From Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style. Photograph by Lord Snowdon.
To mention Florence Pritchett Smith and conspiracy in the same sentence risks being led astray on on a tangent (see this related post). However, the truth is that her elegant cookbook and hostessing guide from 1966, These Entertaining People, A Guide for the Elegant Hostess, does expose a conspiracy of sorts. The fifties were an ignoble era for American cuisine. As income rose, food quality sank. Processed food industry shills like editor Poppy Cannon (see The Bride’s Cookbook) worked overtime to convince the American public that quality food could be produced cheaply and quickly via packaged mixes and can openers. These Entertaining People promoted the opposite, with advice from the author's friends. That those friends happened to be society’s most glamorous hostesses added sparkle and panache to the book.
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.”
First in Season
“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. Her rules for entertaining, which went on to secure her future successes, are included in the book:
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 into a melange. One imagines it would be either a terrible failure or a terrific success.
Sadly Florence Pritchett Smith passed away prior to her book's publication. The death of an author limits a publisher's ability to properly promote a book, particularly in the case of a lifestyle tome that relies so much on book-signing events. There were only a few printings and no second edition. At present, Nick Harvill Libraries has one copy available for sale here. It appears to be the only one available anywhere online. [Update: this copy has now sold.]
“People are always talking about who will be the new Brooke Astor, the new Queen of Society. With all due respect to Mrs. Astor, I think what New York Society really needs is a new Diana Vreeland, someone who knows that in matters of style and social life originality is as important as propriety, as essential as taste, openness as desirable as exclusivity.”
--Bob Colacello, Bright Young Things
Photo Credit: Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style
“When you lose your naïveté, God has left you.”
--Diana Vreeland, via Leo Lerman, The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman
Photo Credit: The Glass of Fashion
"Democracy is sort of an arrangement, isn’t it?"
--Diana Vreeland (as quoted by John Fairchild in The Fashionable Savages)
At age seventy-eight, Diana Vreeland performed a curtsy so magnificent and deep that it might have sent even someone even half her age toppling to the ground. It suggests that though she considered democracy just an arrangement, she viewed a monarchy as a god-given right. Note the perplexed look of Jerry Zipkin whose turn is apparently next. He must be wondering how he could even begin to compete. The image is from Entertaining at the White House with Nancy Reagan.
"I loathe red with any orange in it—although curiously enough I loathe orange without any red in it. When I say orange, I don’t mean yellow-orange, I mean the red-orange of Bakst and Diaghilev, the orange that changed the century!"
--Diana Vreeland, D.V.
"My God, Lady Bird in the White House! We can’t use her in the magazine."
--Diana Vreeland, Reacting to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Courtesy of Nicholas Haslam, Redeeming Features.
"She combined Twain’s reverence for the reinvented self with Barnum’s love of showmanship, and she spent her life perfecting this blend."
--Bill Blass, as quoted in Empress of Fashion, A Life of Diana Vreeland