A: Well, Mr. Thaw, news of Mrs. Madison’s entertainment talents is news to Ace who, until today’s research proved otherwise, thought that Dolley Madison and Betsy Ross were the same person. Personally, Ace’s favorite dead Dolly is that sheep clone from Scotland, whose entire life’s advice regarding everything from entertaining to kilts can be summed up as “Baaaaa. Baaaa. Baaaaa.”
But while nature may have made you closer in manners to Dolly the Sheep than to that illustrious First Lady, you can be edu-ma-cated to seem more like the latter. Lee Langston-Harrison, a curator at Montpelier, channeled the legendary hostess and offered some holiday tips she believes would have guided Dolley Madison’s holiday entertaining schedule.
First, fashion, fashion, fashion, dahling! Although, she was raised Quaker, Dolley had a weakness for French finery that drew the eyes and admiration of many. Described by Langston-Harrison as a “buxom” woman (about a size 14 by today’s forgiving measurements), Dolley preferred high-waisted dresses with very low cut necklines (like another—er, “buxom”—Southern-fried Dolly we all love) and silk turbans on her head, a style Langston-Harrison describes delicately as, “exemplify[ing] her better features.”
Secondly, during Dolley’s 16-year tenure as White House hostess (for both Jefferson and Madison), Washington, D.C., was a downright backwater according to Langston-Harrison and, accordingly, political enemies were prone to solving their differences with drunken brawls. Dolley’s solution was to seat rivals next to each other at her much-lauded dinner parties so that they could talk out their differences like gentlemen. So, next rule of thumb: Think outside the box when it comes to your holiday seating charts.
Lastly, pay heed to the food you serve, says Langston-Harrison. Bacon burgers just aren’t going to cut it when breaking bread at the holiday table. Among the Dolley delicacies Langston-Harrison recommended were Madison’s favorite apple upside-down cake, marzipan, gelatin, lots of jam and figs. But most importantly, don’t forget the ice cream! “She always served ice cream. It didn’t matter the time of year…you must have ice cream served at the end,” says Langston-Harrison decisively.
As for tunes to set the right mood, Ace suggests you put a little ditty on that goes a little sumthin’ like this (hit it, boys!):
Well, hello Dolly!
It’s so nice to have you back where you belong…