She’s hosted picnics on Mississippi River sandbars and dinner parties on hundred acre plantations. She’s served everything from buckets of fried chicken to lamb bourguignon and scalloped oysters. When she’s not throwing an unforgettable soiree or preparing the best blackberry cobbler you’ve ever tasted, she’s writing about it. Julia Reed is Southern Hospitality.
In her new book, Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long, Reed opens up her hospitality playbook, sharing stories, recipes and tips for bringing together friends and family with a serious dose of fun. We tapped her for more secrets to compile this list, the Ten Commandments of Southern Hospitality.
1. Treat your guests with generosity.
“I don’t mean that you have to serve them fine Champagne or have the town’s best flower designer do your flowers. What I’m talking about is a certain generosity of spirit—or what my mother would call graciousness,” Reed explains. “Everyone there should feel like you’ve made a special effort just for them and that there’s no one you’d rather have in your house at that moment.”
2. Create a delicious menu.
“The food does not have to be complicated but it should be delicious,” says Reed. Whether she’s serving something as simple as a squash casserole or feeding a party of “visiting dignitaries” a classic menu of rib-eye roast, consommé rice pilaf, and charlotte russe for dessert, Reed always thinks about food that will enhance the occasion. But she’s all for simplicity. Even the meals with fancy names tend to call for easy ingredients and a few secret touches passed down from family recipes.
3. Perfect your guest list.
“At big parties, I love to mix generations, professions, you name it. New faces keep things lively. Even when I gather a small table of old friends, I try to include someone we don’t all know as well. It ups our game and gives us someone to show off a bit for.”
4. Plan meticulously, but have fun doing so.
“I love the process of making up menus and guest lists. If you get the mix in both right, the hardest work is done.” Though entertaining requires a lot of work, there are simple things you can do to make it easier, like serving the meal buffet style and having everyone eat al fresco on the lawn.
5. Set the scene.
The setting contributes to the party just as much as the meal itself. Reed sometimes suggests going over the top–for one party she used dinnerware inspired by Thomas Jefferson (monogrammed white linens, cornflower plates, and silver tumblers). But simple touches go a long way, such as the unadorned daffodils she uses for spring lunches.
6. Harmonize every aspect of the event.
Setting the table is just a small piece of setting the overall tone of a party. When hosting a dinner on a friend’s gorgeous fifty-four acre property, Reed thought it only appropriate to have a “Tomatopalooza” due to the vast number of heirloom tomatoes in the vegetable garden. The entire menu was tomato based, set with pinkish tones to complement the varying shades of the heirlooms. She served a variety of rosés to match the rosy color scheme. Music is also vital to the ambiance of a party. Reed includes a playlist for nearly every event in the book.
7. Mix high and low to strike the perfect party balance.
The trick to any good party is making it elegant enough to fit the occasion but laid back enough for people to feel immediately comfortable and at home. “I love the high-low mix of putting fried chicken on a silver platter,” Reed exclaims. Her famous Mississippi Sandbar Picnic began with a bucket of chicken and a cooler full of beer, but has since evolved into a more refined occasion with oriental rugs, proper plates, and bamboo-handled utensils. Store-bought ham biscuits and deconstructed street corn are still favorite menu items.
8. Greet each guest with love, food, and drink.
The first thing Reed does when a guest arrives is “Hug them and kiss them and put a drink in their hands. Then preferably (and pretty much immediately) offer them something small and yummy to eat. A cheese dream comes to mind. And people always swoon over the bacon wrapped watermelon rind pickles.”
9. Keep the drinks flowing.
One of Reed’s most important rules? “Never, ever run out of booze.” From frozen whiskey sours for her Christmas Cocktail Supper to a large pitcher of “Southsides”—a Prohibition-era invention that tastes like the gin and tonic of summer—Reed provides detailed drink recipes and notes on how to keep the juices flowing all night.
10. Have a stellar attitude.
To Reed, the absolute most important commandment of Southern entertaining is the attitude of the host or hostess. “When people give parties out of obligation or they are nervous about pulling something off, it always shows. If you are relaxed and having fun, your guests will be too.”