This week I've been sharing the backyard S'mores party we threw for my sister's birthday, and today I'm going to show you how the whole soiree came together! We aimed for a simple yet pretty outdoor party, with little stress and preparation, because who needs that, especially on a birthday?
We launched our Gatherings from The Kitchn series this year to bring you party ideas that were fun and gracious, and yet always accessible in budget and details. This S'mores fête turned out to be our easiest party yet — with almost no cooking ahead, and just a few hours of setup. Want to see how we transformed the backyard and threw our S'moresgasbord for a crowd of twenty?
The Day Before
The beauty of this party is that there was almost nothing done ahead. My sister Susanna, who got the craftster genes in the family (I have none), did have the hankering for a few projects, so the week before the party she made two sets of pretty decorations.
She used coral-colored paint to color the insides of some old jars. She found the tutorial on Apartment Therapy. We used them to hold flowers.
She also made some garland out of cardstock, folding each square over twine to make pennants.
For my part, I made a batch of special birthday cake marshmallows (I'll share the recipe tomorrow). But of course homemade marshmallows aren't required — we had plenty of store-bought marshmallows too.
And that was pretty much it for our do-ahead arrangements! We didn't even shop until the day of the party itself.
The backyard BEFORE we set up for the party
The Day of the Party
We had three major things to do on the day of the party: Grocery shop, set up and decorate the backyard, and set up the food.
Grocery store flowers and strings of lights.
Never underestimate grocery shopping for a crowd! Although we were only shopping for S'more ingredients and flowers, we ended up going to three stores to find all the chocolate we wanted, and it took three hours instead of the allotted two. In hindsight, I wish I would have shopped the day before.
Setting Up the Backyard
The week of the party my sister's roommates mowed the lawn and cleaned up the dog, ahem, leavings. So the yard was neat and ready for us.
Here was our plan for setting up the backyard for the party:
- Hang strings of lights.
- Set up tables for seating, food, and drinks.
- Hang pennants and put out flowers.
- Get the fire going.
- Set out the food.
One of my brothers helped string lights from the tree to the neighbor's garage. This was a little bit more of a challenge than I expected, even after we scrounged up extension cords and my husband responded to a distress call with a ladder. Unless you have a pergola or frame for lighting, it takes time and some stretching on tip-toes to get the job done. Again, it was something that could have been done the day before, but we pulled it off and got one long festive set of lights strung up.
We hung another set of lights on the fence behind the food table and called it good.
My sister had the bright idea of setting up tables for people to sit at in the grass. We made the tables out of two old doors she found in the garage. One was propped up with plastic milk crates, and the other with bricks. We draped each table with old sheets from the thrift store and laid down more sheets in the grass, along with some old pillows in thrift store pillowcases. We set out flowers and candles in vintage Ball jars (I have a big collection), and we were all set.
We set up a table for drinks, with these drink dispensers filled with water, citrus slices, and ice; and tubs full of ice for bottled beer and soda.
I had brought two folding picnic tables from home, and we draped them with sheets and a big sheet of brown craft paper, and set the food out here.
We hung some pennants on the bushes, and other pennants (from the sale section at BHLDN) on the tables. I didn't even tape them up — just draped them quickly. Easy-peasy.
Sticky Fingers Station
Another smart idea from my sister: the Sticky Fingers Station, with a bucket of hand wipes, paper towels, and bug spray. All of which went to good use throughout the evening!
I've already talked quite a bit about our S'mores buffet this week — it was a lot of fun to think up creative combinations (see the 12 most popular here) and new things to try in this classic treat. Here's a quick overview of some of the things that went on the table:
Graham crackers. Cinnamon grahams. Peanut butter cookies. Gingersnaps. Fudge stripes. Carr's wheat crackers. Water crackers.
Plain marshmallows. Birthday cake marshmallows (homemade). Chocolate marshmallows. Cinnamon marshmallows.
Dark chocolate. Milk chocolate. Raspberry chocolate. Mint chocolate. Caramel chocolate. White chocolate. Reese's peanut butter cups.
Lime curd. Lemon curd. Nutella. Peanut butter. Dulce de leche.
Strawberry slices. Banana slices.
Basil. Tomato slices. Goat cheese. Mozzarella. Prosciutto. Bacon.
Without a fire, all you have is graham crackers and cold marshmallows. The thing that made this whole party possible was that my sister's roommates had built a fire pit last summer. It was small and ringed with rocks — safe and well-built. We stacked it up with wood from the pile and when another of my younger brothers showed up, we handed him a lighter and some newspaper and let him take it from there.
A note on fire: In my area, it is legal to have a fire in your backyard, provided you are cooking something over it and the fire is no larger than 2x3 feet. If you want to throw a similar party, check the open burning regulations in your area, as they may be more restrictive, especially in the West where wildfires are a risk. If you can't have an open fire, it is less romantic but just as effective to toast marshmallows over a gas grill.
We had, naturally, underestimated our work a bit, so we were still running around cutting tomatoes and baking bacon when my sister's first friends showed up. So we put them to work in the kitchen, arranging chocolate in the cute paper baking dishes we used (see Resources below for a source on those). We forgot the ice at the store, so my sister-in-law ran out and picked up 15 pounds of ice.
People trickled in a little after 7, the start-time of the party, bearing beer and cider, and ready to eat a S'more. We handed over the S'more tools — marshmallow forks and skewers, and cages for roasting an entire S'more sandwich.
Our guests jumped in with alacrity — attacking the savory S'mores fixings first, and then the sweet.
People drifted in between the fire and the tables, taking turns toasting marshmallows, and making sticky-fingered sandwiches of crackers and chocolate. Some of the guys got creative late in the evening, wrapping the last slices of prosciutto around marshmallows and roasting for a savory-sweet treat.
This was a mixed group of friends — some from work, some from church, some from college — so my sister played hostess, introducing people and foisting ever new S'mores combinations upon them.
At one point I made her a birthday S'more and we all sang the requisite song — pink candle included!
I left around 10:30 and the party was still swinging, the beer getting replenished and the S'mores stash still going strong.
All in all, it was a lovely party, especially as the day cooled off and the sun went down, leaving just the lights and the fire to warm up the backyard. It was easy, inexpensive, and most of all, fun!
Featured Party Resources
At the Table
Food and Drinks
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