(Originally posted October 24, 2010)
Few things put a smile on my face as do the words “Potluck Dinner.” I LOVE them! Casserole dishes covered in tin foil, hovering Christian ladies assuring proper placement of salads, main dishes, and desserts, scents wafting through the air that make the mouth water and stomach growl, Potluck Dinners or “Dinner on the Ground” were church days NOT to be missed!
I must preface that I am a purist when it comes to church dinners, as will soon be explained. No judgements are made toward the non-purist Potluck attendees, but long standing tradition amongst my immediate family members heavily influence my position here. That was my disclaimer and fine print…
For me there is one kind of food that I will take to potluck dinners: HOMEMADE. Period. Store bought? I would as soon chew with my mouth open as take store bought anything to a Potluck. If I haven’t had time to make anything, I don’t stay for the potluck. Period.
Since living in Texas, I have found that there is one major difference between Texans and Alabamians heading off to the church Dinner on the Ground. People in Texas take ONE dish of food to a potluck. ONE. No kidding! Odd? I thought so too.
In Alabama, my Mama NEVER darkens the door on a Potluck Sunday without at LEAST three or four homemade culinary delights. Anytime I would remind Mama that she didn’t have to feed the entire church, she would always remind me of a dear church sister at East Cullman Church of Christ that would show up with several hungry children, an even hungrier husband and place her contribution to the Potluck on the table: a butter bowl of English Peas. I would like to think that the vessel of peas was a bit larger than a “butter bowl,” (think Parkay) but Mama assures me that it was indeed a butter bowl. We didn’t want to be like that dear sister, and of course there were visitors and the elderly to be fed at the big meal, so the list of dishes for the big day would grow longer and longer.
Take your Tuna Noodle Casserole in a tinfoil disposable pan? I think not! Break out the Corningware or Pyrex, but never EVER disposable. Yes, I know its easier come clean up time, but that’s not the point. Homemade tastes better out of Corningware. You know this is true, now admit it!
One of my all time favorite memories of a true blue Dinner on the Ground comes from my college days at The University of North Alabama. Every year, come hell or high water, our hungry band of starving college students would travel by the carload to the Antioch community, just outside of Florence, Alabama. The Antioch Church of Christ Homecoming and Dinner on the Ground, was the potluck to end all potlucks!
The good folk at Antioch know how to put on a church dinner! Under a canopy of huge trees beside the church, tables lined up the length of two school buses would be filled to overflowing with the finest the Antioch ladies could bring from their kitchens. If those dear ladies showed up with less than three dishes of food a piece, I would never believe it.
We would wait underneath the trees, hovering near the starting line and get the lowdown from our “connections” at Antioch for the dishes not to be missed. We would try not to appear as if we were hovering, but let’s face it– we were! That spread was the best we had seen since back home, and had surely been weeks since we had some of Mama’s cooking!
As wonderful as the food was before us, not the first cornflake crumb topping or spoonful of Cool Whip Cherry Fluff could be touched before one other tradition of the day took place. All heads would be bowed for the blessing of the meal. As every prayer before every Church of Christ potluck dinner would assure, we would “pray for this food and the hands that prepared it,” and we would always “Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies, and our bodies to Thy Service.” Then, before the last syllable of “In Jesus’ name, Amen!” could be uttered, a dear Christian gentleman would holler out at the top of his lungs, “EVER’BODY EAT!!!”
When he would yell out the “Ever’body Eat!” it would just warm the cockles of our hearts, especially mine and Mary Gist’s! The church bell would be rung, hungry college students would be well fed, the Antioch ladies would go home with empty casserole dishes, and we would pray to live long enough to make it to another Antioch Dinner on the Ground!
A few years back, I showed up for my first potluck dinner at Oak Lawn UMC with an Orange Congealed Salad, Granny’s Squash Casserole, and two Pecan Pies (with each pecan individually placed, of course!) Church members were shocked to see that I had brought more than one dish of food! I just said that’s how I was brought up! Why even today, my Mama went to the Northside Church of Christ Homecoming with four dishes of food. At least that was the count I had when I talked to her yesterday…she was worrying that she wasn’t taking enough.
At the Oak Lawn dinner on the ground that Sunday I went home with empty Corningware casserole dishes and Pyrex pie plates. As I walked to the car, I knew in my heart that my Mama was proud of me for my multiple offerings. After all, somewhere on that long table there was a butter bowl of English Peas. We must be prepared!