Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Steps for Hosting the Perfect Vintage Picnic or Garden Party!

The Toronto Vintage Society is pleased to have a new blogger in our vintage group !

Please welcome Brittany Howlett who will be letting us know how to plan the perfect vintage picnic or garden party!

After a particularly brutal winter, we no longer have to just dream about backyard barbeques, drinks on the patio or lying on the beach. Summer has arrived! And with our exit from hibernation comes our desire to be social whilst enjoying the sunshine. And what better way to do this than throwing a vintage BBQ or garden party, either in your own backyard or in one of Toronto’s many parks!

Harken back to the good old days of sipping a mint julep while enjoying a game of lawn darts (or Jarts). 

*disclaimer: lawn darts have been banned in Canada since the 1980s. But hey, you can still buy the parts for them!

Alcohol and dangerous outdoor games aside, throwing your own vintage garden party, BBQ or picnic can be a breeze! Follow steps 1-7 and you’ll be hula hooping your way to a swell summer shindig in no time!

Step 1: Location

If you’re one of those lucky souls who has access to private green space, you can easily set up your party in your very own backyard! Grab some extra chairs and move tables around the sides of your deck or patio to accommodate mingling, unless you’re going for a sit-down afternoon tea affair. No backyard? No problem! Pick your favourite park in the city and go picnic-style. You can even steal a bit of inspiration from the Toronto Vintage Society’s own Pin-Up Picnic in Trinity Bellwoods!

If you’re aiming to avoid the crowds of hipsters in good old Bellwoods, then give High Park or Dufferin Grove a try. In the east, check out Withrow Park or Riverdale Park (east or west). For those further north, enjoy your picnic under the shade of willows in Sunnybrook Park (many of the picnic areas also have grills, for you BBQ fans). If you’re keen on a waterfront view, try Ashbridges Bay Park in the east end, Bluffer’s Park in Scarborough, or even a trip to Ward’s Island if you want to complete the escape-from-the-city feel. Just remember, open alcohol in public places is prohibited in the city. So if you’re aiming for a 20s prohibition theme, it’ll be even more authentic!

Step 2: Menu

Depending on the era you’re going for, there are lots of food options to explore. For you backyardigans with a BBQ (or if you’re at a park with a grill), you can do what people in this country have been doing for decades and grill up some burgers and hot dogs and offer up various toppings to your guests (or veggie burgers and veggie dogs…times have a-changed!).

Another popular grill item in the 50s and 60s in particular were shish-kabobs, so you can skewer your favourite meat (if you want to go really authentic, grab some cans of Spam), fish, veggies or tofu and season as you like!

For sides, traditional potato salad never goes amiss (if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can try this potato salad gelatin mold). Layered salads were all the rage in the 50s and 60s, complete with plenty of mayo.

Here’s a seven layer salad to challenge your salad skills:



Layer this bacon, lettuce, onion, peas, cheese, cauliflower and tomato salad in a large flat bowl. You can vary the salad by substituting green onions for red, jack cheese for the cheddar, or top it with Miracle Whip instead of the sugar sweetened Hellman’s.

·       1 pound bacon or veggie backon

·       1 large head iceberg lettuce - rinsed, dried, and chopped

·       1 red onion, chopped

·       1 (10 ounce) package frozen green peas, thawed

·       10 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

·       1 cup chopped cauliflower (optional)

·       1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)

·       11/4 cups mayonnaise

·       2 tablespoons white sugar

·       2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Crumble and set aside.

In a large flat bowl, place the chopped lettuce and top with a layer each of onion, peas, shredded cheese, cauliflower, tomatoes and bacon.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, sugar and Parmesan cheese. Drizzle over salad and refrigerate until chilled. Makes 12 servings.

Also, if you’re aiming for the 50s and 60s vintage vibe, you’ll hit the menu right on the mark by putting everything in Jell-O. Seriously. Everything. The more fruit and vegetables floating in a gelatinous state, the better.

Find some fun molds and a million packages of gelatins and get your wobble on! Your concoction may end up as more décor than edible food, as people’s tastes have (thankfully) changed over the last 60-70 years, however I’m sure your guests will appreciate the authenticity of your efforts.

Give this delightfully wobbly Seguin Salad a try:

Sequin salad
·       1 package lime Jell-O
·       1 cup hot water
·       1 cup cold water
·       2 tablespoons vinegar
·       1 teaspoon salt
·       dash of pepper
·       2 to 3 teaspoons grated onion
·       1-1/4 cups very small pieces raw cauliflower
·       1/4 cup diced pimento

Dissolve Jell-O in hot water. Add cold water. Chill until slightly thickened. Meanwhile, mix vinegar, salt and pepper together in a small bowl; add onion, cauliflower and pimento. Let stand to blend. When Jell-O is slightly thickened, fold in seasoned vegetables. Pour into individual molds. Chill until firm. Unmold on crisp greens. Serve with mayonnaise or French dressing, if desired. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

If your aim is to keep things more palatable, you can throw together some easy cut-up finger sandwiches with cucumber and cream cheese or smoked salmon and some devilled eggs, especially if you’re pic-nicking it. Some fresh cut up vegetables and dip are always a hit, along with cold cuts, pickles, pimento-stuffed olives, cheese and cut up fruit. Don’t forget to artfully arrange everything on a plate!

