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Home-Styled Weddings : Do-It-Yourself Wedding Receptions May Not Be Easy, But They Can Be Rewarding

May 19, 1988|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

So you're getting married soon! Wonderful! And you want to prepare your own wedding reception. Uh--well, that may not be so wonderful. It can be, however, if you're willing to devote the time and thought needed to create the sort of glorious celebration every bride dreams of having.

But where does one start? Should you call on family and friends to help, or try to do it all yourself? Would an elaborate hot buffet or a simple cold finger-food-and-cake reception be the better choice for you? How do you plan a menu that will please a 2-year-old as well as a 90-year-old? And so it goes--questions, questions, questions.

The Times Food staff can't provide all the answers on how to design a perfect wedding reception, but we can provide some suggestions that will get you off to a good beginning.

Minnie Bernardino offers aid in the form of directions for making the beautiful wedding cake pictured. (It's easier than you think.) Dan Berger offers some excellent suggestions that will help you choose exactly the kind of sparkling wine you might like to serve. We've also included a recipe for a colorful punch for those who prefer something nonalcoholic.

In addition, we've provided a number of recipes, many of them in quantity proportions, for foods that will fit nicely into a variety of wedding reception menus.

Large or small, a wedding reception is not an easy undertaking. Toni Tipton's interview with a local caterer who, incidentally, started a catering firm after doing her own wedding reception for 1,000, points out some of the pitfalls of a home-grown reception. You may want to think twice about the whole project after reading what she has to say.

Guest lists have a way of growing so it's wise to sit down with pencil and paper and jot down every single thing you can think of that will need to be done. If you have friends or acquaintances who have had experience in producing home wedding receptions, pick their brains to see what they did right, and more important, what they wouldn't do again. A project like this can easily turn into a nightmare for the unwary, however taking the time to plan properly can result in a marvelous and memorable celebration.

All planning has to start with the guest list as a reception for 20 can be infinitely broader in scope than one for 200. Once the numbers have been decided on, it's wise to take a look at the ages involved. That should greatly affect the type of reception--light or heavy buffet or sit-down dinner--that you choose. As one astute and accomplished hostess put it, "When you have all ages and a big crowd involved, it's no time to try to be fancy. Keep the food good, but keep it simple, easy to handle and somewhat familiar."

She's right, too. Never lose sight of the fact that most of the attention will be centered on the bride and groom, not the reception food. Save your exotic recipes for future dinner parties for a few close friends. It's also wise to choose foods that can be increased in quantity easily. A couple of extra pounds of ground beef will provide dozens more cocktail meatballs which will take up a lot less room in a crowded freezer and feed a lot more people than, say, a couple of pounds of chicken breasts.

And speaking of freezers, anyone planning a home wedding reception or any other large home party will need almost unbelievable amounts of freezer space. Alert family and friends to this need well in advance of the big day so as much pre-preparation as possible can be done. Then, in planning your menu, pick foods that will freeze well and need only a minimum of last-minute attention before serving.

Once the guest list is set and the menu decided on, it's time to figure out who can be called on to help cook, decorate and serve. And don't forget that ongoing bugaboo of mass feeding, cleanup. If you plan to hire any outside help, which is a good idea when you have a big crowd, assign them to help serve and keep the clean up under control during the reception. That way family and close friends will be free to join in the fun rather than having to work.

Where do you find such help? Well, there are numerous catering services that can provide it, or how about an auxiliary from your own or a nearby church? Or some of the volunteers who donate time to a charitable organization you know about? Look around. You may find other groups willing to help if you offer a donation to their cause.

These few suggestions have merely skimmed the surface of what's involved in producing a home wedding reception. No one will claim such an undertaking is easy, but once you have pulled it off, you'll have a memory that can't be matched in any way. Yes, it's hard work and it does take time, but you'll be inordinately proud of your feat . . . and you'll deserve every one of the myriad kudos you're bound to receive.

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