Over the years in a smalltown church, I learned the traditions of Feeding the Preacher. It could be for a come-after-church Sunday Dinner, an after-visit “Do Stay” if the lady of the house felt comfortable with the meal she was putting on the family supper table, or on one of the nights of Revival Week, when there would be not one, but TWO preachers as guests---the home-church one and the Visiting Preacher, who was Bringing the Message every night (and sometimes every morning) that week.
And there’s Preacher Food. It’s good food, good old Southern cooking raised to its almost-zenith (the apex, of course, the nights of Church Supper when one had not only the Preacher to judge the cooks’ credentials, but the entire female contingent of the congregation looking on and tasting and weighing the merits of every bite, right down to the serving dish and the parsley atop).
And why the hands-down, all-time favorite in the Sunday Dinner category is Fried Chicken, with all the attendant flurry and mess and spatter and flour mist in a kitchen soon to be scurried into the sterile mien of an operating field before flying off to church---that’s a mystery past my solving. I just CAN’T fry chicken without making a mess.
Of the kitchen, the stove, the burners, the cabinet tops, the floor---and me. No matter how careful, no matter the spatter-guards and the careful Scotch towels draped across the stove clock and the chrome---no matter the Ziploc corralling in all that flour mess and dust---I make a terrible chaos in the kitchen.
So, unless Fried Chicken was the absolute apogee of the cook’s repertoire, with crispness and taste and a well-drained lightness of being which surpassed any other dish in her arsenal---I just can’t see doing all that messy frying right before getting into a dress and pantyhose and pumps, grabbing up Bible and children, and rushing out the door. And, for many---also the day right after a visit to the Chat ‘n’ Curl for a fresh ‘do and helmet of AquaNet to last the week.
Ladies who had primped and powdered and pressed floated down the aisle to their pews in a drifting cloud of Crisco and Chanel, and in the close confines of the Choir Room just before the opening notes of the Doxology signaled the processional, Arpege competed valiantly with eau de Colonel.
But Fried Chicken it was for multitudes---for just family or for guests, as well. And for my first Mother-In-Law, who taught me to fry chicken,
the same set menu Winter and Summer. With Fried Chicken went a pot of mashed potatoes, a can of Schoolday English peas, and a can of Pride of Illinois corn. There was even menu shorthand---you could name off your meal: Chicken (no need to say fried---if it was with Dumplin’s, you said so); can of peas, can of Pride. There was always pineapple salad, the sweet rings and the mayo and the hoop cheese placed on a lettuce leaf on a little side plate when company was coming; a cherry on top if it was REALLY Special.
Breads varied, from the most ethereal light rolls of the experienced cooks, to the buttered rocks served up by the novice bakers. Dessert was whatever the cook had felt like making on Saturday.
And moire non on Friday, re: Menu.