I grew up in a house with a mother who loved to cook. Not only cook, but entertain. I have wonderful memories of those nights when we were given ‘fish n chips’ for dinner (the only available takeaway), were put into the bath early, came down to the lounge to dry our hair in front of the roaring fire and then were sent to bed as soon as the guests arrived.
But we didn’t go to sleep. When we thought the time was right and the mission safe, we would rise from bed and tip-toe along the hallway and then descend the staircase until we were halfway down. We would crouch down and peer over the top of the bannister where we would have a wonderful view of all the goings-on taking place in the lounge room. We not only liked to look, we liked to listen. My younger sister and I were highly skilled at eaves-dropping. And we loved the listening-in because it was mostly centred around us. The guests would ask, ‘How’s Charlie?’ so I was able to find out a lot about myself that I otherwise would never have known.
In the lead-up to the dinner party, mum would have spent her entire day in the kitchen working on recipes she cut out from the local newspaper, or from cookbooks like Des Britton’s Thyme for Cookery. Foods from exotic lands were unknown and unheard of. There was no influence from Asia, the Middle East or most of Europe. The only foreign influence came from France but I’m not sure the French would like to take any credit for what New Zealand in the 1970’s did to their cuisine.
When the guests arrived they were offered drinks poured from crystal decanters. Wine wasn’t on the menu, instead everyone drank spirits mixed with Schweppervescence. Brandy and Dry, Whiskey and Soda, Gin and Tonic, with the occasional guest requesting a sherry. The glasses were filled with ice, the spirits were poured followed by the Schweppes, then a slice of lemon or an olive depending on the drink and glass stirrers were also added. For dad, the first half hour of the night seemed to be taken up with pouring the drinks because like dealing with today’s coffee orders, everyone wanted something different.
Bowls of salted nuts and stuffed green olives were always served with dad’s pre-dinner drinks. But most appetisers involved toothpicks. No 1970’s dinner party could survive the night without a wide variety of spirits and many packets of toothpicks. Cheese and pineapple, cheese and gherkin, and cheese and cabanossi, were all stabbed with toothpicks then pushed into an orange for fancy presentation.
A lot of my mother’s appetisers came from the oven and were served piping hot but I’m sure the brutal climate had something to do with what was presented. But hot or cold, toothpicks were essential.
Once the drinks were poured dad would be very busy with the record player. The music always seemed to be either Don McLean’s American Pie or Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night. Dad would spend most of the night on a series of missions that included dealing with all of those mixed drinks, flipping over the record to keep the music playing or stoking the fire.
Mum would be in and out of the kitchen serving the appetisers, watching over the main course and taking the odd sip from a gin and tonic with ice, a slice of lemon and a glass drink stirrer.
My sisters and I would watch all of this from our vantage point halfway down the staircase and be totally engrossed in the goings-on until sadly it was time for everyone to head into the dining room. That was a room that could not be peered in on from the staircase. We would have liked to have stayed up to sample a few of mum’s handmade chocolates that would be brought out with the port and cigars at the end of the night but that was never going to happen.
What we did do however is, the next morning while our parents were sleeping-in, we would sneak downstairs and go into the lounge room where half empty glasses containing remnants of gin, brandy, whiskey and sherry sat on mantlepieces and coffee tables. We would take all of these remnants and pour them into one glass, throw in a slice of lemon, give it a whirl with a glass stirrer, then sit down and drink the lot while eating leftover salted nuts and stuffed green olives.
And we survived.
So pour yourself a G & T, turn up Hot August Night or American Pie on your stereo, grab your toothpicks and transport yourself back to the 70’s. You won’t regret it!
Here is something my mother would occasionally make as an appetiser for her dinner parties.
Devils on Horseback
I’m not sure if these prunes wrapped in bacon then cooked in the oven actually are the true ‘Devils on Horseback’. There are quite a few recipes around and they seem to involve fresh dates. No such thing as a fresh date back in the 70’s so these were made with pitted prunes. But today, to be ‘modern’ you could substitute prunes for fresh dates, cut a slit in them then fill with a smoked almond. When they come out of the oven, brush with a balsamic glaze. But I’ve made the version I knew to be Devils on Horseback when I was growing up.
Degree of Difficulty: 1/5
Cost: These are an inexpensive and tasty appetiser. You may not even have to go to the shops for these two ingredients plus toothpicks!
- 4 rashers of rindless bacon
- 16 pitted prunes
- 16 toothpicks
Preheat oven to 180C/375F.
Cut bacon into 4 strips. Wrap each prune in a strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick.
Place on an oven tray and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.