My mother, Rommy, had a concise repertoire of hors d'oeuvres that she served with some frequency. Regardless of the size of the gathering, a fine selection of Planter's roasted mixed nuts was considered merely a token snack served alongside cocktails. A stickler for presentation, the medley of peanuts, almonds, brazil nuts and far too few cashews were transferred from their blue tin to one of my mother's signature fish-shaped dishes. The gray pescatarian enamel ware was oven-safe and was originally used by my grandmother, Dorothy, for seafood, the sort of first course appetizer with a buttery crumb topping that was quickly browned in the oven. The fish dishes were Rommy's go-to for any nut and/or dried fruit combination. Crafted in Copenhagen, their tails made them slightly fragile and so they were kept securely behind the glass doors of the mahogany breakfront. On the same shelf as the fish rested an assortment of serving pieces for pre-dinner offerings. An over-sized white platter was called on quite often because it served double duty. A small bowl affixed to the center made the dish suitable for shrimp cocktail (the cocktail sauce nestled in the bowl), and equally agreeable for pigs in the blanket, accompanied by hot mustard. The term "chip and dip" hadn't yet been introduced into our vernacular but I suppose that's what you would call that type of dish today. My mother also had a matching set of sage green earthenware with lids, I'm guessing they were about pint sized, retained heat well and were used for hot dips. One was reserved for the neon orange Wispride and crabmeat combo, the other for artichoke hearts blended with parmesan, lemon juice and mayonnaise. Hors d'oeuvres, quite frankly, teetered on excess, practically a meal in themselves. Imposing blocks and triangles of cheese, artistically arranged on a Dansk board with a matching wood-handled server was an integral part of Rommy's before dinner spread, but nothing was as special as the caponata. A medley of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and olives, the chunky spread was served cold, alongside Sociables, an assortment of savory crackers. We were keen on the various shapes of the crackers, emphasized on the box as, "Perfect for Entertaining!"
My mother's penchant for caponata was primarily because it was generous with the olives, both green and black. There were plenty of recipes for the Sicilian dish, but my mother's version combined a little from James Beard, a little from WOR radio, and a number of newspaper clippings. It was also pretty tasty served with Ritz crackers, the salty eggplant/olive-y spread nicely balanced by the slightly sweet, buttery cracker. Ritz, however, was not nearly as much fun visually as the Sociables, and were in all honesty, not the first pick on the cracker team. Which meant that the following day, when the Sociables had been exhausted, my mother and I would content ourselves with Ritz, standing in the kitchen, lavishly spreading leftover caponata on cracker rounds, commenting on how the caponata always tasted even better the next day. With the hors d'oeuvres dishes safely returned to the breakfront, without the clink of ice cubes in cocktail glasses, eating caponata on crackers alongside the hostess with the mostest always made me feel like the party hadn't quite ended.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm