Southern House Party: 5 Essentials


My husband is having a milestone birthday. We have to celebrate, I tell him. He’s concerned we don’t have the money, the time, or the space to throw a big party. He’s right–we don’t. But those are mere details. Here in the South, you never let practicality stand in the way of a good time.

Leave it all to me, I say. By which I mean leave it all to us, his tribe. The invitation goes out: it’s a house party. Bring something if you like, dress up or don’t. Just come.

Southern house party

What are the essentials to a great Southern house party?

Good People

They come, with dozens of wine glasses, stacks of dessert plates, piles of silverware, a cake pedestal. They come, with bottles of bourbon and wine, sodas and mineral waters, cocktail garnishes and a giant dispenser for the ice tea. They come with trays of food, the oven door opening and closing all night without me touching it. They come with cake and presents. They come dressed up with neckties, jackets and fedoras; vintage dresses, feather boas, and elegant heels. They come dressed down in jeans, t-shirts and cowboy boots. They come with all the wit, warmth, and charm of true Southern hospitality, that moveable, inexhaustible feast.

Heirloom Recipes

The dessert table centerpiece is my mother-in-law’s recipe for strawberry cake. A box of Jell-o, a box of cake mix, a carton of strawberries in syrup, and a lot of Crisco oil. Four layers high, smothered with pink buttercream, it tilts precariously toward the edge of the borrowed cake pedestal. It’s an epicurean nightmare. And it’s devoured within minutes of the candle flames being blown. Southerners do appreciate gourmet. But tasty matters a whole lot more.

Southern house party

At Least one Comedian

An honored place at the same table is held by a wedge of cheesecake under a kitschy plastic dome with a note on top. The note warns people that this dessert is for display only – or what’s left of it, as it goes on to explain that the family dog made off with three quarters of the cake just before the baker was about to leave her house with it. Southerners do appreciate a good cheesecake. But they like a funny story even more.

Southern house party

A Kitchen and a Porch

Our house is small. There are guests everywhere, but especially they gather in the tiny 1950s kitchen and our candlelit front porch. Because kitchens and front porches are where Southerners are most at home. As the evening gets late, and people begin leaving, we die-hards cling to the kitchen and porch as if they were the peaks of two islands sinking into the rising sea.

And again…

Good People

Finally, we see the last guests off, with hugs and thanks. The enchantment of the evening lingers over the house, and we’re exhausted. Was it all a dream? Maybe so—as we turn to begin picking up dishes, we discover that the worst of the clean up has already been done. The dishwasher is loaded, the trash bagged and put out by the back door.

Southerners have been here for sure.

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