by Ray Linville
The Sandhills and the central Piedmont are so popular in the fall. Who doesn’t enjoy a brisk walk, a bike ride, a round of golf, or horseback riding in October in our area?
To me, those activities are great, but they don’t feed my soul or my stomach. What does? Church suppers that are popping up now at many rural crossroads to celebrate traditions related to harvest time.
As you drive by a red-brick or a white-frame church in a small community, look for a sign or banner recycled from previous years that says “Harvest Supper and Auction.” Sometimes, the banners focus on the menu, such as “Fall BBQ Dinner” or “Chicken Stew,” which hasn’t been changed in decades as new generations of volunteers take over from parents and grandparents.
If you’re lucky, you can find a church that celebrates the fall with both barbecue and chicken. You can pick one or the other; if you smile kindly at the volunteer dishing up the plates, sometimes, you can get both.
Although I love barbecue, when I’m at a church supper, I confess that chicken stew, chicken and dumplings, chicken pastry, whatever they call it, is much more divinely inspired. Sometimes, I’ve even skipped the barbecue and asked for two helpings of the chicken dish.
Most dinners are served on paper plates that remind you of having lunch in elementary school—the ones with three sections. The large section allows an ample serving of barbecue or chicken (or both). The two small sections are for sides, typically cole slaw and a vegetable. (This is not a broccoli crowd so don’t worry).
Fair warning: Don’t show up late, such as 15 minutes before a supper ends. All the good desserts will have been taken.
Usually on folding tables along a side wall, individual servings of the best homemade pies and cakes are ready for the taking. Yellow cake with chocolate icing, pound cake (with no icing), and sweet potato pie seem to be everywhere in October. (I never take two, although I have watched more than one person saunter to the tables as if she hadn’t been there before.)
Sometimes I go to the dessert tables first and find my favorite before entering the serving line for the “main” food (and I’m not the only one who does). After all, after eating barbecue or chicken, who wants a cake with pink icing (usually all that’s available after the best desserts have been taken)?
A few churches also sell whole pies and cakes, and some are auctioned off during the dinner. It’s interesting to watch the bidding frenzy when a matriarch’s seven-layer cake is put up for sale. No self-respecting grandson is going to let another family member outbid him and garner her special attention over the next few weeks.
Want recommendations? Cypress Presbyterian in Cameron, Mt. Pleasant Christian in Lobelia, Vass United Methodist, White Hill Presbyterian near Tramway, Center United Methodist near Sanford, Culdee Presbyterian in Eastwood, Bells Baptist near Jordan Lake and Priest Hill Presbyterian near Carthage.
Napoleon once remarked that “an army marches on its stomach.” In October, I travel on my stomach, and I don’t venture too far from home. My destination each Saturday is a church that celebrates the fall with tasty chicken or slow-cooked barbecue.
Linville writes about local connections to Southern food, history and culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org