The Greatest Love of All

July 29, 2015

23  comments

pineapple jelloIt’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.Jell-O recipe book, Fairhope AL

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.


Dinner on the Grounds, Fairhope ALSome 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?

 

Jell-O Salad, Fairhope AL, Dinner on the GroundsThere was a time when Southerners understood that deviled eggs belong on a proper deviled egg plate and store-bought chicken was acceptable if it was presented on granny’s depression glass platter.

 

deviled-eggs, Deviled egg plate, Fairhope Supply Co.

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.

fried fish and hushpuppies, Fairhope Supply Co. 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.”

 

desserts, dinner on the grounds, Fairhope Supply Co.

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.

 

mac and cheese, dinner on the grounds, Fairhope Supply Co. 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.fried chicken, dinner on the grounds, Fairhope Supply Co.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.
dinner on the grounds, Fairhope AlabamaSomeday, 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.

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  1. Another great piece of writing. I needed a good laugh this morning. The South simple has the best cooks and really know how to do dinner on the grounds. Several years ago, after moving to the PNW and finding a church, my hubby and I were excited to attend our first monthly “pot luck”. Of course, I took several dishes and we were expecting just what you described. Well…… as the pastor was prepared to say the blessing, my hubby whispered to me “where is the food”; “is there more in the kitchen”? Hmmm, no. At least two women asked me why I brought so much food. My reply: “That’s the way we do in the South”. I have used that reply a zillion times in so many situations. Bless their hearts, these folks have no clue.

    1. Now you’ve made me laugh! Bless your heart for carrying on the traditions and doing what you can where you are! Thanks for reading!

  2. Amen and Hallelujah to this!!!! The rules I was raised on consisted of: 1) no store-bought pies or pies with store-bought crust (my own momma was the pie maker of our family), 2) my great-auntie always sampled desserts before dinner. Needless to say, my other great-great aunt’s peanut butter pie with greasy, store-bought crust was not invited back; 3) my parents required me to try one small spoon-full of everything unless it had made a previous appearance. After all, isn’t that how you figure out who the good cooks are? And, 4) if you cannot cook and do it well, stick to bringing ice, paper goods, and drinks, and then make sure you show up to help clean up since you did not cook anything.

    1. That is hilarious! Now that’s a tough crowd to cook with! I would have to fall out crying and confess to a store-bought pie crust or two, so maybe I’d stick with deviled eggs. Or maybe ice . . . ???
      Thanks for reading!

  3. Another great piece! You have already read my experiences with this. It has been too long. The main improvement I see here is that this “dinner on the ground” appears to be inside in the fellowship hall where there is air-conditioning.

    I love that you made your kids wash the casseroles!

    1. Air conditioning is truly the biggest gift God gave to the South, but then again, dinner on the grounds outside on a spring or autumn day is truly heaven-sent!

  4. Loaves and fishes and masking tape on the bottom of casserole dishes – I loved it all!! But to be honest, I think I like the phrase “First, you make a roux.” better than “First, you get your gun.” 😉

    1. Ahhh . . . but down here, some mighty tasty things come from getting your gun. (But I insist it has to be an overpopulated mean hunted thing. Nothing cute or rare).

  5. One of your best posts ever. I love it. We have lost that wonderful idea of dinner on the grounds or potluck. Some of my favorite memories are of those dinner on the grounds. I grew up in a very rural area and as a child attended a very small Methodist church where the preacher was only there on the 2nd and 4th Sunday:)

    I would even go a step further and say we need to get back to not bringing everything in a foil or plastic container! I love to see all the old dishes the ladies brought things in, and yes, the tape on the bottom with your name on it.

    My mom, who is 80 and her lady friends can whip up a complete set of goodies for anything that happens. I feel like sometimes my generation has dropped the ball with that.

    1. We’re a generation of drive-thru dinners and gift card gifts. How could we possibly know how to actually cook?
      Thanks for reading, and I’m so happy you liked it.

  6. That last paragraph literally made me laugh out loud… “St. Peter’s Bowl!” Girl, I sure hope you and I are eating from the same table up there! 🙂 Great post! Nothing like southern dinners of the grounds, which usually take place at any given church in the fall, for Homecomings! You left out one thing, when you’ve been around long enough in a church, you know who the good cooks are and what they usually bring their food in… especially their desserts. LOL! ~Rhonda

    1. Ha! Isn’t that the truth! But that’s the rut our church has been in for a while — assigning people dishes, so we really don’t know who shines with their specialty dishes.

      I’m both hopeful and fearful people in my own church will see this!

      Yikes! – And if I get there first, I’ll save you a seat at St. Peter’s table!

  7. Made me laugh and made me hungry. Also brought back sweet memories of watching my Mother pack a huge basket with several different bowls and platters of food. Dinner on the ground was a much anticipated and enjoyable event for everyone.

    1. And the baskets! Yes! Everyone carried their food to the church in beautiful old picnic hampers. No plastic Wal-Mart bags for them! Glad you liked it.

  8. Loved it. So happy we are on the fast track to returning to the south & making our forever home in Southern Alabama. Hope to see you around soon.

  9. There’s a waiting list to get into South Alabama. Hope you’re on it!
    (We’ll be waiting to see what you cook) – hahaha!

  10. You brought back a memory or three of all day sings and dinner on the grounds at one of my favorite places in Missouri, Bennett Spring. The little church is still there. Even though Bennett is now a state park with amazing trout fishing, it will always be, at least for me, and six generations of my family, the place of all day sings and dinner on the grounds.

    These are the kinds of meals we also do for funerals and family reunions.

    Yes, adhesive tape labels on the bottoms of casserole dishes.

    Thanks so much for this post! I am smiling.

  11. And that blue cornflower corelle casserole dish has seen may a pot luck I am sure! I hear that some places allow 50 year olds to be considered senior citizens. Our city senior center does! They just want the dues sooner I guess.

  12. Amen, Sugah! I belong to a loooong line of Dinner on the Ground true believers. There is something so comforting in breaking bread together. Your posts always do my heart good. Thank you.

  13. Being from the southern tip of the Midwest, I have never been to a Dinner on the Grounds, but have been to many a church potluck, and, oh, how I love a potluck, not just for the delicious food but for the sweet fellowship. Thanks for a great post!

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