To visit Mohonk Mountain House is to step back in time. This breathtaking hotel, opened in 1869, is set on the rocky ledges surrounding Lake Mohonk; it’s a two-mile drive through spectacular grounds from the main entrance to the lodge itself.
We can easily imagine Mad Men characters at the New Paltz, New York resort, or the giants of the Gilded Age such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie. The Mohonk Mountain House is one of America’s grand old hotels, where the fireplace, not a television, is standard in every guest room, visitors read by the fire, ice skate, enjoy live music in the evening and generally find time to socialize and relax in ways that now seem old-fashioned. (Having said that, there is wireless Internet access, but we suggest using it as little as possible.) This is a place to indulge yourself in many ways, including the exceptional dining room.
What better setting for “How to Holidays,” Mohonk’s weekend of activities designed to help guests celebrate the holidays in mid-century Mad Men style?
Following our morning presentation of The Unofficial Mad Cookbook, Head Chef Jim Palmeri amplified our discussion about the influence of Julia Child and Graham Kerr, chefs he watched on TV as child, on mid-century culinary trends in America. Chef Jim also
demonstrated holiday appetizers from our book including Sardi’s Hearts of Palm Salad and several canapés. Both are quick and simple holiday recipes – and Sardi’s Hearts of Palm salad has festive red and green colors making it especially suitable for the season. Palmeri noted the contrast in textures between the pimiento and the hearts of palm as adding zest to the salad. We’re interested in trying fresh hearts of palm, as he suggested, instead of the canned variety typically found in grocery stores, which can be ordered online.
In the afternoon, pastry chef Sara Parker demonstrated two vintage holiday desserts from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Popcorn Balls (see recipe below). Our Pineapple Upside Down Cake can be made in a skillet, and as Parker told the audience, the cake is foolproof and delicious. The guests seemed to agree. We’ve never seen four cakes disappear so quickly! Sara also made our Popcorn Balls, quick and perfect for a fun cooking project with kids during the holidays. Our recipe, made with marshmallows tastes like Rice Krispie Treats, but with popcorn. (See our Popcorn Ball recipe below.)
Wine Enthusiast Spirits Editor and author Kara Newman kicked off cocktail hour with a mini Mad Men cocktail primer featuring three classic Mad Men drinks, all beginning with “M”: the Martinez, the Manhattan and the Mai Tai –- all ideal holiday concoctions. We were won over by the Martinez, circa 1884, a forerunner of the Martini made with sweet vermouth, sweet gin, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters. It’s rich amber color is easy on the eyes and it goes down smoothly! The Mai Tai, Trader Vic’s original, (also a recipe in our book) was the best we’ve tasted,
expertly mixed by Mohonk’s staff! Many guests asked if these cocktails could be created in large batches. As it happens, Kara’s new book Cocktails for a Crowd: Punches, Pitchers and More, being released by Chronicle Books this spring, answers that question. At the end of Kara’s presentation, we raised a glass to the recent anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition (December 5) and to the holidays!
We’re happy to share a holiday recipe for Popcorn Balls from our book, as seen in Season 4, Episode 2, (“Christmas Comes But Once a Year”).
During the festivities at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Christmas party in 1964 a conga line forms and snakes through the office, past tables laden with holiday treats. We spotted a classic next to the candy canes: a bowl of red and white popcorn balls.
There are accounts, perhaps apocryphal, that Native Americans gave English settlers in Massachusetts popcorn balls made with maple syrup at the first Thanksgiving. It is at least fair to say that popcorn balls bound with syrup or molasses have been around for well over a century, according to Andrew F. Smith, author of Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America (Smithsonian, 2001). Popcorn’s various forms, including popcorn threaded onto lengths of string, have been a part of festive decorations for Christmas and other holidays at least since the late nineteenth century. In the 1960s, popcorn balls were popular Halloween treats and sold at country fairs, ball games, and the circus.
Popcorn ball recipes proliferated in the United States after the Civil War. The techniques and ingredients varied, but the basic concept was the same: use a heated adhering agent—syrup, sugar, or molasses—then add salt and butter and use the agent to shape the popcorn into a sphere. Flavorings such as chocolate, peppermint and vanilla were eventually added, as were foods like strawberries, nuts, and marshmallows to embellish the original. Additives such as food coloring could turn a normally white popcorn ball into an edible Christmas decoration, like the red and white popcorn balls on display at the Sterling Cooper Christmas party.
At the insistence of Lee Garner, Jr., the firm’s most important client, Roger Sterling dons a Santa suit at the holiday party. He looks pretty forlorn wearing it, but maybe a popcorn ball will restore his Christmas cheer. That and a few martinis.
Adapted from BETTY CROCKER’S NEW BOYS AND GIRLS COOKBOOK (Golden Press-Western, 1965), this recipe calls for marshmallow to make festive popcorn balls for the holidays -- with a taste reminiscent of Rice Krispie Treats.
- 7 cups freshly popped popcorn
- 3 cups mini marshmallows
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¹⁄₄ teaspoon salt
- Place popcorn in large buttered bowl. Heat marshmallows, butter, and salt in the top of a double boiler, or in the microwave, until melted.
- Pour marshmallow mixture over popcorn and stir gently to coat. Grease hands with butter and quickly shape popcorn into 2-inch balls. Wrap in wax paper.