Food + Drink

Vintage holidays: Five old-fashioned flourishes to make the season festive, decadent, and memorable

We’re thrilled to have Lesley M.M. Blume sharing some sentimental flourishes for holiday entertaining on the blog today. Lesley is the author of Let’s Bring Back, Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition and the upcoming Let’s Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition. Read on for Lesley’s post and visit the mini-site for a video and more!

Anyone looking for advice on throwing divine holiday parties might as well go right to the original source of entertaining wisdom: grande dame interior designer and Let’s Bring Back muse Elsie de Wolfe, who, sixty years after her death, remains wildly influential. Elsie is credited with pioneering many innovations – from the wall light switch to vanity tables with drawers – but her most useful invention by far was the cocktail party. At her own cocktail fêtes, she served “Pink Lady” cocktails (1/3 gin, 1/3 grapefruit juice, 1/3 Cointreau). For dinner parties, she advised her disciples that “plates should be hot, hot, hot; glasses cold, cold, cold; and table decorations low, low, low” – deceptively simple guidelines that no host or hostess should ever forget.

As I researched Let’s Bring Back and Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition, I came across many long-gone libations, rituals, delectables, and bits of advice that would still be delightful additions to today’s parties, especially during the holiday season. As this is the season for giving, I thought I’d share a little shortlist of five vintage holiday-season flourishes from the Let’s Bring Back series that might be fun to revive over the next six weeks.

Image via Chronicle Books on Pinterest.

1. Champagne towers. Popular in the 1920s, such towers are emblems of joyous celebration. Build a round pyramid of stacked coupe champagne glasses, and then pour champagne into the top glass; the liquid eventually trickles down the ones on the lower tiers and fills all the glasses. A very Gatsby-esque flourish – and perhaps a sensible alterative to a Christmas tree.

2. Figgy Pudding. If the lyrics of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” are an accurate indicator, something about figgy pudding makes people quite bossy and demanding.

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer
We won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here

If it’s that good, we should bring it back. Recipes dates back to the 15th century, but it was most popular as a Christmas dessert in the mid-19th century. Here’s an oldie but a goodie, unearthed from my grandmother’s recipe binder. I’d never heard of a steamed cake before, but maybe that’s the secret behind the figgy-pudding-mania.

3. Punch bowls. Punchbowls are the Lolitas of serving ware: filled with pink party punch, they look dainty and sweet and innocent, but portend all sorts of naughty behavior. They used to be the heart-and-soul of the party; now hardly anyone has them in their cupboards anymore. Usually made from crystal or cut-glass, they often came in sets which included ladles and matching punch cups that could hang from the bowl’s edge on little removable hooks. Let’s put them back into use!

4. Hot toddies. Lovely as hair-of-the-dog cold weather drinks, to help you weather the aftereffects of too much time spent at the punchbowl the night before. Popular in colonial America, hot toddies are very easy to make.

5. Homemade tree decorations. Let’s bring back homely, lopsided Christmas trees with fat colored lights and homemade ornaments and popcorn strings. Matchy-matchy trees with white lights and red plaid ribbons look constipated. Nothing was more enchanting than the Christmas tree described in Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory”, which the main characters decorate with “winged angels devised from saved-up sheets of Hershey-bar tin foil” and shredded cotton.

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