Take a garden club with over 100 members that’s celebrating its 25th anniversary and wants a very special party to mark the occasion. Schedule the annual progressive dinner for members and their husbands to start with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in a spacious home that can accommodate everyone, breaks into groups and moves to 13 other homes for formal, sit-down dinners, and then moves to the community’s country club for a dessert buffet, carolers, and dancing to a live band.
Make sure the food is tested and tasted until all 16 make-at-home dishes are absolutely delicious and can be prepared ahead and reheated in kitchens with (in many cases) one oven, by cooks with a wide range of skills. (Oh yes, and keep the food choices secret so it’s a surprise.)
That’s how the WildeWood Garden Club started the process of planning their holiday party. They set standards for decorating--as much live greenery and silver as possible because this is the garden club’s 25th anniversary--so that homes look beautiful and welcoming. They set gorgeous tables -- everywhere. And do all this with ease and grace, because, after all, you are in Columbia, South Carolina, where southern hospitality reigns supreme. And then enter it all on computers for next year’s committee.
Here are photos shot at the event, with the recipes for all the food served there. The dinner cost just $65 per couple, and a conscious effort was made to watch costs. Club members prepared all the food, served it, and cleaned up after themselves in their homes, although at the country club there was some paid help, and there were paid bartenders at the cocktail party. Costs included wine, and they too were tasted so they’d be interesting and delicious.
Husbands got into the act. Buddy Lewis, Bert Wood, and Richard Whiteside bought greens and mistletoe for everybody to decorate their houses with, and they got the most beautiful magnolia branches, Sally recalls. Bill Tovell, a wine and liquor distributor and host of the cocktail party, sold the wines at cost. Another husband spent a weekend binding the cookbooks.
Nell says every member pitched in, which doesn’t surprise her, because she’s convinced gardeners are the world’s most generous people. "We pass along plants and help each other with information. ‘This doesn’t grow well here, but that will flourish,’ club members told me when we moved here. That’s all part of southern life," she says, adding that as a master gardener she wants to make sure the tradition of generosity is passed on. "And this party was a fine way to show the younger generation how to entertain.
WildeWood Garden Club
Progressive Dinner Menu
Blue Cheese Crispies with Red Grapes 
Pear and Gorgonzola Crostini 
Beaten Biscuits with Country Ham and Cranberry Orange Butter 
Asparagus Roll-Ups 
Hot and Spicy Mixed Nuts 
Spicy Spinach-Artichoke Dip 
Green Salad With Blue Cheese,
Dried Cherries and Port Wine Dressing 
Boneless Prime Rib with Red Wine Sauce 
Phyllo Wrapped Potatoes 
Green Beans with Garlic and Tarragon 
Chocolate Pound Cake with Kahlua Icing 
Italian Cream Cake 
Chocolate Toffee bars 
Santa’s Whiskers Cookies 
Citrus Tart 
Cooked Eggnog