Appetizers can be traced back to First Century Rome, where the upper class were served eggs, fruits, etc. as part of a three- course meal.   Here I will try to give a brief summary of the trend of appetizers in America.

Before the twentieth Century, appetizers consisted mostly of soups, oysters on the half-shell, or canapes ( dainty open-faced sandwiches), served mainly at a table.

According to a late 1800 cookbook, “Canapes are served hot or cold and used in place of oysters at dinner or luncheon.    At a gentleman’s dinner, they are served with a glass of sherry before entering the dining room.”

James Beard in his cookbook “Hors d’oeuvre and Canapes” (1940), suggests that American cocktail appetizers evolved from the free nibbles set out on bars.    Another theory is that prohibition launched finger foods, driving hard liquor out of the saloons in to the homes.   This created a need for handy, smart snacks to soak up the booze.

The new popularity of cocktail parties, whether powered by good bootleg liquor or bathtub swill boosted the popularity of the bite-sized party morsels.   Though prohibition ended in 1933, the cocktail party was slow to reach Grass Roots America.

Today’s cookbooks, magazines and newspaper food sections offer dozens of recipes for hors d’oeuvre, appetizers and snacks.

Bite-Sized Stuffed Vegetables

Americans have long enjoyed stuffed vegetables, but mostly as accompaniments to the main dish.

The bite-size, stuffed vegetable hors d’oeuvre appears to belong to the twentieth century, boosted by the cocktail party.   Here, where guests were forced to circulate, juggling drinks, cigarettes, napkins and nibbles, the easiest food was a morsel small enough to be popped into the mouth whole.    The best had something creamy and crunchy.

In the 1918's chunks of celery stuffed with sardine paste was the norm.    Recipes by the late 1920's had the celery stuffed with different cheeses.    But by the 1940's a whole new world of possibilities opened up. There were stuffed mushroom caps, numerous ways to stuff hard-boiled eggs, plus stuffed cucumber rings, artichoke buds, stuffed tomatoes and even stuffed dill pickles.

Dips, Dunks & Spreads

It seems that dips originated in the 1950's with the California Dip/gooey blend of sour cream and dry onion soup mix.   Not so according to Barbara Kuck, Director of the Culinary Archives and Museum at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.   Her father the late chef Louis Szathmary of Chicago had among his papers a 3 x 5 card by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.   It was of a clam and cream cheese dip and said to be one of the President’s favorites.

Dips still weren’t really popular until the 1940's when James Beard popularized them in his cookbook.    He wrote: “I think it is delightful to have large bowls of cheese mixtures which are of a consistency that permits “dunking”.    Cream cheese mixed with chopped chives and sour cream, or perhaps a little green pepper and a great deal of parsley, is always welcome.

Roquefort or Gorgonzola cheese mixed with cream cheese or sour cream and flavored with chives or raw chopped mushrooms, is another good dunker.   You may have your choice of dunkers----potato chips, pretzels, crackers, Italian bread sticks.”