I’m writing this Sleepy Hollow Stress Free Dinner Party a little ahead of time. Appropriately enough, a bloated full moon is resting low on the horizon providing almost (but not quite) enough creepy light to write by. But before I get too carried away with the atmosphere, I should mention that this Dinner Party is inspired by Washington Irving’s 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Not Tim Burton’s 1999 movie Sleepy Hollow, nor the 2013 FOX drama series Sleepy Hollow. It’s more of a period style seventeenth-century meal than horror fest.
Ichabod Crane, a teacher, appropriately boards with the parents of his pupils; a week at a time. He eats a lot, having “the dilation powers of an anaconda”. Consequently, we’ll be offering generous serves. He also teaches singing on the side (as it were), in particular, religious songs. One of his students is Katrina Van Tassel, the only daughter of “substantial” farmer Baltas Van Tassel. When he visits the farm, Crane notices
Sleek unwieldy porkers were grunting in the repose and abundance of their pens, from whence sallied forth, now and then, troops of sucking pigs, as if to snuff the air. A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining pond, convoying whole fleets of ducks; regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farmyard, and Guinea fowls fretting about it, like ill-tempered housewives, with their peevish, discontented cry. Before the barn door strutted the gallant cock, that pattern of a husband, a warrior and a fine gentleman, clapping his burnished wings and crowing in the pride and gladness of his heart,— sometimes tearing up the earth with his feet, and then generously calling his ever-hungry family of wives and children to enjoy the rich morsel which he had discovered.
And Ichabod can’t help imagining
every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of savory sausages; and even bright chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back, in a side dish, with uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter which his chivalrous spirit disdained to ask while living.
So we have plenty of food to choose from.
During the story, before the fateful meeting with the Headless Horseman, Ichabod receives an invitation “to attend a merry-making or “quilting frolic”, at the Van Tassel estate, and this is the primary source for the details of our Dinner Party.
When our hero arrives at the party, he sees
Such heaped up platters of cakes of various and almost indescribable kinds, known only to experienced Dutch housewives! There was the doughty doughnut, the tender oly koek, and the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes. And then there were apple pies, and peach pies, and pumpkin pies; besides slices of ham and smoked beef; and moreover delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces; not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, all mingled higgledy-piggledy, pretty much as I have enumerated them, with the motherly teapot sending up its clouds of vapor from the midst
So this not only suggests a meal served à la française, (served at the same time buffet style) but that the dishes are plain and simple, prepared without the constant supervision required by complicated methods.
Unfortunately for us, the story does not contain an extensive list of beverages on offer, aside from tea. However, with party appropriate ghost and war stories a plenty, there must have been some alcohol. There is a stray mention of punch. Without grapes, there probably wouldn’t have been “wine” as such. However, with the different varieties of fruit trees and grains, there would be a variety of fermented drinks that might have included beer and cider, as well as fruit wines, liqueurs, schnapps, and brandies.
The Van Tassels have live music at their party.
The musician was an old gray-headed negro, who had been the itinerant orchestra of the neighborhood for more than half a century. His instrument was as old and battered as himself. The greater part of the time he scraped on two or three strings, accompanying every movement of the bow with a motion of the head; bowing almost to the ground, and stamping with his foot whenever a fresh couple were to start.
Not that I’m suggesting that you hire a fiddler, but you could play some recorded folk music. Whether you dance or not is up to you!
Ichabod takes an extra half hour about his toilet. He cleans and freshens his best suit, and takes extra care rearranging his hair. He borrows a horse from his current host so that he can make a romantic and dashing entrance at the Van Tassel estate. And when he gets there he finds:
Old farmers, a spare leathern-faced race, in homespun coats and breeches, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles. Their brisk, withered little dames, in close-crimped caps, long-waisted short gowns, homespun petticoats, with scissors and pincushions, and gay calico pockets hanging on the outside. Buxom lasses, almost as antiquated as their mothers, excepting where a straw hat, a fine ribbon, or perhaps a white frock, gave symptoms of city innovation. The sons, in short square-skirted coats, with rows of stupendous brass buttons, and their hair generally queued in the fashion of the times
So it seems a formal event, though Ichabod’s suit is probably his Church suit, so perhaps just semi-formal. If you and your guests aren’t otherwise costuming for Halloween, go with Smart Casual.
We’re serving à la française, so all the food (hot and cold) and drink (hot and cold) should be on or arriving at the table when the guests start arriving. This is quite simple, but quite complicated at the same time. It will take around two hours in total to cook these dishes, so if you aren’t leaving work early (or taking the day off) you might want to invite people to arrive later; perhaps 8.00 or 8.30 pm.
Overall, you will need to provide about 25.5 oz (700 g) of food per person. But as you don’t know what they will choose to eat, you need to over-cater a little. Ideally, each dish you provide would serve six people, but given there will be a lot of food on the table we’ll make each dish for four because your guests are likely to eat smaller serves of more dishes than if you served just one meal. And for this reason, we’ll stick to things that you will probably enjoy eating for the rest of the week.
I think the easiest way to start, is by working out what your hot and cold food and drinks will be, and scheduling accordingly..
Hot Food and Drinks
Roast chicken and vegetables: You’ll need about 3.5 lb (1.6 kg) of chicken, and about 4 lb (1.8 kg) of assorted roast vegetables. You could pick this up from a take-out restaurant, but if you are cooking this will take about 90 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 375 °F (190 °C).
Gravy: The “official” recommendation is half a cup per person, but everyone loves gravy so I always over cater. I would recommend 4 cups (1 L). Obviously, gravy made from the pan drippings will be the best, but instant or restaurant will be fine given that so much else is going on.
Baked Apples: The story mentions roasted apples elsewhere, and are easier to make than pies. Preheat your oven to 375° F (190° C). Core six apples, but leave the last ½” (1.27 cm) unbroken – make the hole about 1″ (2.5 cm) wide. Put them in a baking dish. Mix ½ cup of brown sugar (or to taste), 1½ teaspoons of cinnamon, ¼ cup of chopped pecans, ¼ cup of chopped currants, raisins or mixed dried fruit. Then stuff the apples and put a dab of butter on the top. Pour about a cup of boiling water into the baking dish and bake for 30 – 45 minutes. Serve with cream.
Drinks: Coffee (and tea). Hot chocolate if you like.
Cold Food and Drinks
Ham, with potato salad and coleslaw: You’ll need about 1 lbs (450 g) of ham, 2 lbs (900 g) of potato salad, and about the same of coleslaw. You could buy it all at the supermarket, or make the salads fresh on the day (which will take about half an hour each).
Fresh bread rolls with butter: buying these on the day will be best.
Dutch Ginger Cake: You will need to prepare this earlier (or buy) so that the oven is free for the hot food. Preheat your oven to 355 °F (180 °C). Sift 1 3/4 cups of plain flour with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, then add 2/3 cup of caster sugar and 5 oz (140 g) chopped preserved ginger. Beat an egg; set aside 1 teaspoon and add to the flour. Melt 6 1/2 oz (185 g) of unsalted butter, cool a little (so you don’t cook the egg) and add to the flour and mix well. Press into a round greased 8.5 ” (22 cm) tin. Brush with the leftover egg and arrange 2 oz (60 g) of blanched almonds on top. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden and firm to touch. Leave it in the tin to cool before serving.
Cheese: I’m not sure what kind of cheese they would have made. I expect it would have been one type that they ate it all the time, so I’m going to suggest just a mature (hard) Gouda or Edam.
Drinks: multiple choice; water, beer, cider and fruit wines, liqueurs, schnapps, or brandies.