Fall is my favorite time of the year to entertain — the chapter has closed on summer grilling parties and the pressures of large holiday family gatherings are not yet upon us. It is the perfect time of year to invite a small group of friends over for an intimate dinner that celebrates nothing but the season of bounty.
The only rule? You must pull inspiration from the harvest season. Put all of those majestic squash and pumpkins at the farmers’ market to work, using them as the centerpiece of your table and your menu.
Harvest Party Table Setting
Set the Stage with Natural Elements
Setting the table is your chance to set the scene and mood for your party. I wanted my dinner to be special, but relaxed and casual, as well. It features beautiful seasonal produce in its natural form with little alteration — allowing the true beauty of these pumpkins and gourds to shine. Along with the pumpkins straight from the farm, the setting includes super-tall, elegant taper candles — elegant and rustic elements — my favorite combination. A centerpiece made of pumpkins, squash and gourds versus a formal floral design says all of the right things about my party.
As the harvest season is all about the celebration of bounty, I wanted the table to feel full and plentiful. With so many colors and shapes to choose from, it is easy to get overwhelmed and end up with a hodgepodge result. I recommend that you pick 2 or 3 complementary colors to avoid making the table setting too busy. I selected gourds that were all muted in color – pale butternut, green-blues and creamy white, then added pops of red-orange for contrast.
What You’ll Need:
Linen runner: If you don’t have one, you can use a piece of burlap or brown kraft paper, or create a runner out of a drapery panel folded in half, like I did.
2 or 3 medium blue pumpkins: If you are seating 6, place 2 medium pumpkins down the middle of the table, placing them in the gaps between the place settings. If you are serving 8, use 3 pumpkins, placing them in the space between the place settings.
8 to 10 small gourds and squash: Use a variety of sizes, shapes and colors (sticking to your coordinated palette), and lay them evenly down the center of the table in groups of 3 or 4.
2 branches (I used pear berry branches): Weave branches in through the pumpkins and gourds, creating a natural flow down the table. The branches help to visually pull all the elements together, creating a cohesive look.
6 white pantry plates: I like to use solid white plates when I am using a large variety of colors on the table. The white helps to ground the table and provides some much-needed simplicity to the bountiful centerpiece.
6 linen napkins: Let the centerpiece be the center of attention. These hemstitched linen napkins are luxurious, but in a subtle classic way.
Harvest Party Menu
Not only should your table reflect the bounty of the season, but your menu should, too. When you’re at the farmers’ market selecting your centerpiece pumpkins, ask around for great recipes that utilize the season’s best. The menu I’ve compiled below is a balance of indulgent, fresh and flavorful seasonal recipes.
Entertaining your friends for dinner can seem more challenging than it needs to be. With these helpful tips, you’ll be able to host a fall harvest dinner party with ease … and have a great time, too!
Make the House Buzz
Have you ever been the first to arrive at a party? If the house is quiet and the lights are bright, it doesn’t quite feel like a party. I like to have the lights low, candles lit, fun music going and a “help yourself” cocktail station ready to go 30 minutes before the party begins. Getting everything set out early allows me to wind down before anyone arrives and gives me a chance to feel like a guest at my own party. There is nothing worse than arriving when the hostess is frantically dusting the mantle and juggling pots and pans in the kitchen.
Cocktails, Then Wine
I like to start a party off with a fun festive drink for cocktail hour, then serve wine at dinner. I hardly ever offer a full bar to my guests – it is too much to put together for a small gathering. If you offer someone a tasty seasonal drink when they walk in the door, it gives you another opportunity to set the mood for the evening. For the harvest party, I recommend serving Spiked Mulled Cider and a local Pumpkin Beer to kick off the night.
Leave the Dishes!
After dinner, so many times my guests offer to help with the dishes … no way! No one really wants to do dishes, not even me. I encourage my guests to leave their plates right where they are — “don’t worry about the dishes, let’s have dessert!” — and we all move into the most comfortable room in the house (perhaps around a fire). I like to pre-set this chosen, comfortable area with coffee or an after-dinner cocktail and dessert.
If I want the evening to last forever, I’ll put out a big tray that is full of chocolate-covered fruit, cookies, candies and caramels that can be continuously nibbled on as the evening goes late into the night. This open-ended dessert invites guests to get comfortable and help themselves. Easy conversation and stories are certain to follow.