As the holidays near and I start to think about holiday meals, menus and table décor, I also think back to the holiday meals of my childhood and adolescence. Dinners at Aunt Millie’s— not just holiday meals but anytime meals—stand out so vividly that I can still see the table and taste and smell the food.
Aunt Millie lived in New Jersey and we lived in Pennsylvania. It was a four hour drive, but my Dad enjoyed driving and there were many times we’d do the drive for an early Sunday dinner and head back the same day.
I remember Aunt Millie’s butler’s pantry. It’s out of style now but I’d love to have one like it: a separate room with base cabinets below, glass-doored cabinets up above, and a countertop all around. Inside the upper cabinets were soup tureens, punch bowls and platters of all sizes and types and several sets of stemware and china. Down below were table linens of every size and color.
Aunt Millie was a great cook and everything she made was delicious. Her meals were always several courses, including a selection of appetizers, almost always a soup, an entrée with several sides and a scrumptious dessert.
Does anyone cook like that anymore? Or entertain like that?
My favorite part, though, was her table settings and the ceremony of partaking in the meal. I was about six to ten years old during this period; even then I had an appreciation for the visual. I would sit down at the table and my eyes would dance from the pretty linens to the centerpiece, the candles, the china and flatware set out perfectly for each course.
Each meal was a different table scape and color scheme, decorated specifically for the season or holiday. Always at each place setting was a cocktail for the adults, a pretty one in a pretty glass, sometimes a Manhattan with a cherry, other times something else, and for the kids a Shirley Temple, same glass, equally as pretty.
You might say I have table setting nostalgia.
Everything was timed right, hot, not dried out, somehow out of the oven at the exactly perfect time. Aunt Millie served it all herself and was like a conductor orchestrating a symphony. When dessert and coffee were over along with all the good conversation—children always included and our opinions and comments valued—it was clean-up time. Uncle Tony would step up to the plate to help, and often he and Aunt Millie would sing a duet during the process. Of course, they also happened to have great singing voices and enjoyed singing together!
My own holiday meals are chaotic, children running around, my cooking doesn’t measure up to Aunt Millie’s and certainly neither does my timing! But I’m probably creating memories for my grandchildren and I have the pleasure of savoring my own.
by Rosy Prose
For more on the nostalgic beauty of kitchens past, see “AT HOME: Ring for the Butler!“
Earlier blogs from Rosy Prose’s column, The View From Here, are available on ACT TWO.