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2014-01-16

'Parties for Pennies' in 1942

Bandera County Recipe Box

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Those who read this occasional column know I'm a sucker for vintage cookbooks, especially those that tell tales. I believe I've unearthed the penultimate vintage cookbook - one that's replete with plenty of stories.
This volume, titled "Parties for Pennies," by Nancy Webb, was published by M. Barrows & Company, Inc. in 1942. Seventy-two years ago, it cost $2; over the Christmas holidays, I paid $1 for it in a resale shop in Mason.
On the inside of the dust jacket, Webb gets right to the heart of a wartime dilemma: "One of the major minor problems of the hospitality-minded American hostesses is how to give the carefree, morale-building parties which should be a part of the present regime featuring home as the entertainment center, yet at the same time put extra dollars into War Bonds."
More than a cookbook, this entertainment guide offers tips that are just as relevant today as they were more than 70 years ago. For example, as an economical party, Webb recommended an at-home buffet party on a Wednesday or Thursday, writing breezily, "Costs, you will find, vary but slightly whether you have twelve or twenty. It is the first ten that strains the budget." She added, "Twelve people may cost a dollar a head. Eighteen, served the same menu, should only cost seventy-five cents a head. Therefore, once committed to a buffet party, you actually do your budget a service by making it good and big and wiping out all your obligations at one fell swoop." Decades later, one of my idols, the late Helen Gurley Brown, advocated the same thing.
Additionally, Webb explains how to acquire the necessary accouterments for entertaining, such as flatware, silver or otherwise; glassware; china; cooking utensils; table linens; serving dishes; and even flowers at bargain basement prices. She simply advocates shopping in bargain basements, as well as five and tens, auctions and secondhand stores - well before the soirée, of course.
Regarding flowers, Webb even offers a crash course in Oriental arrangements because that form does so much with so few blooms.
For sample buffet menus, Webb gives examples of an elaborate one consisting of Clam and Chicken Broth, Tomato Loaf, Asparagus and Chicken Casserole, Hot Homemade Rolls, Strawberry and Cherry Compote with Muscatel and Demi-tasse. Contrast that with a more economical buffet of Onion Soup, Baked Beans and Lettuce Salad, Frankfurter Casserole, Hard Rolls and Butter, Mixed Fruit in Season and Cheese Tray.
Buffets, Webb contends, can be adapted for all parties, including après theatre; breakfast, she abhors the term "brunch"; luncheons, teas; and picnics and other alfresco entertainment. Be advised, there are sample menus for each.
In the chapter "Here, Heaven Help Us, Comes the Bride," she even touts buffet menus for a wedding supper, reception and simple breakfast - a 1940s lifesaver for anyone who was called upon to hastily host a nuptial reception.
Webb even offers this caveat, "If your bride is to take her vows at high noon in the cathedral, complete with eight bridesmaids and heirloom rosepoint lace, you had better back out now and let somebody else give the wedding breakfast. It would cost you the mint to live up to those trimmings."
However, for a hasty wartime wedding - of which there were many - a supper of Salmon Mayonnaise, Fruit Salad, Potato Chips and Hot Rolls, Spinach Noodles, Stuffed Tomatoes Waldorf and Wedding Cake and Ice Cream probably seemed ambrosial.
One chapter breaks down costs. Webb concocts a party for 20 for $10, which includes invitations and postage, 60 cents; and food, such as oysters, chicken, butter, mushrooms, fruit, smoked salmon and cheese, among other comestibles, $5.86, leaving $3.54 for decorations, maid and "incidentals." Lets face it, $10 went a lot farther back then.
The chapter "The Next Trick's Mine" offers pet recipes and party tricks from celebrities - the names of most of whom escaped me. The ones I recognized included Gene Autry, 'nuff said; Don Blanding, I have his book, "Hula Moons"; movie personalities, Judy Canova and Katharine Cornell; and Mrs. Jo Mielziner. The latter's husband designed sets and lighting for such Broadway hits as Carousel, South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, The King and I, A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Gypsy, among others.
Regarding recipes, here are a few that I feel might have stood the test of time. Bon appétit!
Wilted Lettuce - This is how my grandfather made it! Yuuuum!!!
2 heads Boston lettuce 2 T. water
8 slices bacon 2 T. sugar
¼ C. vinegar Salt & pepper to taste
Fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, drain and chop. Pour vinegar into bacon fat, being careful as it will "spit." Add sugar and water and bring to boil. While hot, pour mixture over lettuce that has been torn in bite-sized pieces. Garnish with chopped bacon.
Cheese & Smoked Salmon Canapé - My advice: Make more!
4 thin slices smoked
salmon ½ t. Worcestershire sauce
¼ lb. cream cheese 1 T. mayonnaise or cream
Cut each piece of salmon in half. Stretch gently and pat flat until it is as large as possible without breaking. Mash cream cheese and mix with Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise. Spread cheese mixture on salmon and roll up. Fasten with toothpicks and chill for at least two hours. Serve cold. Serves eight
Macaroni & Cheese - I prefer mine from a box, but still ...
4 C. cooked macaroni 2 T. chopped pimiento
½ C. soft bread crumbs 1 T. minced onion
1 C. American cheese, grated 1 egg, well beaten
2 t. butter or margarine ½ t. sherry
1 t. celery seed
Combine all ingredients in order named. Pour into greased casserole and bake 45 minutes in pan of hot water in moderate oven, 375ยบ F.