display upon tables arranged conveniently about the room, curiosities, handsome books, photographs, engravings, stereoscopes, medallions, any works of art you may own, and have the ottomans, sofas, and chairs so placed that your guests can move easily about the room, or rooms.
    • When you take your seat, be careful that your chair does not stand upon the dress of the lady next you, as she may not rise at the same instant that you do, and so you risk tearing her dress.
    • If, by the carelessness or awkwardness of your neighbors or the servants, you have a plate of soup, glass of wine, or any dish intended for your mouth, deposited upon your dress, do not spring up, or make any exclamation. You may wipe off the worst of the spot with your napkin, and then let it pass without further notice. If an apology is made by the unlucky perpetrator of the accident, try to set him at his ease by your own lady-like composure. He will feel sorry and awkward enough, without reproach, sullenness, or cold looks from you
    • Never examine minutely the food before you. You insult your hostess by such a proceeding, as it looks as if you feared to find something upon the plate that should not be there. Never use an eye-glass, either to look at the persons around you or the articles upon the table.
    • And finally . . . to carry away fruit or bonbons from the table is a sign of low breeding.”

There, now. Doesn’t that sound like jolly good fun?

Retro Recipe Wednesday: Canned Cranberry Sauce

cranberry2We make jokes at our house every Thanksgiving and Christmas, because along with all the yummy homemade-from-scratch dishes, my husband wants his cranberry sauce served straight from the can “just like Mom used to make.” The gelatinous sauce must show the ridges indicating it came from a can. Otherwise it doesn’t qualify as “real” cranberry sauce.

According to the good folks at Ocean Spray, Americans consume 5,062,500 gallons of jellied cranberry sauce every holiday season. Smithsonian Magazine tells us that the jolly red jelly we know and love became available nationwide in 1941.

But what about those of us who really like to make our own cranberry sauce?

Lo and behold, if I didn’t find directions in a 1949 magazine for MAKING YOUR OWN GELATIN IN A TIN CAN! Now cranberry sauce can be both homemade AND canned at the same time! Genius!

Here’s how it’s done, submitted by a Pennsylvania housewife to Living for Young Homemakers magazine in 1949:

“Put your gelatin into new or used tin cans from which the tops have been removed. Place the cans in the refrigerator, and chill until mixture is firm. When ready to serve, run a little warm water over the surface of the cans, and the molded gelatin easily slips free. You can slice it in any size portions you wish, or arrange the whole mold on a serve-it-yourself platter.”

Homemade cranberry sauce in a can–the best of both worlds.

Tis the Season: It’s Party Time, Sparkling Vintage style!

1920s  PartyPlanning a Christmas or other holiday party? Here’s some Sparkling Vintage advice which will prove helpful in the extreme should you be hiring waiters and ladies’ maids and have “at least” four rooms at your disposal in which to entertain your guests. (And don’t forget those smelling salts, lest any of your lady guests feel faint!) If your plans are a little more modest . . . well, it’s still fun to read! In coming days we’ll be sharing some ideas on how to add vintage touches to your seasonal celebrations without breaking the bank. In the meantime, enjoy this glimpse of how the other half lived, circa 1860! (from The Ladies Book of Etiquette by Florence Hartley):

The most fashionable as well as pleasant way in the present day, to entertain guests, is to invite them to evening parties, which vary in size from the “company,” “sociable,” “soirée,” to the party, par excellence, which is but one step from the ball.

The entertainment upon such occasions, may vary with the taste of the hostess, or the caprice of her guests. Some prefer dancing, some music, some conversation. Small parties called together for dramatic or poetical readings, are now fashionable, and very delightful.

In writing an invitation for a small party, it is kind, as well as polite, to specify the number of guests invited, that your friends may dress to suit the occasion. To be either too much, or too little dressed at such times is embarrassing.

For large parties, the usual formula is:

Miss S——’s compliments to Miss G——, and requests the pleasure of her company for Wednesday, March 8th, at 8 o’clock.

Such an invitation, addressed either to an intimate friend or mere acquaintance, will signify full dress.

If your party is a musical soirée, or your friends meet for reading or conversation alone, say so in your invitation, as—

Miss S—— requests the pleasure of Miss G——’s company, on Thursday evening next, at 8 o’clock, to meet the members of the musical club, to which Miss S—— belongs;


Miss S—— expects a few friends, on Monday evening next, at 8 o’clock, to take part in some dramatic readings, and would be happy to have Miss G—— join the party.

Always date your note of invitation, and put your address in one corner.

Having dispatched these notes, the next step is to prepare to receive your guests. If the number invited is large, and you hire waiters, give them notice several days beforehand, and engage them to come in the morning. Give them full directions for the supper, appoint one to open the door, another to show the guests to the dressing rooms, and a third to wait in the gentlemen’s dressing-room, to attend to them, if their services are required.

