Harper's Bazaar (Dec 1930)_heisey glassware.jpg

Bubbly on Your Budget: Live Luxuriously with What You Have is a classic book on how to create luxury in the midst of depression-era thrift. Written by Marjorie Hillis in 1937, Orchids on Your Budget (as it was originally titled) provides helpful advice on how to dress, decorate, cook, entertain and live on little money. A true believer that life is what you make of it, Hillis felt that a good attitude about one's situation was of the chief importance and that pleasure, beauty and style could be achieved on any budget (with a little panache). A visionary of the Lady ethos, below are some excerpts from her advice on entertaining—all equally helpful today, they prove that sharing food and fun at home is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to bring joy to our lives. 

This brings us to the matter of entertaining, which is something you shouldn’t give up unless the condition of your bank account is really alarming. You don’t need to entertain expensively. It doesn’t even need to be a lot of work. (If giving a party seems to you a terrific undertaking, try staying home the night before and going to bed early with a good book.) But entertaining is important. Both the parties you give and the parties you go to (and you can’t expect to go to them unless you give them) are stimulating and good for making and keeping friends and bolstering your morale. They are another of the extravagances that pay, and every budget should be planned to cover them.

Being embarrassed by having to entertain simply is a silly form of snobbery, in these days when simple meals are smarter than fancy ones anyway, and an amusing party is far more of an achievement than an elaborate one. It’s not a matter of what it costs; it’s a matter of knowing how and being willing to take the trouble.

It needn’t even be much trouble. Real hospitality and carefully combined guests are the most important parts of any party. You can’t fake the first by paying for it, and the second doesn’t cost a cent more than a bad assortment.
American Telephone & telegraph co. ad, 1930.

American Telephone & telegraph co. ad, 1930.

One of the first rules is not to attempt more than you can manage. You ought to be able to manage something, no matter where or how you live. The modern generation, pricked by necessity, has invented all sorts of ways of entertaining on a shoestring, most of them far less stodgy than the nine-course dinners and lobster-salad-and-ice-cream receptions of our parents’ time. They are the ones you will find living in a gardener’s cottage and inviting twenty friends to a Sunday lunch of glorified baked ham and superlative potato salad, with coffee and the cherries that formed the centerpiece for dessert. Or perhaps they live in a bandbox of a house on the outskirts of a suburb, and invite you to a skating party, taking you to the pond in a borrowed painter’s truck and feeding you afterward on cheese and hamburger and beer and coffee. Or it may be that they have an apartment in town, in a not very smart section, and the party is a late supper after the movies, with the makings of drinks and sandwiches laid out on the table—a variety of breads and crackers; bowls of such spreads as Roquefort cheese with chopped celery and mayonnaise, or chopped ham and pickle; plates of liverwurst and other cold meats; a jar of special mustard; several cheeses; and bottles of beer and ginger ale and scotch and rye and soda. At this party, the guests do all the work and like it.
The 1935 toastmaster and hospitality tray by Waters-Genter.

The 1935 toastmaster and hospitality tray by Waters-Genter.

If these ideas don’t fit you—what about Sunday morning brunch, with as many guests as you can fit into your dining room—or living room, or, if you live in the country and it’s summer, your porch? Almost everyone likes a Sunday with brunch, now that the large Sunday dinner, that used to be served in the middle of the day and reduce us all to a state of stuffed drowsiness, is going out as completely as the buggy. The budgeting hostess likes it particularly, because, at the hour when brunch is served—eleven, perhaps, or even twelve (you can go to church in the afternoon or evening, that Sunday)—her guests don’t want alcoholic drinks, or shouldn’t have them, if they do. All that she needs to provide in the way of liquid refreshments is fruit juice, preferably in tall glass pitchers and very cold, and lots of hot coffee. Orange juice and grapefruit juice are general favorites and enough, but if the party is large, she might have a row of pitchers, each with a different fruit juice—orange, grapefruit, pineapple, apricot, prune, and what-have-you. She might, of course, add such things as huge bowls of berries or cut-up peaches or cantaloupe, but it isn’t necessary. There should, however, be a variety of toast and hot muffins (popovers are invariably popular, and blueberry muffins are sure to make a sensation); a selection of marmalade, honey and jams; and at least two hot dishes to choose from. Scotch oatmeal with brown sugar and cream always seems to surprise people pleasantly and costs very little, and almost all men like really good codfish balls, while scrambled eggs with sausages are surefire, if not startling, and heaping plates of pancakes with maple syrup appeal to even the dieters.
HEISEY'S GLASSWARE AD, 1930.

