Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Whole New Way to Serve Appetizers

While researching the sheer curtain post from yesterday, I found this photo of a richly decorated hors d'oeuvres room in the Park Avenue apartment of Richard E. Berlin (he was the longtime chairman of Hearst as well as the father of Brigid Berlin, part of Warhol's inner circle). This small space- actually, I'm assuming it was small- was located just off of the dining room and was intended as an area in which to serve cocktails. I've heard of these rooms referred to as "cocktail rooms", but the term "hors d'oeuvres room" is a first for me.

Decorated in the Venetian manner by the firm Thedlow, the room featured a pair of blackamoors (both holding champagne buckets, no less) standing guard over a crystal and mirror console. Good heavens is that console dripping in overwrought glamour or what? The beige-gray walls were painted with a black balustrade at the bottom, while a painted black canopy with gold fringe framed the top of the room. It's totally over the top in a fantastical way- and that's the beauty of it.

So, what to serve as hors d'oeuvres? Well, Sausage Balls ain't gonna cut it. It has to be something fancy but tasty too. After all, guests in the Berlin home weren't wearing denim and flip-flops to imbibe in the hors d'oeuvres room. After looking through some of my old cookbooks, I found these little tidbits that seemed to be the order of the day.

*Moulded Lobster Canapes (from For The Hostess A Handbook For Entertaining)

One-half tablespoonful of finely chopped onion and three tablespoonfuls of butter are sauteed together with one-third cupful of chopped mushroom caps for five minutes. Two tablespoonfuls of flour and two-thirds of a cupful of cream are added to this, and the mixture is cooked until it thickens. One cupful of chopped lobster meat is then added with two tablespoonfuls of grated cheese and the yolks of two eggs beaten slightly. This mixture is seasoned with salt and Cayenne and piled on circular pieces of toast. Grated cheese and soft buttered bread-crumbs are sprinkled on top, and the canapes are browned in the oven.

*Czechoslovak Shells (from
A Book of Hors d'Oeuvre by Lucy G. Allen)

Brush the inside of tiny shell molds with olive oil and set them in a pan of cracked ice. Place in the bottom of each a small amount of clear tomato aspic; when firm, lay in small bits of ripe olive, pimiento and green pepper, together with antipasto cut small. Set these with aspic and continue until the mold is full. Use only enough aspic to hold these pieces in place. The molds should be filled mostly with antipasto, with enough of the olive and pepper to give the required color and enough of the aspic to keep the shape. Turn these molds out, when firm, on round cuts of sauteed bread.


  1. I strongly advise your devoted readers to log into Amazon.com this morning, order "Pie in the Sky"- a documentry about the life of Brigid Berlin, wait for a quiet night, open a bottle of champagne and pop it in the VCR. Then stand back. I defy you not to fall in love with Brigid's mother, the ultra stylish, ultra social Honey Berlin- she of the smokey voice and impeccable maquillage. Exactly the sort of woman who would be right at home in that cocktail room. And I do believe, that the Berlin's were serving caviar, although I would have preferred one of your suggestions.

  2. Beautiful post! This photograph is inspiring. Now to recreate it.
    Teresa (Splendid Sass)

  3. Just thank you for another great post. You can't know how much I enjoy your blog!

  4. I kinda think that hors d'oeuvres room is what heaven is going to be like!

    Moulded Lobster Canapes sound pretty fab - though, I'm not sure this is the right time to get lobster LOL. They tend to be "oily" this time of the year :P

  5. No idea what sausage balls are, but I think the answer is in the title! Over here in the UK we used to serve (and some still do) 'cocktail' sausages on sticks, and also cheese and pineapple on sticks (often stuck into half a melon, so that it ended up looking like a hedgehog.) I think that the only hor d'oeurvres worthy of that room and table would be the finest caviar. Nothing else would cut the mustard (although those receipes are very tempting ...)
    Margaret P

  6. Aspic! My mother made crab and shrimp aspic. You never hear of tomato aspic, but if season properly, it is delicious,

  7. It is difficult to tell for sure, viewing on an iPhone, but are there no canapé plates because it is caviar that is being is being served? In my town, even the most ambitious hostesses ever provide plates no matter how extensive the buffet, intending one to "graze" only. Is that the current trend or just a peculiarity of this locale?

  8. JT- I don't think that there are plates in this vignette shot. I would provide small plates just for the sake of my rugs and floors. Napkins just don't cut it at a larger cocktail buffet.

  9. Tomato aspic is delicious!

  10. Aaah- Tomato aspic, chicken hash, shad roe, sweetbreads and vichyssoise- those staples of country club cooking in my youth, now seemingly gone the way of the dodo bird. Delicious when well prepared and properly seasoned, bland or worse when mishandled as they so often were. I do believe that the Berlin's wonderful table sports, on the right side, a caviar dish- no plates, alas. Where was the stylist?

  11. How indulgent to have a separate cocktail/hors d'oeuvre room. I guess that's when you know you've made it big ;)
    And I'm with you all on small plates...a must for this type of entertaining.

  12. Interesting post, especially since I am a big fan of stories about entertaining the good old-fashioned way.

    I love the drama of the setting, especially the blackamoor Champagne buckets. I also think that Caviar would have been the appropriate choice. There are shot glasses in the photo, which could be meant for Vodka. There is a curious silver container with a crystal handle on the right, and the crystal stand in the middle has some small bits with dark spots on it, which could be caviar.

    The documentary about Brigid Berlin sounds great Magnus. The recipes from the 20s are intriguing.



  13. love the post and images are lovely...

  14. What a delightful treat to come across your blog...actually started following after I googled up Billy Baldwin and you had an entry on google. Loved Billy Baldwin and still treasure his books in my library but am totally enjoying reading your fun posts. Thank you so much.