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Prohibition-Era Speakeasy Entertaining

Updated April 29, 2020
The impact of Prohibition drastically changed dining and entertaining experiences in the 1920s. Without alcohol being served in restaurants or at parties, the food landscape had to adapt—here’s how entertaining was done in the era of Speakeasys.
turkey kale meatballs and spaghetti

In America, during Prohibition, sweets started taking the place of booze in many restaurants and hotels (the ones that didn't go out of business from loss of alcohol sales, that is). Fruit "cocktails," chafing dishes and exotic, foreign foods became the new rage. On the East Coast, many speakeasies were run by Italian Americans, offering the general public their first taste of Italian food. It wasn't the austere food of the Old Country though; this new interpretation of Italian food was inspired by American wealth and excess. Heavy meats found their way into nearly every dish: spaghetti with meatballs, veal cutlets with Parmesan or lemon and ravioli with meat sauce became the new face of Italian food (and Mama ran the kitchen while Papa made wine in the basement). "Exotic" Chinese food also became widely available and wildly popular in the 1920s, although tweaked under an American lens.

japanese deviled eggs

For the average home cook, though, home economist Mrs. Ida Cogswell Bailey Allen offered many suggestions in her book, Mrs. Allen on Cooking, Menus, Service (1924). These are the party foods our grandmothers and great aunts grew up with: deviled-ham finger sandwiches on white bread, crudités platters of celery and carrot sticks, green onions, radishes with Russian dressing (made by mixing mayonnaise, ketchup and pickle relish), olives and pickles, deviled eggs sprinkled with paprika, creamy crab dip served with buttery "social" crackers; ambrosia salad of fruit cocktail mixed with a blend of sour and whipped creams, shredded coconut, mini marshmallows and chopped walnuts, served in a crystal bowl with canned mandarin oranges and a maraschino cherry arranged artfully on top.

easy pineapple upside down cake

Pineapple upside-down cake was also invented in the 1920s, so any self-respecting Prohibition party should feature one. An easy way to make this impressive dessert is to use a store-bought white cake mix (Pillsbury introduced packaged cakes mixes in the 1920s). Just make a syrup of butter and brown sugar in a heavy skillet, decoratively arrange the pineapple rings with maraschino cherries in the bottom of the pan (nestled into the syrup; place a cherry in the center of each pineapple ring), then pour in the cake batter and bake according to directions.

Thankfully, Prohibition was abolished, and we can soak our cake in dark rum. So throw on some Bessie Smith, pass the flask and dig into some speakeasy party foods!