HEISEY'S GLASSWARE AD, 1930.

At the risk of being monotonous, may we say that the setting can do a lot for or against the party, and that it isn’t a matter of what it costs? A long table set in a sunny window, or on a terrace with a view, or out under an apple tree, can have the simplest china and linen and look enchanting. You might, for instance, use the brown Mexican ware that is so cheap, and a copper bowl with zinnias to match the orange juice, and those deep brown covered casseroles or bean pots for the hot dishes. You’ll find the latter endlessly useful at buffet suppers.
Photo by emelie danielson for harper's bazaar, april 1932.

Photo by emelie danielson for harper's bazaar, april 1932.

We needn’t tell you that buffet suppers are a triumphant solution of the no-maid-and-little-money party. They are, in fact, so successful that plenty of people with several maids and lots of money go in for them. One of the chief advantages is that everything can be got ready—or very nearly ready—well in advance, which is something a maidless hostess should aim for. A really skillful one does this so thoroughly that an hour or so before the guests arrive she is peacefully stretched out in a tub of fragrant warm water, relaxing, and not counting the napkins mentally.

The best buffet suppers are planned so that everyone can sit down in a group, with a small table at hand to avoid the necessity of balancing plate, cup, glass, and fork like a juggler. This is almost as important as the food, which can be as simple as you like, so long as it’s good. Begin with a soup if you want to—though you don’t need to—but if you do, make it a very special soup, like chicken curry soup (made from chicken consommé, the juice of chopped onion and apple, cream, and curry powder), or a black bean soup with lemon. Have two hot dishes, a salad, rolls, a light dessert, and coffee, and plan them all with an eye to cheapness and without embarrassment.
Photo by emelie danielson for harper's bazaar, april 1932.

Photo by emelie danielson for harper's bazaar, april 1932.

Before you plan your party—buffet or otherwise—it’s a good idea to take stock of your assets. If you have a fireplace, plan the party around that. This means that small groups will be better than large ones, and in this case, you might follow one hostess’s bright brain wave and have two on successive nights, thereby using the same decorations and getting the house into party order only once. Another smart hostess, who had no dining room, but had comfortable sofas and chairs grouped around a big fireplace, bought herself two nests of small tables and used these instead of one large one. When dinner was served, a small table was put in front of each guest, set as though for a formal dinner, and the meal was served with all the elegance of dinner in a baronial hall.
Campbell's soup ad, 1933. 

Campbell's soup ad, 1933. 

There are times, however, when nothing but a dinner party will do, but even this needn’t be a poser, though it does involve more work and slightly more expense. These things can be reduced to a minimum if you know how, but it does take planning and ingenuity. A good way to begin is to substitute wines for cocktails, but you must know your wines. A lot of enterprising economizers are going into the matter thoroughly these days and having a lot of fun discovering good wines at small prices… it’s wise to consult a man who knows the good ones from the poor ones before you buy. Some one of your friends is pretty sure to be a wine fancier, and he’ll like nothing better than to tell you all about it. Good wines not only add éclat to any dinner party; they also add a lot of appreciation, for there’s no denying that cocktails dull one’s discrimination about food, though they may sharpen the appetite with which it’s eaten. And you can get a good wine for less money than you pay for a mediocre cocktail.
Photo by louise dahl-wolfe for harper's bazaar, april 1937..

Photo by louise dahl-wolfe for harper's bazaar, april 1937..

Another good idea is to work up one perfect menu till you can turn it out with practically no effort. This is something to be considered by both a maid-less hostess and one with an inexperienced maid or two. It means a few rehearsals, but if it’s a really good menu, nobody will mind and you will have more confidence and less flurry the night of the party. You can use it again and again, on different guests, with success and practically no trouble. All of this sums up to the fact that parties belong on every budget and that what they cost is up to you. At the best parties, the chief ingredients are originality (which doesn’t mean whimsy or—heaven forbid—paper favors) and a lot of enthusiasm