"Entertaining" Turns 40!

 Martha's landmark first book will turn 40 years old this week! Published in December of 1982, "Entertaining" was to become the foundation for all that Martha accomplished in the decades that followed, setting her course as America's leading arbiter of taste, home cookery and home keeping. 

It was Alan Mirkin, an executive at Random House, who convinced Martha that she was capable of writing a book about the subject of hosting parties. He had been a guest at many of Martha's catered affairs, as well as at her home for many of her parties. The two became friends. Martha took her book plan to Clarkson Potter who gave her the okay with Mirkin's backing, and production began in earnest with Martha documenting many of her catered events and private dinner parties at her home, Turkey Hill, in Westport, Connecticut, with recipes for the menus and photographs of the completed dishes. 

When it was suggested that the book be printed in black and white, Martha insisted that the beautiful photographs in the book (which were taken by her then husband Andrew Stewart and photographer Michael Skott) be published in colour.  Having underestimated Martha's appeal, the publisher initially printed only 20,000 copies, which immediately sold out, forcing Clarkson Potter to follow up with a second printing of 500,000 copies. Today, Entertaining is one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, having sold well over one million copies. 

What makes it such a treasure is the scope of its vision. Martha's determination and imagination are on full display on every page, surrounded by imagery that documents the resplendent results of her efforts: tables dressed with quilts and then laden with cakes and desserts under towering flower arrangements, or a table set perfectly for a formal dinner party under a crystal chandelier by a roaring fire. In the early 1980s, Martha intuitively understood the ambitions of her peers to have a home filled with fine food and good friends. 

The book helped to introduce Martha to the American public and what followed, in addition to many more books, were television specials, a partnership with Kmart, a magazine, a weekly television series that later aired daily, and finally a company that produced not only content through all media but produced the products to support the lifestyle the company promoted. Entertaining was the first step in Martha becoming Martha. 

I'm happy to celebrate this book's 40th anniversary. Below are quotes from the book that illustrate Martha's intentions for the book and some of her advice for hosting. Enjoy!

"I hope this book will give people ideas, just as other people, stories, experience, and food itself have me ideas. It is not intended only for the culinary elite, who are working to refine their cuisine, but especially for all those people who regard cooking as "preparing meals", as drudgery or duty - and entertaining as an even greater worry. For them, I hope to show that there are many ways of entertaining and that each ultimately depends not on pomp or show or elaborate technique, but on thought, effort, and caring - much like friendship itself."
"Entertaining is an opportunity to be individualistic, to express your own ideas about what constitutes a good party. For one hostess, it might be a small and elegant dinner, with poached salmon; for others, a large and boisterous pasta buffet, make-your-own sandwiches and an old movie, omelets on the patio, or tempura in the kitchen. There are as many good formulas as there are personalities."
"My catering business began by chance. I had taught a cooking class for my daughter, Alexis, and her peers. Then, tentatively, I placed a single ad in the local papers offering my services as a caterer, only to find myself preparing blindly for a wedding for three hundred. The menu was a novice's - extravagant, demanding and unprofitable: hors d'oeuvres, homemade pates, cold cucumber soup, salmon mousses, chicken breasts chaud-froid, and homemade breads. Down by Long Island Sound, on a sweltering August afternoon in an unsheltered beach club in Darien, I stood by the buffet and watched the aspic melt off the oeufs en gelee, and the top tier of a basket-weave cake slip starboard. I eliminated the oeuffs and pushed the cake back into place. Nevertheless, it was a very good party, and I knew I was hooked."
"Think of how the colors of your food might contrast or complement your dishes; think, too, of how the colors work together on their own. Sometimes the size of the ingredients makes a statement. Carrots left whole and then aligned in a graceful diagonal on a plate have a different, interesting look. A stew appears dramatically hearty if you choose large mushrooms and whole vegetables (baby carrots, new potatoes) and cut the meat into two-inch cubes. A chicken salad composed of big chunks of white meat makes an extravagant statement, while the same ingredients finely julienned make a delicate one. A sweet spring lamb is more appropriately carved into several thin slices than one hefty slab. In assembling a plate, respect the integrity of and the nature of each element: don't be haphazard, don't crowd, for the results are worth the extra few moments of time."
"Any form of entertaining involves expanding a private world to include others. It calls for an extrovert's heart and an introvert's soul. It is essential that you consider your guests' inclinations and interests in the planning, but it is equally important that you follow your own instincts. Entertaining, like cooking, is a little selfish, because it really involves pleasing yourself, with a guestlist that will coalesce into your idea of harmony, with a menu orchestrated to your home and taste and budget, with decorations subject to your own eye. Given these considerations, it has to be pleasureful."
"When I was in grade school I used to organize all the birthday parties in our neighborhood, just for the fun of arranging little dramas. And as I read all the classics, what remained most vivid in my memory were the banquet scenes in Sir Walter Scott, the Roman punch dinners in Edith Wharton novels, and the country weekends in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Entertaining always seemed natural to me, a matter of taking something very appealing to me - a favorite dish, a holiday, an activity - and making it bigger, to include others."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Every time I see a copy of Entertaining at a thrift store or tag sale I purchase the copy. Sure there are plenty of copies on coffee tables in America but I have a couple. Up there on the book shelf with Gardening and Weddings. That pyramid crunch was introduced to a class of fifth graders many many years ago
and I enjoyed watching Stefanie Jarvis pick up her order of a croquembuch from a French Bakery during an episode of Chateau Diaries Martha should volunteer there at chateau LeLand; incognito of course and show them a thing or two about gardening cooking and decorating LOL