It sometimes seems as though all the good days have been taken: Someone has staked out the annual New Year's Eve party, the annual St. Patrick's Day free-for-all, the annual Easter Egg Roll, the annual Fourth of July picnic, the annual May Day armaments parade, the Memorial Day house party.
What is left for the rest of us, who would like to be known as hosts of the annual this, or the annual that?
We must walk where no one else has thought to tread.
Does anyone you know give an annual radish feast? Probably not, and yet for years it was a big event every May 12 in Westmoreland, England. It was an all male affair in those days -- when a boy's night out was thought the height of merriment -- but there's nothing in the nature of the entertainment to prevent it from being coed.
And for a person of minimal culinary skills, a radish feast is an ideal way to establish a reputation as the giver of an annual party. It couldn't be simpler. In the old days, locals were enlisted to wash off wheelbarrows full of radishes; the host wheeled them into the gathering, put out an additional offering of bread, butter and ale and let it rip.
Although it requires a little more effort, another annual party that could be given by a person who considers a cookbook complicated reading is the annual cheese-rolling race which takes place on Whit Monday evening (this year on May 19) in Gloucestershire. Four 7-lb. wheels of cheese (Double Gloucester, naturally) are rolled, one at a time, down an extremely steep hill.
"One to be ready," warns the master of ceremonies, "two to be steady, three to prepare," and here the first cheese begins its downward roll, and "four to be off!" and the chasers begin what for many will also turn into a downward roll. The only responsibilities for the host are buying the wheels of cheese, finding a steep hill and setting out a picnic cloth with cheese knife, bread and wine at the bottom.
You could give an annual asparagus festival, as they do in Shelby, Mich., and ask each invited guest to bring a dish in which the main ingredient is asparagus. The season could also support a planked shad picnic or a celebration of soft shell crabs. But, alas, we are getting into cooking so let us back off and return to simpler parties.
If you decide that a radish feast is not your style, you could celebrate May 12 with a contest honoring Edward Lear, whose birthday it is. Guests should be warned that they will be expected to compete in providing the best limerick of the evening. Losers will be pelted with stale bread. The winner will also be pelted with stale bread, since limericks rarely are to the taste of all the listeners.
You wouldn't stand a chance luring a guest to a Derby Day party in Louisville; everyone has been booked for years. But in Washington where the hot ticket is gathering to watch a presidential news conference, you should have no difficulty putting together a crowd to watch the run for the roses. Mint juleps, of course, and some simple food to act as ballast to all that whiskey.
The late writer James Cain once described his attempts to win a reputation as the creator of the perfect mint julep. First he had silver beakers made, to ensure that when the glass was offered it would be covered with a haze of frost. But, alas, the specially made beakers did not frost.
And so Cain began to fidget around with the proportions of sugar, ice and whiskey. (The mint, crushed up in the glass and draped in decorative fashion over the rim, being essential to a mint julep, but of no particular importance in achieving that frosty glaze.) He tried a little less sugar and a little more ice. No frost. More whiskey. No frost. More whiskey and the glasses finally frosted up, as icy as though they had been plucked from a snow bank. The drinks were the hit he had hoped for and his reputation as a maker of mint juleps might have taken place alongside his reputation as a writer. Unfortunately, there was no one left to pass the word along; after one drink the guests all passed out.
For a party to become an annual occasion, it must be unusual, but the guests must also be able to remember it.