CLOSE
Getty Images
Getty Images

What Killed The Dinner Party?

Getty Images
Getty Images

By Peter Weber


Oh, dinner parties, says Guy Trebay in The New York Times, with more than a hint of wistfulness. "Remember those?" A great dinner party — to celebrate the holidays, or just because — is a pleasant and personable way to network, a great occasion for different ages and social strata to mix, a fount of great conversation, and "the epitome of civilized living." But sadly, "the world is so changed, hardly anyone does them anymore," says Louise Grunwald, the widow of diplomat and TIME editor Henry Anatole Grunwald. Grunwald's "doomful pronouncement" may sound far-fetched, but she's probably right, Trebay laments. "You may want the dinner party to come back, harkening back to another era," Grunwald says. "But it will never happen." So, just what is it that killed the dinner party? A few theories:

1. A breakdown in society — and "society"

Throwing a great dinner party is an art quickly becoming lost as "social lions and lionesses" — spirited socialite Nan Kempner, cabaret standout Bobby Short, director Nora Ephron, and philanthropists Brooke Astor and Judith Peabody, for example — exit this earthly stage. "When I think of all those great hosts and hostesses who were around when I moved to New York" in 1980, says cookbook author Alex Hitz, "many are now gone with the wind." A good host was "trained from birth or on the job" to command their tables like a military tactician, says Trebay. "Naturally they shared other likenesses: Social prominence, deep pockets, commodious apartments, household staffs, and no allergy to drink." But it's not just that "society's elite are throwing fewer parties," says Bethany Seawright at Apartment Therapy. "As a society in general, we are allowing this type of evening to disappear from our personal experience," and that's sad for the "socially-impoverished among us all."

2. The rise of restaurants

As our time gets seemingly ever-more-precious, our tastes get intimidatingly sophisticated, and we fall out of the habit of cooking for ourselves, celebrity-chef and foodie-oriented restaurants are taking the place of the dinner party table. Let's face it, says Trebay: For better or worse, "it's so much easier and more convenient to meet friends in restaurants." Of course, this is nothing new. Trish Hall, also writing in The New York Times, noted — in 1988 — that when would-be hostesses and guests want to socialize, "they go to restaurants or have a small party catered" instead, because "the thought of preparing and serving a meal — an impressive meal that will satisfy increasingly sophisticated palates — is overwhelming." There is a modern twist, though,says Kat Stoeffel at New York. Today, we also have "too many restaurant Groupons to use before they expire/Groupon goes bankrupt."

3. Social media

Websites like Facebook and LinkedIn are replacing face-to-face networking for many people, and smartphones and other handheld devices have been disastrous for the social contract, says etiquette columnist Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners. "People don't even respond to dinner invitations anymore," she tells The Times. "They consider it too difficult a commitment to say, 'I'll come to dinner a week from Saturday,'" and they think nothing of canceling at the last minute — by text message! And those guests who do show up, says New York's Stoeffel, "will Instagram pictures of our not-good cooking, and everyone will know." And when they post those photos to Facebook or Twitter, "the friends we didn't invite will feel left out."

4. Ignorance

Along with the lost-art aspect, people just don't know the mechanics of dinner parties anymore. That's given rise to a small (probably very small) cottage industry of event planners like David E. Monn who will teach socialites which forks to use and how to mix the perfect cocktail. "People want to be civilized, so it all doesn't turn into Caligula," Monn tells The Times. "So they come to me saying: 'I don't know what to do if I'm having friends over for cocktails. What tray do you use? What do you put on the tray? Do you put out a piece of cheese?'" So if you want to know "whether the curious tongs inherited from Aunt Mabel are meant for serving asparagus, or else flipping a hamburger on the grill," says Trebay, there's help out there.

5. Dietary restrictions

And then there's what Miss Manners calls "food fussing," or the growing list of things people can't (or won't) eat. In the 1970s, vegetarians were considered difficult guests; now, even vegans are relatively easy to accommodate. Nut allergies, gluten intolerance, no-sugar diets, paleo (or cave-man) diets — "it's too hard to plan a menu with everyone's fake allergies and dietary restrictions," says New York's Stoeffel.

6. We don't converse, we pontificate

Dinner parties were never really about the food. After all, "the idea of cooking for others is not something that is going to die," Miss Manners tells The Times. But "conversation is in trouble," and without that main course, a dinner party isn't a dinner party. The problem? "People have been brought up to express themselves rather than to exchange ideas." There were always boors, but back in the dinner party era, says Trebay, a master hostess "orchestrated every element of the evening, arrival to departure, most crucially directing the conversation, which they either allowed to follow a traditional serve-and-volley pattern (20 minutes right, 20 minutes left), or else commandeered for so-called 'general discussion' as provocateur hosts like the television journalist Barbara Walters still do."