If you use your own plate, glass, and china, show the waiters where to find them, as well as the table cloths, napkins, and other things they may require. If you hire the service from the confectioner’s or restaurateur’s where you order your supper, you have only to show your waiters where to spread supper, and tell them the hour.

You will have to place at least four rooms at the disposal of your guests—the supper room, and two dressing-rooms, beside the drawing-room.

In the morning, see that the fires in your rooms are in good order; and in the drawing-room, it is best to have it so arranged that the heat can be lessened towards evening, as the crowd, and dancing, will make it excessively uncomfortable if the rooms are too warm. See that the lights are in good order, and if you propose to have music instead of dancing, or to use your piano for dancing music, have it put in good tune in the morning. If you intend to dance, and do not wish to take up the carpets, you will find it economical, as well as much pleasanter, to cover them with coarse white muslin or linen; be sure it is fastened down smoothly, firmly, and drawn tightly over the carpets.

Do not remove all the chairs from the parlor; or, if this is necessary, leave some in the hall, for those who wish to rest after dancing.

In the dining-room, unless it will accommodate all your guests at once, have a silk cord so fastened that, when the room is full, it can be drawn across the door-way; those following the guests already in the room, will then return to the parlor, and wait their turn. A still better way, is to set the supper table twice, inviting the married and elderly people to go into the first table, and then, after it is ready for the second time, let the young folks go up.

Two dressing-rooms must be ready; one for the ladies, and the other for the gentlemen. Have both these rooms comfortably heated, and well lighted. Nothing can be more disagreeable than cold, ill-lighted rooms to dress in, particularly if your guests come in half-frozen by the cold of a winter’s night, or still worse, damp from a stormy one.

Be sure that there is plenty of water, soap and towels on the washstand, two or three brushes and combs on the bureau, two mirrors, one large and one small, and a pin cushion, well filled with large and small pins.

In the ladies’ room, have one, or if your party is large, two women to wait upon your guests; to remove their cloaks, overshoes, and hoods, and assist them in smoothing their dresses or hair. After each guest removes her shawl and hood, let one of the maids roll all the things she lays aside into a bundle, and put it where she can easily find it. It is an admirable plan, and prevents much confusion, to pin to each bundle, a card, or strip of paper, (previously prepared,) with the name of the person to whom it belongs written clearly and distinctly upon it.

Upon the bureau in the ladies’ room, have a supply of hair-pins, and a workbox furnished with everything requisite to repair any accident that may happen to the dress of a guest. It is well, also, to have Eau de Cologne, hartshorn, and salts, in case of sudden faintness.

In the gentlemen’s room, place a clothes brush and boot-jack.

It is best to send out your invitations by your own servant, or one hired for that purpose especially. It is ill-bred to send invitations either by the dispatch, or through the post-office; and besides being discourteous, you risk offending your friends, as these modes of delivery are proverbially uncertain.

Be dressed and ready to receive your guests in good season, as some, in their desire to be punctual, may come before the time appointed. It is better to be ready too soon, than too late, as your guests will feel painfully embarrassed if you are not ready to receive them.

For the early part of the evening, take a position in your parlor, near or opposite to the door, that each guest may find you easily. It is not necessary to remain all the evening nailed to this one spot, but stay near it until your guests have all or nearly all assembled. Late comers will of course expect to find you entertaining your guests.

As each guest or party enter the room, advance a few steps to meet them, speaking first to the lady, or if there are several ladies, to the eldest, then to the younger ones, and finally to the gentlemen. If the new comers are acquainted with those already in the room, they will leave you, after a few words of greeting, to join their friends; but if they are strangers to the city, or making their first visit to your house, introduce them to a friend who is well acquainted in your circle, who will entertain them till you can again join them and introduce them to others.

Do not leave the room during the evening. To see a hostess fidgeting, constantly going in and out, argues ill for her tact in arranging the house for company. With well-trained waiters, you need give yourself no uneasiness about the arrangements outside of the parlors. The perfection of good breeding in a hostess, is perfect ease of manner; for the time she should appear to have no thought or care beyond the pleasure of her guests.

Have a waiter in the hall to open the front door, and another at the head of the first flight of stairs, to point out to the ladies and gentlemen their respective dressing-rooms.

Never try to outshine your guests in dress. It is vulgar in the extreme. A hostess should be dressed as simply as is consistent with the occasion, wearing, if she will, the richest fabrics, exquisitely made, but avoiding any display of jewels or gay colors, such as will be, probably, more conspicuous than those worn by her guests.

