Poor Richard’s Day – Notes Upon A Dinner Party

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Poor Richard’s Day has come and gone – and proved a resounding success. It was as much a social experiment as anything, but with the added advantage of a number of tasty desserts.

The idea started at the table of a relative during a Christmas luncheon. These are held annually, of course, and see a gathering of in-laws, traditional foods, and a good deal of alcohol. Those of us who drive to the luncheon must limit ourselves in consumption to make our journey homeward safe. There are traditional decorations as well. Very few of them seem to be of a religious nature these days but no-one seems to mind – least of all those of us who profess a different religion. As long as the food is good, we all rub along pretty well.

Similar things seem to happen at other religious festival times – more traditional foods and ceremonies. But there are very few of these ceremonial days that actually touch upon my own experiences and beliefs, so I determined this year to start my own celebration. Poor Richard’s Day was born.

Set in the depth of winter at a date that did not seem to have any other commitments*, it was conceived as a day that would put a little bit of food and booze out to celebrate The Enlightenment – the period in the 18th century that saw many of the minds of Europe and America free themselves from the control of established religion. Not to eschew faith in God , but to modify it for themselves. One of the wisest of the philosophers was Benjamin Franklin – who wrote Poor Richard’s Almanack. Thus the name of the day.

The dinner party was set in my studio. With enough candlesticks and accoutrements of the period, and the help of a commercial caterer I set out to produce an 18th century meal. Not hard – considering the taverns of the time served carved meat and vegetables and bread and cheese was also available, I figured I could fill up the guests pretty reliably. Ale, rum, gin, and wine would loosen tongues and if my bakers friends would do desserts we could finish off in style

A dinner of this nature in a public place is difficult – oh you can bespeak private dining rooms in hotels but most of this is corporate or wedding trade and they charge accordingly. Plus the speeches and ceremonies are always a strain for a restaurant setting. The answer turned out to be a jobbing caterer who has kitchen premises a mile from the studio. I ordered dinner for more guests than I expected and collected it in insulated containers an hour before the guests arrived. I haven’t seen food presented better in any hotel, and as the guests ate the dishes clean I think that they enjoyed them.

Drink can be a problem if some people are given to excess. We had none of this so provision of really fine quality liquor was no problem. When it is good people appreciate it and pace themselves.

The clean-up after this sort of thing might be daunting, except for the fact that the social group for whom it was given has a remarkable sense of community and kindness and set-to on the dishes themselves. It encourages hosts to think of repeating the affair – and of course the Poor Richard’s Day banquet will be held again next year. Ben would be proud.

* Some months after the day was gazetted my employers cooked up the idea of holding a trade show for the same day. I do hope they enjoyed themselves at their day, because I certainly enjoyed myself at mine…

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