IF YOU KNOW a "Muffie," if you just adore dainty sandwiches with crusts removed, and if you have a sense of humor, then you will enjoy "The WASP Cookbook" (Warner Treasures, 1997, $12.95)
The 29-year-old author, Alexandra "Dabber" Wentworth -- tall, lanky and blonde -- gives, in the first page of the book, the dictionary definition of WASP: "White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the conservative, wealthy and privileged class that formerly dominated U.S. society."
In conversation she simply calls WASPs "my people." She has the credentials.
Her mother is a Muffie. Her mother's full name is Mabel Cabot (as in Henry Cabot Lodge) Wentworth. Muffie is a graduate of Smith College and a former social secretary for the Reagan White House.
Her father, "Daddy," Eric Wentworth, is a Harvard man and a former reporter for the Washington Post.
Her nickname, Dabber, comes from "Dab Dab," a duck in the children's book "Dr. Dolittle," one of her favorite books. She spent her early years in Washington. Her big sister, Elizabeth "Sissy" Yates, still lives there.
She went to prep school, Dana Hall School for Girls, in Wellesley, Mass., attended Bard College and Columbia University. Then she became an actress and moved to Los Angeles. She has had some success in her career, appearing on "The Tonight Show," in the film "Jerry Maguire" and in the remake of the Disney film "The Love Bug." Working in show business has meant associating with the likes of Jay Leno and Tom Cruise, males who have neither nicknames nor initials, a sure sign, her Aunt Lulu would say, that these boys "are not our class, dear."
Out in California, Dabber once tried to re-create her old lifestyle by throwing an old-fashioned meat-and-potatoes dinner party. It was a disaster. "Everybody was shocked that I served red meat, and they thought the water in the finger bowls was soup," Dabber told me in a telephone interview.
Filled with curiosity about her ancestors' victuals, she decided to put together a cookbook of WASP cuisine, which she loosely defined as what you hold in one hand when the other hand is holding a cocktail. Looking for recipes, she called her old school JTC chums. They were, she reported, "doing graduate work at Cornell, having babies in Bedford [N.Y.], or doing time in prison for insider trading." She reported that when she asked her chums about their favorite dishes, the chums referred her to the authoritative source of most WASP cuisine -- the "help." Butlers, cooks and, of course, those nice people at the country club were quizzed on how to make prune whip and other delights.
The result is "The WASP Cookbook," a book covered in blue felt. By no coincidence, her felt-covered book looks like the social register, which traces the lineage of a city's "proper" families. Dabber, of course, was in Washington's social register, and had her debutante ball at the Mayflower, a hotel named after the ship that her ancestor sailed.
The recipes are very simple. "I picked tomato jelly salad," Dabber explained, "because it is easier to make than tomato aspic." The social commentary accompanying the recipes is funny. The book is organized around what to serve at the big social events of WASP life. In the spring, for instance, chicken potpies are served at the barn party. The WASP barn, Dapper reminds us, is not for tractors; rather it is a place for weekend parties and storing the vintage Mercedes.
Cucumber sandwiches, crusts removed, are served at the bridal tea, an event where the ladies, she said, all wear tortoise-shell barrettes and crocodile-skin loafers, and discuss monograms. The bread crusts on the sandwiches are removed, she told me, to make the sandwiches "little" and "perfect," two of the highest accolades in a WASP's vocabulary.
Horse riding is a prominent part of WASP social life, she said, and offered several reasons. WASPs like to "inspect the grounds" on horseback, and they like to get dressed up in Ralph Lauren wear. "Khaki jodhpurs," she said "are the classy answer to spandex." After inspecting the grounds in your jodhpurs, she said, you dismount and lunch on chicken-walnut salad.
In the autumn, she said, her people go to football games, where they sip martinis and enjoy sirloin bites (steak, watercress, mayonnaise on white bread) all served on the tailgates of Jeep Wagoneers. In the winter, they enjoy salmon mousse at the debutante ball, and they sip mango-papaya daiquiris during their Christmas-week jaunt to the Caribbean.
For those who stay at home during the holidays, to bless the hounds and celebrate Boxing Day, Dabber has provided recipes for the appropriate fare -- hound biscuits and brown stew.
When I asked her for any memories she has of visits to Baltimore, she replied that she "might have ridden [horses] there." She also recalled making journeys in the family Volvo to Johns Hopkins Hospital for a combination medical-social mission. Somebody knew a Hopkins doctor, a friend of a friend, she said.
She has poked fun at "my people," and so far the reaction from Muffie, Daddy, Sissy and all has been warm. "They get a kick out it," she said, adding that Sissy thinks "The WASP Cookbook" will make a perfect little Christmas present.
Muffie's famous sandwiches
Makes 30-40 petite sandwiches
8 vine-ripened (red) tomatoes
8 vine-ripened yellow tomatoes
1 loaf of white bread (homemade or Pepperidge Farm)
1 12-ounce jar mayonnaise
Cut the tomatoes as thin as possible. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on half of the bread. Drop 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise in middle of tomatoes. Press other slice of bread on top. Remove crusts. Cut into 4 triangles.
Pub Date: 11/09/97