How to Choose Cocktail Hour Appetizers That Embrace Your Wedding Season
Whether you're incorporating local flavors at a destination wedding or showing off the freshest ingredients from your hometown growers, planning a farm-to-table meal for your wedding dinner lets you create a unique—and delicious—menu for your guests. But if you don't think your family and friends will respond to the creativity involved with an in-season-only meal, then choosing a variety of seasonal hors d'oeuvres lets you focus on the best local fare without making such a big commitment. "Typically, a wedding guest list is made up of a diverse group of ages, tastes, and expectations that range in personal flavors," says Teri Lands, general manager of The Inn at Fernbrook Farms. "The thing that's nice about hors d'oeuvres is that your guests are going to get a variety of different tastes and flavors, and they can pass, or they can be a little more adventurous."
The most obvious way to choose an appetizer menu that embraces your wedding season is to start with foods that are in-season near your venue. For properties where the weather varies year-round, like The Inn at Fernbrook Farms, which is located in New Jersey, spring means bright, crunchy vegetables and hothouse herbs—think asparagus, radishes, and dill—that are easy to incorporate in small amounts for crowd-pleasing small bites. "It doesn't have to be a radish hors d'oeuvre," says Lands. "It could be radish in the topping, or chopped and sprinkled throughout." Summer means a bounty of sweet and juicy fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, corn, and summer squash, that shine in mini quiche, fritters, and fried morsels.
In the fall, the spotlight turns to sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and eggplant, while winter means pickled vegetables, easy-to-store root vegetables (like beets and carrots) and rich cheeses with end-of-season fruits. "Passed appetizers are a nice way to add in a few more items you might be afraid to use for the main entrée but would highlight farm style," says Lands, "like bacon-wrapped okra bites, rosemary roasted parsnip fries, and venison sausage rolls."
But the specific foods you choose aren't the only way to give your cocktail hour a seasonally appropriate vibe: The preparation plays a big part, too. Couples getting marred in fall and winter may be more inclined to choose mini comfort foods, like butternut squash soup with mini grilled cheese, short rib spoons, grapes stuffed with bleu cheese, and mini eggplant parmesan—foods with heavier sauces and richer flavors. In warmer months, turn to lighter tastes: Lands suggests "an abundant stationary display of flavors, like a roasted carrot hummus with crisp farm vegetables and house-made flatbreads for dipping, or a station of bruschetta toppings which would include a variety of different choices guests can top their grilled bread with: heirloom tomatoes, asparagus and ground cherry bruschetta."
If your overarching goal is to serve options that speak to the season during cocktail hour, have a clear discussion about your wishes with your wedding venue or catering manager. The pros will help guide you towards a delicious, seasonally appropriate spread.