A treasure from the Food & Wine archives shows the entertaining icon using this trick back in the '70s — plus her excellent hairstyle.
When it comes to throwing a party or planning a dinner for friends and family, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find someone who can do it better than Martha Stewart. Yes, she’s a chef and cookbook author, but she’s also the consummate host. I grew up watching The Martha Stewart Show — which my mom often had on in the background while she was cooking — and I soaked up her tips for entertaining and decorating while sitting at our kitchen counter. So it was no surprise to me when I was looking through the "Word of Mouth" Q&A section in the July 1979 issue of Food & Wine, and Stewart (along with chef Alice Waters and others) had been asked to answer the question, "What sort of easily portable meal would you plot for a picnic?"
Even in the early days of our magazine, we were turning to Martha Stewart for advice on cooking for others. Before becoming a culinary icon, the chef and host ran a private catering business, where she’d often be packing up 500 lunches or dinners a day. While most of us likely won’t be preparing food for 500 anytime soon, her wisdom has relatable lessons that can make our lives easier when we’re hosting a holiday dinner.
The most important takeaway from this treasure from the archives is that, like many fashionable women of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Martha Stewart was into crimping her hair. But after that, it’s her container of choice when loading up lunches for a picnic: the Mason jar. I’ll often see food influencers layering noodles or overnight oats into one of these iconic containers — which I fully support — but I think it’s important to give Martha credit for leveraging their power decades before you could spot them in the kitchen of every food influencer, homesteader, and aspiring domesticity guru.
First invented in 1858 by their namesake John Landis Mason, these simple glass vessels have been a home canning and storage staple for over a century. Why are Mason jars ideal for storing everything from catered meals to your office lunch? Because they close securely, they’re air-tight, and they’re multi-purpose. Unlike a lot of reusable plastic containers with lids that can easily pop off, you don’t have to worry about a Mason jar leaking when you pack it up. Once the lid is screwed on, it’s staying on (unless you drop it). They also make great drinking glasses or candle holders, and they’re less likely to stain than a plastic container. I’m just preaching what Martha Stewart has clearly already known since at least the ‘70s, and generations of home cooks have known for even longer.
It’s also worth noting what she’s filling her Mason jars with. Stewart mentions three different marinated dishes: green beans in a mustard vinaigrette, cucumbers and tomatoes in rice wine vinegar, and potatoes in a vinaigrette with cornichons and fresh tarragon. Marinated foods are ideal for making ahead of time, because they actually taste better once they’ve been resting for a bit. This allows your vegetables to really soak up all of that punchy sauce so that its flavor permeates the ingredients. (The same principle is why people always say pasta salad tastes better the next day.) Martha Stewart used the superpower of marinated salads when supplying hundreds of made-ahead lunches (as well as fruit-filled white wine sangria and a citrus ambrosia), but the technique will work just as well when you need to bring a side dish to your great aunt’s house who lives two hours away, or prepare something a few days in advance of Friendsgiving.
From July of 1979 to today, Martha Stewart has shared a lot of insights into her hosting expertise throughout the years. When it comes to appetizers she loves a cheese board that also includes a variety of condiments, nuts, charcuterie, and olives — but above all else, the cheese must not be served cold. For quick drinks she always keeps her two favorite vodkas in the freezer, so they’re chilled and ready to go. And after the party is over on Thanksgiving, she has a guide to the ultimate leftovers sandwich. Stewart even knows when to skip the celebrations entirely and just book a cruise for Christmas. I’ll be following this expert entertainer’s advice for years to come, starting with carrying my green beans in a Mason jar when heading to holiday dinners this year.
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