...Actually, the dinner party isn't dead at all

Naturally, since Trebay's nostalgic look at a bygone era appeared in the rather highfalutin New York Times Style section, lots of people disagree with the very premise. Dinner parties aren't dead, they've just been appropriated by "hipsters," and more specifically "that hipster hybrid, foodie-hipsters (fipsters? fooipstershoopsters?)," says Jen Doll at The Atlantic Wire. How did The Times get it so wrong? "Perhaps unsurprisingly for a newspaper that has only just discovered Brooklyn," says Kristin Iversen at The L Magazine, Trebay "interviewed people like Louise Grunwald and Judith Peabody who, while lovely people, I'm sure, are not perhaps the trend-setters that they used to be."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Netflix/Facebook
arrow
entertainment
8 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 3
Netflix/Facebook
Netflix/Facebook

[Warning: There are lots of Stranger Things season two spoilers ahead.]

Stranger Things season two is in the books, and like we all hoped, it turned out to be a worthy follow-up to an addictive debut season. Now, though, we’re left with plenty of questions, mysteries, and theories to chew on as the wait for a third season begins. But for everything we don’t know about what the next year of Stranger Things will bring us (such as an actual release date), there are more than enough things we do know to keep those fan theories coming well into 2018. While the show hasn't been officially greenlit for a third season by Netflix yet, new details have already begun to trickle out. Here’s everything we know about Stranger Things season three so far.

1. THERE WILL BE ANOTHER TIME JUMP.

The third season of Stranger Things won’t pick up right where the second one left off. Like the show experienced between the first two seasons, there will be a time jump between seasons two and three as well. The reason is simple: the child actors are all growing up, and instead of having the kids look noticeably older without explanation for year three, the Duffer Brothers told The Hollywood Reporter:

“Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They're going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can't start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing.”

2. THE IDEA IS TO BE SMALLER IN SCALE.

If the series’s second season was about expanding the Stranger Things mythology, the third season won't go bigger just for the sake of it, with the brothers even going so far as to say that it will be a more intimate story.

“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer said in an interview with IndieWire. “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”

Ross Duffer did stress, though, that as of early November, season three is basically “… Matt and me working with some writers and figuring out where it’s going to go.”

3. THE MIND FLAYER WILL BE BACK.

The second season ended on a bit of a foreboding note when it was revealed that the Mind Flayer was still in the Upside Down and was seen looming over the Hawkins school as the winter dance was going on. Though we know there will be a time jump at the start of next season, it’s clear that the monster will still have a big presence on the show.

Executive producer Dan Cohen told TV Guide: "There were other ways we could have ended beyond that, but I think that was a very strong, lyrical ending, and it really lets us decide to focus where we ultimately are going to want to go as we dive into Season 3."

What does the Mind Flayer’s presence mean for the new crop of episodes? Well, there will be plenty of fan theories to ponder between now and the season three premiere (whenever that may be).

4. PLENTY OF LEFTOVER SEASON TWO STORYLINES WILL BE IN SEASON THREE.

The Duffer Brothers had a lot of material for the latest season of the show—probably a bit too much. Talking to Vulture, Matt Duffer detailed a few details and plot points that had to be pushed to season three:

"Billy was supposed to have a bigger role. We ended up having so many characters it ended up, in a way, more teed up for season three than anything. There was a whole teen supernatural story line that just got booted because it was just too cluttered, you know? A lot of that’s just getting kicked into season three."

The good news is that he also told the site that this wealth of cut material could make the writing process for the third season much quicker.

5. THERE WILL BE MORE ERICA.

Stranger Things already had a roster of fan-favorite characters heading into season two, but newcomer Erica, Lucas’s little sister, may have overshadowed them all. Played by 11-year-old Priah Ferguson, Erica is equal parts expressive, snarky, and charismatic. And the Duffer Brothers couldn’t agree more, saying that there will be much more Erica next season.

“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer told Yahoo!. “That is the fun thing about the show—you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’—that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.”

“I thought she’s very GIF-able, if that’s a word,” Matt Duffer added. “She was great.”

6. EXPECT KALI TO RETURN.

The season two episode “The Lost Sister” was a bit of an outlier for the series. It’s a standalone episode that focuses solely on the character Eleven, leaving the central plot and main cast of Hawkins behind. As well-received as Stranger Things season two was, this episode was a near-unanimous miss among fans and critics.

The episode did, however, introduce us to the character of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds with illusions she creates. Despite the reaction, the Duffers felt the episode was vital to Eleven’s development, and that Kali won’t be forgotten moving forward.

“It feels weird to me that we wouldn’t solve [Kali’s] storyline. I would say chances are very high she comes back,” Matt Duffer said at the Vulture Festival.

7. OTHER "NUMBERS" MIGHT SHOW UP.

We're already well acquainted with Eleven, and season two introduced us to Eight (a.k.a. Kali), and executive producer Shawn Levy heavily hinted to E! that there are probably more Hawkins Laboratory experiments on the horizon.

"I think we've clearly implied there are other numbers, and I can't imagine that the world will only ever know Eleven and Eight," Levy said.

8. THERE MIGHT NOT BE MANY SEASONS LEFT.

Don’t be in too much of a rush to find out everything about the next season of Stranger Things; there might not be many more left. The Duffer Brothers have said in the past that the plan is to do four seasons and end it. However, Levy gave fans a glimmer of hope that things may go on a little while longer—just by a bit, though.

“Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the Brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors’ agents,” Levy told Entertainment Weekly. “The truth is we’re definitely going four seasons and there’s very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?
iStock
iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios