The Throwback Holiday Snack Party of Your Dreams

Store-bought shortcuts and gourmet hacks bring nostalgic dips, snacks, and punch together in minutes.

Cheese Croustades Recipe
Photo: Justin Walker

Punch Line

Every Christmas of my childhood, we'd make the seven-hour trek from Birmingham, Alabama, to Ville Platte, Louisiana, where my mom's family—numerous and very Cajun—would gather for a big holiday party, complete with rabbit gumbo, a hulking turducken, chicken and sausage jambalaya, and a platter of chocolate-peanut haystacks. I was responsible for the punch. I'd turn a container of lime sherbet out into the big glass bowl, pour in two liters of 7UP, and marvel as lemon-lime clouds bubbled up to create the creamy, vividly green drink that my brother and I would stand around until all that was left was a layer of foam.

The first recipe for 7UP punch appeared in a 7UP recipe booklet in 1953 (only three years after the company removed lithium as an ingredient). It calls for just 2 quarts of sherbet and 24 bottles of 7UP. "So pure, so good, so wholesome," the recipe extols. It fell out of fashion as cocktail culture ignited in the '50s, but many people I queried grew up with it at family parties and other gatherings. This holiday season, inspired by those fun (if not so wholesome) flavors, you'll find me next to the punch bowl with its more sophisticated, adult cousin, Citrus-Champagne Punch. Laissez les bon temps rouler! —Erin Clyburn, Copy Editor

Citrus-Champagne Punch Recipe
Justin Walker

Party Tricks

Making an impression with delicious appetizers doesn't need to be complicated, nor should it break the bank. When we were researching our exposé about the catering business, we catered extravagant galas, serving six to eight canapés, each requiring upward of six elements to assemble (think smoked Maldon salt and micro-basil). But the most valuable tip came from a salesman for a boutique caterer, who told us that whether a wedding had a budget of $100,000 or $1 million, he always sold pigs in a blanket. People love them. Another hot tip? Don't be afraid of leaning on store-bought shortcuts like phyllo cups for a retro party spread—they're a cinch to bake ahead of time and top with your favorite fillings just before guests pop in. —Matt and Ted Lee, Authors of Hotbox: Inside Catering, The Food World's Riskiest Business

Get the recipes: Pickled Pepper Cheese Ball

Cheese Croustades

Pickled Pepper Cheese Ball Recipe
Justin Walker

Mom Dips 2.0

My favorite part of the holiday meal is at the beginning, when my brother-in-law is shaking up drinks and I'm finishing carving the ham and laying the roasted salmon on a platter for the buffet my big family devours. That's when everyone is arriving, and that's when the dips come out: my cousin's tortilla dip, with salsa and gooey melted cheese; the zesty dip for crudités my aunt makes, a simple mustard-and-mayo blend spiked with curry powder; my sister's creamy bread-bowl concoction chock-full of water chestnuts and seasoned with vegetable soup mix. I love them all. I love digging into the layers of onion, chopped egg, and sour cream beneath the surface of briny roe on my grandmother's caviar dip. I love scooping up molten mouthfuls of spinach-artichoke dip. I adore the luscious, dairy-fat charisma of these bowls that kick-start the holiday meal.

But there's one dip in my repertoire that wasn't just for special occasions; it was an everyday dinner in my childhood home. Amid the pizza and Chinese takeout my mother often fed us, from time to time there'd be a real treat: a bowl of clam dip that my mother whipped up for us to excavate with potato chips. She's never been big on cooking, my mom, but she is very big on love. With the luxe version I dreamed up—with shallots, Worcestershire sauce, and crème fraîche—I hope I can show that I'm big on both. (Dip into my family's favorite recipes, at right.) —Betsy Andrews, Contributing Editor

Get the Recipes: Four-Layer Caviar Dip

Warm Artichocke Dip

Fancy Clam Dip

Four Layer Caviar Dip Recipe
Justin Walker
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