I went to a dinner party last night. It was a lovely evening. Four couples, the optimum number to combine relative ease of food preparation with manifold conversational combinations. Three courses plus cheese, coffee and liqueurs. Perfect.
But the formal dinner party appears to be a dying breed. Either I have become persona non grata without a reason that I am aware of or people have just stopped hosting them like they used to. And I am the same. Rather than full monty dinners for eight or ten, I have tended to slip towards small supper parties for six or even four with no starter and no table cloth.
I used to do big, sophisticated dinner parties having learned how it was done from a master. My mum was the hostess with the mostest when I was a child and I watched as she prepared the table, set with white damask and silver cutlery. There were starched napkins, tall candles, place settings and sparkling chrystal glasses. And so when I began to entertain, I tried to emulate this style, although my selection of bottom drawer linen was considerably inferior. I would spend hours planning the menu. Hot starter, main course and at least three veg, a choice of puddings. And they were fun. Hard work but in the main successful. I did go through a period in the early nineties when if you went out you would get a Delia recipe and you had to hope it wasn't the one you had had the week before but generally formal dinner parties were enjoyable.
And then somehow they fell out of fashion. For me that seemed to coincide with my giving up work closely followed by the births of my third and fourth children. With my energy levels severely depleted it was all I could do to stay awake until the end of Coronation Street, let alone cook for and entertain others. The habit was lost and for a long time we didn't eat with friends at all.
When I finally came out of the preschool haze and found a babysitter who could cope with all four kids, we gradually started back on food with friends. But now it was a very different beast. More relaxed, the cooking happened after the guests had arrived whilst everyone stood around in newly open plan kitchens chatting. No starter. One pudding or perhaps even a takeaway on the basis that it was the getting together that had become the focus of these evenings and not the food.
And whilst these supper parties are much easier to achieve and far more spontaneous, I do miss, from time to time, the formality of an evening with an array of cutlery to work your way through. Perhaps I should revive them chez nous? Maybe after Christmas...