By Christine Lalumia
Last updated 2011-02-17
Magazines and the hostess
'Parties ... owe much of their success to the thought expended on food and drink. Even the impromptu need not take the hostess by surprise if the store cupboard is kept well-stocked with pastry shells in airtight tins and good supplies of canned and bottled delicacies.'
So ran an article in Ideal Home in 1956, reflecting the general societal view that an ideal homemaker was also a gifted hostess, always prepared for visitors and a party and always wearing a gracious smile.
The image of the housewife as 'happy homemaker' was powerful in the 1950s, and at no time was she under more pressure than at Christmas. The pressure to produce not only a perfect Christmas dinner but also several days' worth of festive meals and snacks was enormous. Advice came from all quarters: 'helpful' parents and in-laws, household manuals and popular magazines.
Magazines such as Ideal Home and Good Housekeeping suggested ways to save money, short-cuts designed to enable the hostess to cut down on preparation time, and ideas for making entertaining both more exciting and easier. Despite this, playing the perfect hostess on top of other domestic duties was, it seems, a strain and the hostess often spent most of the party in the kitchen and most of the holidays exhausted!
Cocktail parties were especially popular in the 1950s, and Christmas was a favourite time of year for such events. Drinks such as those seen in Hollywood movies were accompanied by inventive nibbles and hors d'oeuvres. The woman was expected to plan and organise these 'sophisticated' parties, prepare all the food and yet appear unruffled as the guests arrived. The man of the house had but one serious responsibility: to stock and run the bar.
Larger parties with full meals were also expected and in 1959 hostesses were encouraged by Good Housekeeping to:
'... study recipe books. Not half an hour before a meal, but study them in odd moments just for pleasure and ideas. Look out for two or three culinary masterpieces to add an inspired, professional touch to your meal planning.'
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