Party maven Danielle Rollins is known all over the South (and beyond) for the stunning events she creates, with charming extra touches and gracious attention to every detail. Her new book, Soirée: Entertaining with Style ($50, Rizzoli), features more than 250 color photos and original, personal recipes from notable chefs such as Anne Quatrano, Linton Hopkins, Kevin Rathbun and others.
“Fall is my favorite time to entertain,” Danielle says. “Nature provides the perfect backdrop for an autumnal fête and a fall harvest dinner so friends and family can gather outdoors to enjoy one more last little chance for al fresco dining before the winter chill sets in.” Here, she shares her tips for hosting an Autumn Harvest Party of your own, with plenty of room to infuse your personality.
- Set the tone. Invitations should feel rustic, organic and establish the atmosphere for the event. Use clever wording for suggesting attire such as “bonfire chic” or “fall harvest attire.” It will not only have your guests in weather-appropriate attire, but pulling out the thick sweaters, cozy jackets, corduroys and boots will get them in the festive mood too.
- Think rustic. Use picnic tables, create simple trestle tables fashioned from wood over sawhorses or cover the tables in weather-appropriate fabrics, burlap, flannel or darker muted tones. “I love using hay bales for seating,” says Danielle.
- Easy does it. Centerpieces should feel easy and collected. Pumpkins, gourds, berries and beautiful fall leaves provide a wealth of possibilities. “My other go-to favorite centerpieces are clay pots planted with kale, Swiss chard, pansies and rosemary or big wooden bowls filled with apples, pears, persimmons or pomegranates,” says Danielle.
- Light up. A pretty and easy way to spruce up a table is to wrap fall leaves around a clear votive holder and tie with twine.
- Focal point. Create a striking and inexpensive dramatic focal piece by using branches of gorgeous-colored leaves and berries in a terra-cotta urn or wooden container. No one will see the bottoms, so you can just cram more in until it looks right and scour your own yard for material, with a pair of tree loppers at the ready.
- Signature cocktail. Blood Orange Old-Fashioneds can be started by soaking sugar cubes in bitters in your glasses set out ahead of time. Then, fill them with ice just before serving. Also, mix the blood orange juice and bourbon (adjust to your taste) in a pitcher before the party will allow you to serve a lot of drinks rather quickly, instead of having to individually assemble the cocktails. Then, top off with soda water and garnish with a slice of citrus fruit (blood orange or lemon) and a maraschino cherry.
- Raise the bar. The bar is usually the first place people visit, so make it feel as much a part of the party as the tables. Drape rough burlap fabric over a table to blend into the season’s natural backdrop, or use materials like flannel, wool or corduroy. Decorate with hurricane lamps to create a warm cozy glow and provide light so everything can be seen.
- Campfire sweets. There is something nostalgic about making s’mores. Roasting marshmallows over a blazing bonfire creates a nostalgic twist to end the night. Use flavored marshmallows and gourmet chocolate bars to take it up another notch. Make sure you have all the roasting tools needed and all the ingredients already in place so you can enjoy roasting your own s’mores right along with your guests.
- All about the food. The food should be savory, seasonal and evoke the theme of “fall harvest.” Think soups or chili or anything braised or roasted when choosing your menu.
- Stay toasty. Roll up blankets in a big basket so anyone who is a little too chilly can bundle up to stay warm and toasty.