A look through the 1970s editions of House & Garden is a fascinating activity, if only to see how much has changed and how much has not. It seems that 50 years haven't dimmed our love for an elaborately set table: cut glass, patterned porcelain and serried ranks of candlesticks grace our tables as prominently now as they did in 1972; if anything, the art of tablescaping has become more involved now than it ever was then.
What has changed? The food. This was a decade that seemed to revel in unusual ways to prepare food on an almost Victorian level. Exotic fruits and vegetables such as pineapples, avocados and artichokes were embraced with unseemly enthusiasm. We can all surely be grateful that we've lost our taste for pineapple with everything, entire meals made of cheese, and extremely heavy punches that mostly consist of milk. It's also a relief not to have to arrange everything decoratively on a serving plate in the labour-intensive way that 1970s tablescapes seemed to require.
On the other hand, this was a decade that seriously embraced the canapé, and that is something we can get behind. Devilled eggs, vol-au-vents, and Parma ham wrapped round everything: what's not to like here? And of course, if you're looking to host a relaxed party, we still think you can't beat a fondue or raclette party. Yes it's cheesy, but that's what we like about it.
The other thing we're excited to bring back is things made in jelly moulds. While we're quite happy to leave things like aspic and terrines out of the moulds, actual jelly and any sort of wobbly dessert is crying out for a jelly mould, in our opinion.
The drinks scene, meanwhile, was a mixed bag. Milk punches and sherry parties haven't made their way back around, but a glance at the adverts in the 1970s reveals some things in common: dry martinis were a standard cocktail to serve at parties (how stylish), and the choice of whether to serve hock or claret at a dinner made things refreshingly simple.
This was also a decade when our interiors were starting to change and become less formal, and the concept of the separate dining room was just beginning to lose its grip. Our December issue of 1978 waxes lyrical on the subject of the open plan dining room: "Some of the best parties most of us have ever enjoyed have undoubtedly been staged in unexpected places with unexpected guests and unexpected food. Such a relief! we say as we wander homewards. Such a change from those stuffy dinner-table arrangements with everyone on their best behaviour and basically only too anxious to show how clever they are or what esoteric holidays they've just come back from!
“Far more entertainment is apt to be derived from somewhat less conventional settings. In much the same way that a circular table is more likely to engender conversation than one of square, rectangular or elliptical shape, so a casual grouping away from the set dining-room is more likely to sponsor a memorable occasion.”
Beef fondue, anyone?
Of course it was this cavalier approach to convention that brought us such recipes as ‘nut creams’ (a mixture of cream cheese and orange peel sandwiched between two halves of a nut), but still, this freer approach to entertaining would set the tone for the subsequent decades. As our 1978 entertaining advice continues: “For the workaday hostess, the kitchen-dining-room can prove a godsend. She is right there in the middle of the chit-chat, she can call on a masculine pair of hands for the odd chore and the food will be piping hot.” Could this writer have foreseen how the open-plan kitchen would become a status symbol, how vindicated she would have felt.
If you want to throw a 1970s-style dinner party, the good news is that you're probably already doing a lot of things right. Relaxed L-shaped sofas to facilitate conversation, bar cabinets where people can help themselves to drinks, and comfortable dining chairs all enter into the entertaining advice of our 1970s editions. Aesthetically, the look is definitely more-is-more; think patterned tablecloths, patterned china, coloured glass and preferably some silver serveware somewhere in there. Scroll down for our favourite product picks for the table of the decade, plus an amusing selection of recipes from the House & Garden of the 1970s: you may or may not want to try them.
This was a boozy decade, where elaborate cocktail and punch recipes were freely embraced, alongside liqueurs such as Benedictine, Grand Marnier and Drambuie. Sherry was all over the place, and cognac and Armagnac were the digestif of choice. Cream and milk featured heavily in cocktails and punches, either in the form of cream liqueurs or just actual milk, and tropical flavours were heading this way in the form of exotic cocktails like the Pina Colada and Tequila Sunrise. If we're taking anything away from all this, it's that punch should be making a serious comeback. The two recipes below (from our December 1976 issue), encapsulate what the decade was all about. Try at your own risk!
Bacchus Cup (from the December 1976 issue)
½ bottle dry Champagne
½ pint dry sherry
An eight of a pint of brandy
A liqueur glass of Noyeau
1 tbsp castor sugar
Bottle of seltzer or soda water
Put the Champagne, sherry, brandy, Noyeau and sugar into a glass jug. Let it stand for an hour. Add ice, soda water, and serve at once.
Milk Punch (from the December 1976 issue)
4 pints rich full cream milk
Rind of 6 lemons
¼ pint cold milk
Pint of Jamaica rum
½ pint brandy
4oz castor sugar
Pare the lemons carefully, avoiding any white pith. Put brandy, rum, sugar and peel to soak in a closed jar for two days, shaking two or three times to ensure that the sugar dissolves.
On the day you wish to make the punch, beat the two eggs with the cold milk. Bring the rest of the milk to boiling point, together with the rind from the jar. Remove the rind just before whisking in the beaten eggs.
Do not return the pan to the heat. Add the liquid, which should be warmed in another pan. Grate a little nutmeg on to the top. Serve in warmed glasses. This punch should be warm, not hot.
Can a pineapple-heavy meal be resuscitated? One of our 1970s issues featured an entire dinner party menu of pineapple dishes, which we don't recommend you try; nor do we recommend serving other dishes in hollowed-out pineapples (or avocados), just for novelty value. But we've included a recipe here for a pineapple and almond salad, as it requires the least investment of time of the pineapple dishes. Vol-au-vents, fondue, and really swirly twirly iced cakes, though: these we can get on board with. If you're not handy with the piping back, may we recommend commissioning April's Baker in London for the confection of your dreams (and she does classes too).
Pineapple and almond salad
Large ripe pineapple
2oz nib or split almonds
Juice and rind of one lemon
2oz preserving or granulated sugar
Large glass of gin or vodka
With a sharp, thin-spined knife, cut the skin off the pineapple. Cut the fruit into slices of an eighth of an inch, and arrange in overlapping rows down the centre of a long dish.
Dice the angelica as small as possible. Mix with the almonds, sugar, lemon rind and juice.
Baste the fruit with the gin and arrange the chopped garnish down the centre. Cover with cling film and chill well.
Stilton Fondue (serves 6)
“Fondue is becoming very popular in England,” wrote Penelope Maxwell in 1974, “and as a dish that is eminently easy to do, and fun to eat, it couldn't be a better contrast after the Christmas turkey. Some people find fondue rather bland, but when it is made with Stilton it has a rich, full flavour.”
½ oz butter
½ pint cider or dry white wine
12 oz Stilton (grated)
1 level tsp cornflour
2 tbsp Kirsch (optional)
1 crusty French loaf (cut into small cubes)
Place butter, cider, grated cheese, cornflour, pepper and Kirsch in a fondue dish, flameproof casserole or saucepan.
Stir over gentle heat until fondue is smooth.
Keep warm while it is being served, either using a special fondue set or a table-warmer.
Eat by dipping cubes of bread on long-handled forks into fondue.