Devils on Horseback and…The View From the Staircase

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.

Devils on Horseback

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

The essential ingredient for a 1970’s dinner party – the toothpick!

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.

Makes:  16

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.

Serve hot.

Want to keep in touch?  Let’s be friends on facie!





  1. Mum used to make an appetizer that would be best described as a toasted curry tuna roll; a slice of crustless white bread encasing a dob of tuna and keens curry mixture, fixed with a toothpick, and oven roasted. She hasn’t made them in years, but your post took me right back there.

  2. WOW! Talk about a flashback, Charlie, thanks for that! My brother and I would sneak out into the hall and crouch by the closet, we couldn’t see much but boy did we listen! Thanks for that fond memory! Deviled eggs were often on mom’s menu, and canapés (little slice of French bread with salami and a pickle or olive, come to think of it — a toothpick too!).
    I’m making the devil on horseback with dates tonight! Never knew what they were called.

  3. Well, I can honestly say that I have never seen prunes wrapped in bacon before. I love your stories. I wonder how your parents could not have known that you were there on the staircase. I don’t think that my girls could keep so quiet.

  4. Much of that could have been written about my own family, which is rather lovely, I think. I haven’t had Devils on Horseback in years, but the recipe, retro or not, is still great!

  5. I love Devils on Horsebacks! And I love this post. I was also a specialist in eavesdropping 😉 and I also used to steal tiny amounts of alcohol (although not for breakfast I think 😉 ), I also used to steal some of my mum’s coffee (it made me feel very adult!) and I have also survived without any brain damage 😉 .

  6. I’m having a flashback as well. My parents had parties in our basement all the time, and they used to play country and western music. (My dad played the guitar and harmonica.) My sister and I used to sneak around upstairs to listen so often that my dad installed a speaker system in our bedroom and would tell us to “get back to bed” over the speaker when we started to whisper excitedly. I have no idea how he rigged it up, but boy am I impressed now. Guess it was an homemade version of a baby monitor…just 35 years ago! Your appetizer looks really simply, but tasty. Love the name!

  7. Oh yes, it all comes back to me now. My favourite( not) was the tinned Asparagus wrapped in a slice of white bread!How funny when you look back on it. Things have changed so very much

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Yes Tania. That was another favourite appetiser. I was thinking of making those tinned asparagus spears wrapped in crust-less slices of white bread but couldn’t remember the other ingredient. I’m sure something was spread on the bread? If you know, do let me know.

  8. You do a great work working in a story around a recipe – but prunes and bacon combo is new to me! … but that’s ok.

  9. I remember doing the same, sneaking to peak at my parent’s dinner parties and what made me really smile was that I too would love to hear what they had to say when someone asked about me!! Now that is an interesting and so easy appetizer! The simplier the better!

  10. Haha, I used to hate when my parents had dinner parties. I’d feel so left out. I’d run around fetching various toys to show people for a while, until it was decided that it was “adult time” and I was sent away into exile (the bedroom). I’d always listen to the laughter going on downstairs, wishing I was 15 years older 🙁

  11. My parents entertained a lot for dads work, but we were roped into helping. Us three girls would be dressed in our best matching outfits, lined up according to height, then sent out with the big trays of appetizers to circulate among the guests.
    Maybe we were the ice breakers/ conversation starters? After all, I’m sure we were cuter than the cubes of cabanossi out tinned oysters. 🙂

    • hotlyspiced says:

      When we were teenagers we had to stay up all night helping. Like you, passing around the food then doing dishes in the kitchen. I think I found it all a lot more exciting being invisible on the stairs.

  12. What a fun name for a tasty appetizer!

  13. Thats funny, kick starting the day with a cocktail, and I guess it was a different cocktail every time. No recipe?
    Interesting how things have changed over the years

  14. It’s funny how those memories stick with you…we too got ordered to pass the platters of food around as teenagers. I had some of these recently at a friend’s house and they are so delicious!!

  15. My sister and I used to do the same thing!! Only we didn’t have stairs so we would sit in the hallway until we were sprung! Great story 🙂

  16. I love your line, “I was able to find out a lot about myself that I othewise would never have known” – my gosh, that made me laugh! And then I envisioned you drinking the guests leftover drinks…Oy, at that I laughted out loud!

  17. Oh it has been years since I had devils on horseback but they were a staple back then! My parents didn’t entertain much, certainly not in the exciting sense as yours did!

  18. I remember having very early dinner when my parents had friends over and it usually meant we were allowed a video too. No leftovers the next day for us unfortunately.

  19. Lol this brings back memories. The devils and the sitting on the stairs eavesdropping and watching my parents and their friends get tipsy on the couintrea I have no idea how to spell that. Oh and don’t forget the pickled onions, stabbed with a toothpick 🙂 xx

  20. What a great post! Love seeing how many commenters have their own versions of the memory you so deftly described. And your comment regarding the need for toothpicks is, or was, so true! Thanks for helping to start my Monday with a smile!

  21. Love this post, and yes, like so many others, it reminds me of my childhood, though mine was in the ’60’s and the tunes were different. Being an only child, my folks always invited me to the party for a while, then talked about me after I left, but I was down the hall and could still hear some of it! Love this classic appetizer, and I think it’s interesting how we are beginning to revive some of this style of entertaining, though I’ll admit to being a bit lazy about the piping hot appetizers!

  22. I really like that story about your Mum and how she’d shoo you girls off to bed hehe my parents use to have their friends over too and they would buy me a new toy and try to confine me in my room. But hahaha I’d always coming out an hour later and start running around asking all the adults if they liked my dress or hair hahhaa kinda embarrassed to talk about it now LOL

    Definitely going to use these as an appetiser next time I have a party at home ~

  23. This appetizer is indeed very 70-tish! I savoured it a lot when I was little when my parents had dinner parties! I still am loving it though! When you have a great appetizer, it will stand the test of time! 🙂

  24. u have painted such a pretty picture, i can totally imagine the scene 🙂 must have been a lot of fun. these look so dainty, the perfect one-bite appetizer

  25. I definitely grew up with the prune version. And I think you spread the bread for the tinned asparagus with corn relish ?? We used to have it after school under the grill (not rolled) with some melted cheese. I haven’t had that in at least 20 years ! But you are making me feel like a late night snack….

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Thanks for that Lissa. I am trying to get to the bottom of that tinned asparagus wrapped in crust-less bread then secured with a toothpick and placed in the oven recipe. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of it. As soon as I find it, I’ll post the recipe.

  26. Magnolia Verandah says:

    Oh I remember this vividly – I did most of my courting to Hot August Night or Chicago. And I made those devils on horseback more than once. How time flies!

Speak Your Mind