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You Can Thank Prohibition for Giving Us Finger Foods

As any good party planner knows, if you're going to serve booze, you have to serve food. Cocktail parties are just as much about the hors d'oeuvres as they are the fancy drinks, and get-togethers from game day to winter holiday parties wouldn't be the same without some sort of tasty appetizers to go with the beverages. You can find thousands of finger food recipes, but do you know why finger foods are so popular?

The History of Serving Finger Foods at Parties

Finger foods began their party food life as canapés in France in the late 18th century. Canapé was a French term for sofa, which was what was slices of bread covered with savory toppings looked like (think about that the next time you have Italian-inspired bruschetta or crostini). Eventually, the term was applied to any bite-size food, from brie and crackers to a veggie tray.

In 1920, the United States outlawed the production, sell and consumption of alcoholic beverages with the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Naturally, instead of quietly following the law, Americans found other ways to imbibe. Secret bars called speakeasies popped up in small towns and big cities, and people continued to party.

But the last thing speakeasies wanted was for someone to give away their location, which a drunk patron stumbling down the street certainly would have done. So these bars started serving finger foods to help party guests soak up the alcohol. The mini bites of food could be held in one hand while the other hand was occupied with a drink.

Finger Food Ideas 

During Prohibition, cocktail parties at home grew in popularity. Before that time, most dinner parties started exactly on time. If any appetizers or cocktails were served, it was done at the dinner table once everyone was seated. But once people couldn't go out to bars and taverns, parties at home become more popular and so did the idea of serving some kind of finger food along with the drinks before dinner was served.

Some of the most popular finger foods from the era included caviar rolls, crabmeat cocktails, shrimp patties, oyster toast, jellied anchovy molds, radish roses, and savory cheese balls. One of the most popular cookbooks of the day, Fannie Farmer's "Boston Cooking-School Cook Book," had a whole chapter on sandwiches and canapés with recipes for Bread and Butter Folds, Lobster Sandwiches a la Boulevard and cheese wafers.

Cocktail parties evolved over the decades (remember fondue in the 70s and cream cheese everything in the 80s) and today there's a split between fancy cocktail parties, usually during the holidays, and more casual gatherings with appetizers and snacks.

In honor of the end of Prohibition (on Dec. 5), serve your favorite easy finger foods and drinks. If you need some suggestions, we've got easy appetizer recipes for deviled eggs, chicken wings, crispy veggies, meatballs and cheese dip that will make your next party a hit.

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