Speakeasy Entertaining

By Voodoo Lily
Created March 14, 2017
With the second season premier of HBO's Boardwalk Empire coming up September 25th, why not host a 1920s Prohibition dinner party (flapper costumes optional)? MORE+ LESS-

Lots of people have Mad Men parties, and I love kitschy ’60s food and cocktails just as much as the next white-bread American gal.

But I have an even stronger fondness (bordering on addiction) for older vintage menus and diners. So I thought, why not host a 1920s Prohibition dinner party? One of my favorite shows, Boardwalk Empire, begins its second season next Sunday, September 25. The show takes place in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, New Jersey, and I thought it would be a fun idea to try cooking a menu of 1920s foods--flapper costumes optional.

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, and the American interpretation of it has always fascinated me.

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 my grandmother and aunts grew up with (and prepared at every holiday meal during my own childhood): 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 with finely diced celery, 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.

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. For those who like to do things from scratch, here's a vintage recipe from The Commerce Journal (Commerce, Texas; 1926):

"The cake batter is made as follows:
[2 eggs] (erroneously omitted from the original recipe)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1-2 cup pineapple juice
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoonful vanilla
Separate the eggs, beat the yolks until a light yellow, add sugar and pineapple juice, flour mixed and sifted with the baking powder and salt vanilla and lastly the lightly beaten whites."

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!