Tips for Entertaining
For most gatherings it helps if the mixed drinks are made in quantity, to be poured from large jugs or ladled from fat-bellied wassail bowls. Punch bowls can sometimes be hired, complete with goblets, but a substitute punch bowl can be one of those Victorian or Edwardian washhand-stand basins or even, American friends say, a pot from the same period which used to go under the bed.
For hot drinks — punches, for instance — you’ll add to the style of the party with a fancy ladle (borrowed from friends or bought) rather than a dipping cup. Something else for the list. And for hot drinks, a table-top hot-plate: an electric one or simply a candle-lit one, but a hot-plate that just keeps the drink hot and never boils it.
For cold mixed drinks, chilled ingredients are often better than adding ice in the glass. Use plenty of ice to cool the bottles and other ingredients. So perhaps add a couple of kitchen buckets to the list. Or you can cover those you already have with aluminium foil. Special ways of using ice are discussed in the sections on soft drinks and summer coolers. Another thing which can be done in advance is the preparation of sugar syrup, a useful stand-by for lots of sweetening jobs.
Something else for the list are ways of making room for your guests. What may be a spacious home on normal occasions can be like a bus in the rush hour when you bring 30 to 40 of your friends into it. So pack away the ornaments, the television set, and indeed anything which won’t serve a purpose as putting-down space or sitting-down space. A lot of people enjoy standing to chat and drink but others like to sit. For one of the best summer buffets we ever gave, for about 50 guests, we arranged with some of our close friends to bring along their collapsible garden and picnic chairs and cushions. One item not to be removed, of course — the ashtrays. Indeed you increase them, so that they are easy to find everywhere.
WEDDINGS AND OTHER OCCASIONS
Weddings, christenings, birthdays, anniversaries, and perhaps most of all, wakes, are emotional occasions. They are times for happiness, or reverence, or a mixture of many feelings. A little know-how and some advance planning before the day arrives will help to make things go calmly and well, as far as the practical side — the organization of the catering — is concerned. Indeed, forethought can make all these events into simple occasions, basically no different from the times when you invite friends to a meal. So, many of the thoughts about general entertaining apply here, too. They’re worth looking at carefully, since they cover a list of quantities of food and drink for all sorts of times when you have more than your family to cater for. Let us be specific about the wedding first, although the things to be said can apply to other gatherings, too. You decide, first, whether the reception will be at a local hotel or restaurant or whether you’ll run it yourself at home — a decision which will depend on what the local public facilities are as well as on how many friends, relations and other helpers you can mobilise for a home ‘do’ One good reason for choosing a local hotel or restaurant is that the people there are accustomed to dealing with large numbers of guests. Before you make up your mind, it’s worth talking to them. If you like their food, ask the prices of the various menus they can provide for the number of guests you will have.
If you decide on a meal, it should be cheaper, because of the numbers, than anything similar composed from their regular menu, even allowing for the inclusion of extras suitable to the special occasion. Consult the manager or the catering manager about that and about the wines and their prices. Many hotels can offer a choice of menus at all-in prices, sometimes including a sherry for guests as they arrive. If not, you’ll have to do your own sums from the wine list. Which wines? If the reception involves sitting down to a hotel meal, harmonize the wine with the courses — a white and a red probably. Or you can choose a wine to go right through the meal. Champagne, some say, goes right through a meal but it’s better to have a dry one as an aperitif and a fuller-bodied one with the food. Another way is to serve Champagne for just the major toast (the bride and groom, or whatever is appropriate to the occa-ion) and simple red or white table wine with the food.
These guide lines apply equally if you stage the gathering — wedding, christening or birthday — at home. The main alternative is a buffet rather than a sit-down reception. Here you can offer with the various foods, to which the guests will help themselves, comparatively modest wines (white, rose or red according to the foods). It’s a good idea, too, to have, as an alternative to wine, a good summer cup or a cold punch. It helps the party spirit no end. Another idea, in hotel or home, is to serve coffee. It can signal the approaching end of the party, sometimes hard to indicate otherwise. But it doesn’t have to be dull. Lace the coffee, making sure that the coffee is strong, really strong, to begin with.
This Champagne Special for the main toast is especially fortifying, since it contains an egg per person. For each guest allow a double Brandy, 1 egg, juice of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoonful sugar syrup. Mix all ingredients except the Brandy in the blender, strain and stir in the Brandy well. Pour a little into wine glasses, add an ice cube and top up with Champagne.