The idea of eating something small or light to begin a meal may have started centuries ago in China and become widespread in Europe by way of Russia, probably migrating to the United States with British settlers.
Such preliminary dishes are known to us today primarily under two names: appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. The first term suggests the stimulation of the appetite. The French synonym is “apéritif,” from the Latin “aperire” — to open — meaning that they don’t so much stimulate as “open” the appetite for other fare to come. (Confusingly for Americans, the French also call appetizers “entrées,” or “entries” — a word we have, for some reason, adopted to mean not the first course but the main one.)
“Hors d’oeuvre” is French for “outside the work,” the work being the centerpiece of the dinner. (The French never pluralize the term; “outside the works” wouldn’t make sense in the context.)
Food goes in and out of fashion, of course, and many appetizers — or hors d’oeuvres — that were ubiquitous in the 20th century, whether at parties, at home dinner tables, or in restaurants, have fallen out of favor. (Here are some examples of food fads from the decade you were born.)
Today’s menus might offer such “entries” as grilled octopus, burrata with some accompaniment, or carpaccio of one kind of meat, seafood, or vegetable or another.
In the 1960s, in contrast, those items would have been unknown and choices might have included artichokes vinaigrette, oysters Rockefeller, or French onion soup, dishes now considered almost museum pieces. (Menus aren’t the only things that evolve. Here are 20 ways restaurants are going to change in 2021 and beyond.)
24/7 Tempo has searched cookbooks and restaurant menus from the previous century to compile a list of once-favored first courses that are seldom seen these days, but that deserve classic status and can still bring great pleasure to our palates.
The choices include both the kinds of snacks likely to be served at cocktail hour and more substantial dishes that are best eaten seated at the dinner table in preparation for the feast to come.