“Americans can put satellites in the sky, but very few can make a soufflé rise!”
“It seems tragic that the twentieth century, which has seen such an explosion of scientific knowledge, has seen little or no progress in the art of dining graciously. Today, few people insist on excellence or even seem to have time for dining. They eat instead.”
“The average Frenchman living in a country town eats better and knows more about food than most [Americans].”
--Florence Pritchett Smith
As to be expected, Pritchett Smith herself was an accomplished hostess. Her husband was the final U.S. ambassador to Cuba prior to the Revolution. She presided over social events at the United States embassy in Havana up until the time when it would have been necessary to plan a welcome party for Fidel Castro and the other Communists rebels, which one imagines Pritchett Smith would have done with aplomb should the State Department have so required.
Following are seven considerations Florence Pritchett Smith considered most important when planning a dinner party:
“Taste buds were meant to be intrigued, never bored. Let them travel the road from bland to spicy, from sweet to tart, from rich to simple.”
There should be a variety of textures: “from thick to thin, from clear to creamy, from soft to crisp, from smooth to rough.”
“The eye, the first appreciator of beauty, must be delighted and refreshed. Surround your main dish with complementary colors. Pick a new color for dessert. If possible, do not repeat a color in the menu unless it is a neutral one.”
On a cold, wintery day “serve a dish that is hot, hearty, and spicy.” “On a limpid summer night … [serve] cooling, light, airy foods.”
“Keep your eye on the markets for early seasonal things.” “Foods of the season arouse the strongest desires.”
“Pleasurable sensations can be created effectively by sharp contrasts in the temperature of foods.” Serve hot popovers with an ice-cold soup, or drizzle “a hot sauce over ice cream or cold fruit.”
Appropriateness (as to Occasion and Number of Guests)
“A black-tie dinner before a dance requires a menu as decorative as the beautifully dressed guests.” “The fewer the guests, the more delicious and unusual [the] food can be.”
Smith's advice is excellent but what makes this book extraordinary is its star power. Smith polled her society friends requesting their favorite menus, recipes, and entertaining advice. Astonishingly nearly all responded, even such media-adverse personalities as Betsey Whitney. Whitney’s less publicity-shy sisters Babe Paley and Minnie Astor Fosburgh of course replied, as well as Diana Vreeland, C.Z. Guest, Marella Agnelli, and the former and present Mrs. Leland Haywards (Slim and Pam). One of the respondents—Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan—was vaguely related to the author. Her niece, also named Consuelo, had once been married to Florence Pritchett’s husband Earl E.T. Smith (and had two children by him).
Advice from Pritchett Smith's glamorous friends takes up a good portion of the book. Here are some of the best:
“Don’t invite too many married couples. It is suburban. Have pretty women, attractive men, guests who are en passant, the flavor of another language. This is the jet age, so have something new and changing.”
“I have one menu if friends from the United States lunch with us, another for Europeans, and still a different menu for guests from Asia, who are so often vegetarian.”
“At a big dinner I like to have two pretty girls at each table if possible. It makes it more festive because they are as decorative as a bouquet of flowers.”
Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
“I believe that tact, that intuitive sympathy, will provide the only answer to social problems. It will help to smooth over difficulties and ignore rudeness, at least for the time being. I personally believe in eliminating bounders and bores as well as the cutlet-for-cutlet principle by the simple rule of not accepting an invitation I do not wish to return.”
“My menus are worked out in advance, and I keep the likes and dislikes of my guests in mind.”
Countess Consuelo Crespi
“The extra effort is worth every minute of it when you realize your efforts have made someone happy.”
“Remember, you have invited your guests to your home not to forcibly express your ideas of life and living, but to hear them express theirs.”
“Everyone should learn to create food that belongs to them, not just the inevitable cold ham and turkey… It’s too impersonal. I think so many amusing succulent dishes can be whipped up that it seems to me an awful pity people don’t have a personal idiom, even in their food.”
“[A supper dance should] have lots of tables, lots of soft candlelight, lots of pretty girls in pretty dresses, two or three bars, and two different places for your supper buffet.”
The Duchess of Windsor
“Keep a menu book listing the [food], wine, table setting, the guest list and seating plan, and after-dinner amusements to avoid repetition with the same guest.”
Pamela Hayward Harriman
“Hostesses must care that everything is arranged for comfort and fun.”
When this book went to press, Pamela was still Mrs. Leland Hayward. Following his death, she married senior statesmen Averell Harriman with whom she had enjoyed a love affair during World War II. As Mrs. Harriman, she became a leading hostess for the Democratic Party, propelling William Jefferson Clinton to the White House. President-elect Clinton rewarded her with a plum assignment, ambassadress to France. If success is the best teacher, than it is worth repeating Harriman's rules for successful entertaining:
1. Do not ruin dinner for other guests because one guest is late.
2. When inviting people, call them on the telephone yourself. It makes it so much more personal.
3. Never criticize servants or a family member in front of other guests.
4. Don’t answer the telephone unless it is an emergency.
5. Never talk about your own domestic or personal problems.
6. Stimulate the conversation, but don’t jog it.
7. Knowing how to cook yourself is fundamental, whether you must or not.
Following are some of the recipes included in the book. NHL has not attempted any of them but is rather intrigued by Countess Consuelo Crespi's Ice Cream Cheese. It seems strange to mix a variety a cheeses together like that into a melange. One imagines it would be either a terrible failure or a terrific success.