Although it seems as if it has been around forever, the American cocktail party took shape only in the 1920s, when women began to drink more freely in public and nasty homemade Prohibition liquor was routinely diluted with fruit juices.
The cocktail party became a fixture of American life, but by the mid-1950s it was in disfavor, lampooned even by such conservative publications as Life magazine. Society hostess Elsa Maxwell characterized it as “the kind of party to which one invites the people not considered worth inviting either to luncheon or dinner.”
The food served at these “stand and socialize” events was particularly loathed. Such faux-sophisticated (and apparently ubiquitous) fare as low-quality caviar, coiled anchovies and what journalist Hal Boyle described in a 1959 column in the Tucson Daily Citizen as “gnat-bite-sized sandwiches made of new wallboard and old library paste” came in for particular scorn.
Fortunately, a few delicious finger foods did eventually evolve, cheddar olives, to mention just one.
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Tidbits of cooking through history, produced by America’s Test Kitchen, www.americastestkitchen.com.
Make it now
To get a recipe for cheddar olives, go to bit.ly/ctolives. The recipe is available for free for two weeks.