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Posted on September 21, 2016 by Shae Cox


Do you enjoy browsing through creative bite-sized foods on Pinterest?

Finger foods became a novelty during the Prohibition era thanks to the proliferation of juice joints. Juice joints, or speakeasies, provided their patrons with bite-sized snacks to keep them drinking and dancing all night. These miniature foods were handy: patrons carried food in one hand, and cupped a drink in the other as they mingled. Speakeasies fostered the rise of finger foods throughout the era, a culinary tradition which remains a staple of American cuisine. Since the Prohibition Era, finger foods have become a mainstay of American culture and can be found in homes, at cocktail parties, events, and in restaurants.

Speakeasies catered to a wide variety of people from a spread of socioeconomic statuses. Varying class statuses meant that people dined on different delicacies. Those who were a little better off such as patrons of the New York’s 21 Club nibbled on lobster or crab sandwiches with sides of olives, jellies, or pickles. Less affluent establishments, such as basement “speaks,” would serve deviled eggs, salted nuts, or, with the rise of vegetarianism, peanut butter and jelly finger sandwiches. While this was common across the country, speakeasies frequented by sailors on New York’s West Side provided ham, cheese, and salami sandwiches and occasionally a “free lunch” during working hours – but only for paying customers. These establishments would intentionally put out salty snacks and meats with the understanding that patrons, mostly men, would eat and “pay” for the food they consumed by buying a couple of drinks to wash it down. It was common that “free lunch” places were attached to bars.

Although cocktail parties had been established long before, these gatherings became a phenomenon during the Prohibition era. Hosts would serve pineapple upside-down cakes or Jell-O molds as easy snacks. In order to learn how to make these tasty treats, women could consult cookbooks and etiquette manuals such as Good Housekeeping’s Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries and The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. These books offered an ample selection of canapés or hors d’oeurves from Italian canapé to a pineapple cocktail or lobster sandwich. Even these seemingly innocent guides for ladies encouraged a bit of law bending during Prohibition because several pages of some cookbooks were devoted to homemade wine recipes, within the legal limits of course. Extracts became popular ingredients in desserts during this era because they were made from alcohol. Brandy was also popular for cooking because it would provide richness to cakes.

The “Noble Experiment” of Prohibition fostered the rise of steadfast American traditions such as canapés and cocktail parties. The next time you are at an event with bite-sized snack and delicious cocktails you will have an interesting piece of trivia to share with other guests.


Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1932

Good Housekeeping’s Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries (December 1931)

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book

Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, USA.

Evans, Suzanne. “Prohibition, Speakeasies and Finger Foods.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 13 July 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.

“The History of Finger Foods | The History Kitchen.” PBS Food, February 1, 2013. http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-finger-foods/.