It you want to go more towards the 50s tiki-party theme (tiki was THE party in the 1950s), go as Hawaiian as you can! Grilled pineapple, elaborate tropical fruit displays using watermelon bowls and toothpicks, and all the ham you can handle!

If you’ve always wanted to test out your food artistry skills, now is the time. This rather terrifying looking tiki mask niçoise requires some patience, and a lot of olives:

Pick your favourite pie as a dessert choice, along with squares, cookies or brownies. If you have leftover gelatin packets (likely), you can even give this 1969 Lemonade Angel Dessert recipe a try!

Step 3: Drinks

You’ll need a few stiff drinks to wash down all those horrible delicious Jell-O salads. Luckily, plenty of tasty and refreshing cocktails and mixed drinks made their mark mid-century, such as the mint julep, the Singapore Sling, the sloe gin fizz and the Tom Collins. If you haven’t been scared off by Tiki-mask salads, exotic rum-based drinks were huge post-WWII, so think Cuba libres, piña coladas and mai tais.

Remember that just like the food, presentation with drinks is also the key, so grab some fresh mint leaves and lemon rounds to decorate you cocktails, and hunt down mini-umbrellas from your favourite party store!

For non-alcoholic options and pic-nic friendly drinks: virgin piña coladas, good old-fashioned lemonade, iced tea or a tea punch will do the trick. You can jazz up your lemonade by adding fruit such as berries.

Here are a few key recipes to get you started:

Step 4: Décor

You won’t have to worry much about décor if you’re doing the park thing, however to keep things authentic, a nice checkered picnic blanket or tablecloth will do just fine (try one of the many fabric stores along Queen St. West between Spadina and Bathurst), along with a nice big vintage pic-nic basket.

Try your luck on Kijiji or Craigslist, a flea market (such as the Leslieville Flea) or one of the many vintage and antique stores around the city if you want a true vintage picnic basket. If you’re not having much luck finding a good vintage set, you can buy new ones from Bed Bath & Beyond (warning: they’re not cheap!)

Bring along an old radio and some bottles of Classic Coke or 7-Up to round off the theme.

If you’re in your own backyard, you can set the theme with lanterns, a checkered tablecloth, and some authentic vintage platters and dishware. Break out fancy tiered dessert plates for finger sandwiches and pastries; devilled egg platters; mini pronged forks for pickles and cheese; matching glass set and punch bowl; colourful pitchers, etc.

There are plenty of vintage dish and glassware sets to be found at Toronto’s various flea markets, such as the Junction Flea, the Leslieville Flea, the Parkdale Flea, or Dr. Flea’s Fleamarket. You can also take at look in various vintage stores across Toronto such as Studio Pazo, machineagemodern, Ethel or Queen West Antique Centre.

If you’re doing the 50s luau theme, you’ll need bamboo torches or lanterns (try Lowe’s or Party City), as well as some hula skirts, leis, and tiki goblets to hold those fancy cocktails (or coconut shells!). There’s an impressive collection of tiki mugs, bowls and accessories at BYOB Toronto on Queen West.

If you’re really hardcore, set up a tiki bar with plenty of bamboo. There’s actually a place in Orillia called Tiki Escapes Tropical Products that carries everything you’ll need!

Step 5: Music

If you’ve got a nice portable vintage radio kicking around, bring  it along to your picnic for some retro tunes. For those of you in the backyard or patio, a portable vintage record player will help set the mood. Churn out some good old big band tunes, Bing Crosby and Martin Denny.

If you’re hosting a lovely Hawaiian luau, go for  "Lovely Hula Hands" by Bill Campbell, "Tiny Bubbles" by Don Ho and, of course, "Blue Hawaii" by Elvis.

Or grab your favourite artists from any era and sing along!

Step 6: Entertainment

To get your guests moving after some nosh, break out the hula hoops, lawn darts (or horseshoes, if you’d like to keep things legal), or croquet.

You can pick up cheap hoops at Canadian Tire, or if you’re the industrious sort, you can make them yourself using PVC pipe. There are also hooping groups around Toronto that make adult-sized hoops.

You’ll be lucky to find a complete vintage croquet set – otherwise, Canadian Tire and Toys R Us sell new sets.

And of course for your tiki party, don’t forget a bamboo stick for limbo!

Step 7: Outfit

Now that you’ve got everything in place for your picnic or shindig, it’s time to figure out what to wear (i.e. the best part!) There’s plenty of choice if you’re aiming for the 50s or 60s look, especially colourful and bright 50s summer dresses with full skirts and a belt, accompanied with kitten heels, pearls and winged sunglasses. Check out photos from last year’s Toronto Vintage Society PinUp Picnic for some inspiration!

The 50s pin up or rockabilly look is also a great option – aim for high-waisted shorts or tight pedal-pushers and a cropped button up blouse, especially one that ties in the front. Add a scarf to your hair and some red lipstick, and you’re good to go!

For the gents, light slacks and a button up shirt are the way to go. Unless it’s tiki-time, in which case you can wear the tackiest Hawaiian shirt you can find!

There are many options for creating your own version of a vintage summer garden party, picnic or barbeque. Don’t be afraid to get creative, and you don’t just have to stick to one era or decade. However you swing your vintage party, your guests are sure to be impressed! 

Tell us about your own vintage picnic, garden party and barbeque ideas and tips! We'd love to hear about all your summer vintage party planning :)


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