Thursday, June 7, 2012


Despite the various talents blessed on this family, I’ve never had any skill of artistic merit---no stitches, no paint, no musical gifts.   I cook, but that’s about it---even my Daddy would say, “Well, you cook good and you can arrange really pretty food, but then it all gets eat up.”

Cooking IS important; our families are our staunchest supporters and our gentlest critics, though most learn early that you might tease an unruly dog a coupla times, you can bicker and riposte with your siblings, but you don’t EVER insult or irritate the cook. 

 And on Church Supper Nights, the Good Church Ladies ramp cookin’ up a few notches into Olympic-Gold territory.  They set down their BEST, every time---kept to a single-minded standard of excellence judged by each other and their own stern principles, and few restaurants can claim that.    We all know Mamas and Grandmas and Mammaws whose experience in that one cultural item would equal degrees and awards and testimonials were it in a field of work accredited by other than glowing compliments and an enviable reputation.

Good Church Ladies ARE AS VAIN AS ANYBODY WHEN IT COMES TO COOKING---A COOK’S REPUTATION IS ALL. The Pillsbury Bake-Off pulls forth no such efforts from kitchens as the collective strivings of a community of good cooks on Church Supper night.

They get into those kitchens and whip up Aunt Hattie’s Potato Surprise or Death by Kool-Whip desserts or Bean Bundles tied with pimiento strips, and dedicate the same time to the prettifying as to their own careful grooming and Standing Appointment coifs.  They serve out those delights on their fanciest
dishes---the ones their children are forbidden to LOOK AT crooked through the glass of the china cabinet.   Those prized plates and platters and Depression Glass with the little fading hand-written masking-tape labels on the bottoms---only THOSE are worthy of THIS occasion.

As a longtime student (PhD in Church Suppers, WMU meetings, Garden Club receptions, et al.) of the Southern covered-dish social phenomenon, I know the kitchen-proud heart of every woman who sets down her best effort, in her best, prettiest dish, and then looks up to see that new hussy bearing in a tray of hummingbird tongues garnished with Carmen Miranda's best hat.

And after a lot of years as one of those Church Ladies myself, I’ve wondered if they’ve all learned by now to do the Mammy-and-Scarlett thing and eat a little something at home beforehand.   For there’s a kind of protocol to the serving line, adhered to in almost every denomination:  the Mamas go through the line first, filling the children's plates---picking out all the choicest pieces of chicken and the devilled eggs and Mrs. Pugh’s famous-in-five-counties Cheese and Macaroni for the kids, who will take two bites, then abandon plates and places, running off to heed the siren call of all those friends to play with.  

 Then the men go along the line, assassinating all the best casseroles, laying waste to the low-cooked snap beans and butterbeans and skillets of corn, and eagerly forking up all the rest of the fried chicken and the baked ham and scraping out all but the little high-water-marks of crust around the big blue roaster of Miss Quinette’s duck and dressing.

 So those ladies who prepared their very best dishes, mainly for the approbation of all the OTHER Good Church Ladies---THOSE ladies will have to be content with the admiration, for the food left affords but scanty scrapes of three kinds of baked beans, four kinds of potato salad, and the six ground-beef-and-noodle concoctions the hungry hordes left behind because they’re  all alike, and everybody’s tried them before.

And amongst the devasted, empty pie plates, cakestands and cobbler dishes, with their forlorn scribbles of filling and scattered crumbs, there’s almost always an untouched Jello-and-Kool-Whip sump’n-nother.   Maybe even Poke Cake.



LV said...

I would not worry about having different talents. I have never found one for myself. If you can cook, take care of a family, that is the most important.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:
Never could we hope to compete!! Indeed, later this month we have declined the invitation to the Church Picnic as it came with a list of food required to be made with the instruction to tick off the things which we would make and take.

However, we have much enjoyed reading this very lively and entertaining account of Church Suppers. We should not at all mind being in the first line!!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:
Never could we hope to compete!! Indeed, later this month we have declined the invitation to the Church Picnic as it came with a list of food required to be made with the instruction to tick off the things which we would make and take.

However, we have much enjoyed reading this very lively and entertaining account of Church Suppers. We should not at all mind being in the first line!!

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

I totally LOVE church suppers!!
I would rather go to a church supper than to a fancy restaurant!!

steelersandstartrek said...

Here, alas, you have me. I never grew up with this experience (though the play-out of the plate filling sounds a lot like most of my larger family picnics!) Our church seldom did such things as covered dish suppers. I only remember two church picnics in the entire time I was growing up, and both of those were decidedly awkward. The parish just didn’t seem to want to do such things together. Maybe it was the fact that the moms saw quite enough of each other dealing with getting kids back and forth to the parochial school and scouts and Sundays and whatnot. Maybe it was the nature of the community of faith – I never heard the word “fellowship” (Tolkien notwithstanding) until I was a teenager and pulling double duty on Sundays, attending Mass with mom and then walking to the Baptist church at 11 AM. But whatever the reason, we just didn’t, except for pancake suppers run by the men of the church just before Ash Wednesday and at 2 AM Christmas morning after midnight Mass. And mom never wanted to attend these.

My grandmother’s church was more social. Nannie was raised Baptist and for reasons never discussed zipped past the Baptist Church on her way to the Presbyterian Church every Sunday I can remember. I am sure it was not the result of some fall out or insult. It was probably not anything more complicated a reason than that she had gotten a job as a proofreader for the regional Presbyterian monthly newspaper and felt it best to get her churching from the company store. Her church had the most jovial minister I have ever met, before or since. Mr. Stevens felt like a friend to all that walked in – and aas I grew up I never had the feeling he was reaching for my wallet when he patted me on the back. He and his wife led a meager but dedicated congregation that Nannie enjoyed joining until she could no longer leave her house. Some years that church had living nativity scenes, complete with donkeys and angels flying in on wires and once even a camel from gosh knows where. And every year, come hell or high water, there was vacation bible school which my Catholic mom INSISTED we kids attend for some schizophrenic reason. (My dad could have cared less about church, so it was definitely her call. Maybe it just gave her two weeks of peace during summer vacation.) And those women teaching BBS saw the three of us as a mission field brought to their doorstep – Catholic kids in need of saving. It was always just a little strange.

Nannie’s Church may well have had Sunday Social Dinners, but if they did we didn’t hear about them. Sunday dinners were the special prerogative of Nannie herself – we gathered THERE every Sunday afternoon where her husband (sometimes with my mother and aunt pitching in) would do all the cooking. There’s usually be at least one if not four or eight much older relatives there, great aunts and uncles, Nannie’s widowed friends, the occasional visit from Rev. and Mrs. Stevens. These were special and mandatory events every week that at least we kids always looked forward to. Family got together and was….. family. And THAT is probably as appropriate a fellowship event as any congealed salad plate I missed at the church.

Beverly said...

I know most of the churches in this area have "church meals", but they didn't occur to much in south Florida. My mother always comes home stuffed like a hen. She thinks it is her duty to taste as many different dishes as possible.

Kim S. said...

I adore church suppers and wish that they were still like they were when I was a child. Platter of HOMEMADE food including breads and biscuits, hams and fried chicken, corn shucked and plunged into a boiling vat of water and milk. I remember the summer of the tomato bumper crop. There must have been 15 platters piled high with Wonder Bread, mayo and tomato sandwiches – damp and dripping pink-tinted mayonnaise. The last time that I was at a church supper, it was grocery store chicken, deli potato salad, BOUGHT tea in gallon plastic cartons and bags of cookies. Sigh.