Remember, from the moment your first guest enters the parlor, you must forget yourself entirely to make the evening pleasant for others. Your duties will call you from one group to another, and require constant watchfulness that no one guest is slighted. Be careful that none of the company are left to mope alone from being unacquainted with other guests. Introduce gentlemen to ladies, and gentlemen to gentlemen, ladies to ladies.It requires much skill and tact to make a party for conversation only, go off pleasantly. You must invite only such guests as will mutually please, and you must be careful about introductions. If you have a literary lion upon your list, it is well to invite other lions to meet him or her, that the attention may not be constantly concentrated upon one person. Where you see a couple conversing slowly and wearily, stir them up with a few sprightly words, and introduce a new person, either to make a trio, or, as a substitute in the duet, carrying off the other one of the couple to find a more congenial companion elsewhere. Never interrupt an earnest or apparently interesting conversation. Neither party will thank you, even if you propose the most delightful substitute.

If your party meet for reading, have a table with the books in the centre of the apartment, that will divide the room, those reading being on one side, the listeners on the other. Be careful here not to endeavor to shine above your guests, leaving to them the most prominent places, and taking, cheerfully, a subordinate place. On the other hand, if you are urged to display any talent you may possess in this way, remember your only desire is to please your guests, and if they are really desirous to listen to you, comply, gracefully and promptly, with their wishes.If you have dancing, and have not engaged a band, it is best to hire a pianist for the evening to play dancing music. You will find it exceedingly wearisome to play yourself all the evening, and it is ill-bred to ask any guest to play for others to dance. This victimizing of some obliging guest is only too common, but no true lady will ever be guilty of such rudeness. If there are several members of the family able and willing to play, let them divide this duty amongst them, or, if you wish to play yourself, do so. If any guest, in this case, offers to relieve you, accept their kindness for one dance only. Young people, who enjoy dancing, but who also play well, will often stay on the piano-stool all the evening, because their own good-nature will not allow them to complain, and their hostess willfully, or through negligence, permits the tax.

See that your guests are well provided with partners, introducing every gentleman and lady who dances, to one who will dance well with them. Be careful that none sit still through your negligence in providing partners.

Do not dance yourself, when, by so doing, you are preventing a guest from enjoying that pleasure. If a lady is wanted to make up a set, then dance, or if, late in the evening, you have but few lady dancers left, but do not interfere with the pleasure in others. If invited, say that you do not wish to take the place of a guest upon the floor, and introduce the gentleman who invites you to some lady friend who dances.

It is very pleasant in a dancing party to have ices alone, handed round at about ten o’clock, having supper set two or three hours later. They are very refreshing, when it would be too early to have the more substantial supper announced.

It is very customary now, even in large parties, to have no refreshments but ice-cream, lemonade, and cake, or, in summer, fruit, cake, and ices. It is less troublesome, as well as less expensive, than a hot supper, and the custom will be a good one to adopt permanently.

One word of warning to all hostesses. You can never know, when you place wine or brandy before your guests, whom you may be tempting to utter ruin. Better, far better, to have a reputation as strict, or mean, than by your example, or the temptation you offer, to have the sin upon your soul of having put poison before those who partook of your hospitality. It is not necessary; hospitality and generosity do not require it, and you will have the approval of all who truly love you for your good qualities, if you resolutely refuse to have either wine or any other intoxicating liquor upon your supper-table.

If the evening of your party is stormy, let a waiter stand in the vestibule with a large umbrella, to meet the ladies at the carriage door, and protect them whilst crossing the pavement and steps.

When your guests take leave of you, it will be in the drawing-room, and let that farewell be final. Do not accompany them to the dressing-room, and never stop them in the hall for a last word. Many ladies do not like to display their “sortie du soirée” before a crowded room, and you will be keeping their escort waiting. Say farewell in the parlor, and do not repeat it.

If your party is mixed, that is, conversation, dancing, and music are all mingled, remember it is your place to invite a guest to sing or play, and be careful not to offend any amateur performers by forgetting to invite them to favor the company. If they decline, never urge the matter. If the refusal proceeds from unwillingness or inability on that occasion, it is rude to insist; and if they refuse for the sake of being urged, they will be justly punished by a disappointment. If you have guests who, performing badly, will expect an invitation to play, sacrifice their desire to the good of the others, pass them by. It is torture to listen to bad music.

Do not ask a guest to sing or play more than once. This is her fair share, and you have no right to tax her too severely to entertain your other guests. If, however, the performance is so pleasing that others ask for a repetition, then you too may request it, thanking the performer for the pleasure given.

What are your party plans this season? Is your ballgown ready?

Sunday Serenade: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

o comeO Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Here’s a gorgeous instrumental arrangement of my favorite Advent hymn. This arrangement might not be particularly “vintage,” but the tune is.  O Come, O Come Emmanuel dates back at least to the twelfth century–possibly farther–and is based on Isaiah 7:14, an Old Testament prophecy which foretells the coming of the Messiah to ancient Israel–a prophecy that would be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. It says, “Therefore the Lord has given you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (or Emmanuel, an alternate English spelling). For Christians who mark Advent as a time of reflection and preparation for Christmas, this hymn is especially appropriate. Originally it was sung in Latin. The English translation is:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!
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