It’s often said that food equals love, and there’s no more powerful proof of God’s love and downright favoritism for the South than in his ultimate gift of “Dinner on the Grounds,” but half the excitement in the gift is knowing how to accept it graciously, and with that in mind, I think we’re not holding up our end of the deal.
Maybe our mothers were too busy bringing home the bacon in the 80’s to teach us proper Jell-O mold and creamed-soup casserole etiquette, or maybe we’ve just sat in front of Pinterest so long, looking at pictures of pretty food, we don’t understand how to actually make it come out of our kitchens. Whatever the reason, it’s time to turn things around and start a proper and correct Dinner on the Grounds revival.
Some folks don’t understand the mechanics of the meal and they’ll show up with a family of eight and bring a tiny bowl of canned green beans or worse yet, store-bought vittles with the price still on the container. How have we sunk so low?
Southerners don’t like to be told what to do, so the Ladies Social Circle shouldn’t assign dishes alphabetically because Eula Mae is famous for her chicken and dumplin’s and she may get lumped into the paper goods group while Ray-Ray makes mouth watering pulled pork that he smokes all night, but odds are he’ll be assigned to bring salad. That’s no good for anyone. The point of the meal is to demonstrate our faith and trust that it will all work out, and just like the first recorded Dinner on the Grounds where fish and bread were somehow turned into a down-home, foot-stompin’ fish-fry (nowhere does it say it wasn’t fried), by God’s great guidance, our scattered pieces always result in a unified feast.
A well — heeled Dinner on the Grounds will feature every variety and type of vegetable currently being grown within a 50-mile radius. Corn on the cobb, corn cakes, creamed corn and corn salad are displayed with great care. Fried and stewed squash are placed alongside beans that are stringed, red, butter, snapped and baked. Meats are plentiful and often involve recipes that begin with, “First, you get your gun.”
Children’s eyes grow wide and wives give their husbands a warning nudge at the sight of the dessert tables (plural intended). Caramel, coconut and cheese cake – that isn’t actually cheese at all, but in fact made from a lemon curd, are the grand finale, which earlier in the week, caused the Piggly Wiggly to order another pallet of the sweet Southern trio – granulated, brown and powdered.
After everything has been ceremoniously arranged on the tables, the next phase begins. Many groups kindly allow the elderly to go through the line first, which always irritates my Yankee husband who says they just slow the line down and should go last. “They don’t eat much anyway” he always whispers. He’ll be there soon, and then we’ll see how he feels.
Only a small taste of each item should be put on your plate. No loading up on one particular dish even though the top is covered in melted marshmallows and you happen to love melted marshmallows. My own sons have been known to break this rule and have had to wash the casserole pans when we returned home as punishment for putting a whole meatloaf on their plate next to half a pan of pecan brownies.This trend of hurried coffees-cafes-brunches-and-luncheons have gotten us nowhere. The lost art of Dinner on the Grounds will surely come to haunt us when our own children grow up and want to join churches that have drive-thru communion.
Someday, in the sweet-by and by, when I’m invited to the heavenly feast, I’ll take a peek at the bottom of the bowl of fried okra and see a strip of masking tape bearing the name, “St. Peter,” and then I’ll know, I’m with people who understand how to show the greatest love of all.