The covered dish dinner

Published 5:55 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2019

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Few things bind the generations like food. Family dinners can be among our fondest memories, and for those of us who grew up in small communities such as this once was, covered dish dinners are as much a part of the legacy as the family gathering.

I had the high honor last Wednesday to attend Main Street Baptist Church’s annual covered dish dinner, held each year at the end of February, Black History Month. The dinner is an opportunity for the Main Street community to celebrate its heritage through food and, as I saw last week, to pass on that heritage to a younger generation.

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Having grown up in the country and having savored the same flavors as the Main Street Baptist members of my generation I went for the food. I came away with much more, however, for here was a church congregation not only determined to celebrate a bit of culinary history, but enjoying each other’s company while doing so.

First, the food: It was largely the same food you would find at any country gathering. Oh, there were some delicious pigs’ feet and collards, but beyond that the food was the same you would find wherever country folks gather today as well as yesterday. And there was plenty of it. Incredible deviled eggs, fried chicken, potato salad, tantalizingly good succotash and mouth-watering desserts. Somebody had even made deviled crabs.

And there was the memory of other foods as well. I was talking with one Main Street member about growing up on such fare, and told her one of my parents’ favorite dishes was always hog brains scrambled with eggs. I was OK with the dish, though not crazy about it. What I never did enjoy, I told her, was muskrat (my father was a local trapper of some renown). She smiled and said that, to the contrary, she loved muskrat.

And so the conversations went.

But food was basically just the glue that binds. This was a gathering of people who have shared a lifetime of church and community. I saw people I hadn’t seen in quite some time and was reminded of connections dating back decades.

In fact, I was here in 1974 when that congregation was known as Hill Street Baptist Church, and walked with them, camera in hand, as they were led by the late Rev. S.R. Williams to their new home on West Main Street, where they later became Main Street Baptist Church.

And the dinner itself was a familiar setting to me. I grew up in the arms of the Benn’s Church community. When I was quite small, our mothers and grandmothers regularly held dinners to raise money against the church debt, which back then was substantial. At other times, a covered dish meal was held to celebrate the arrival of a new pastor or some other important event in the life of the church.

Tables filled the small social hall of that era, and women, including my mother, labored in a tiny adjacent kitchen to bring together the elements of whatever was to be eaten.

Main Street’s dinner last week was similar, and upholds one of the most important and enduring traditions in small town and rural life. I applaud them for the effort, and my sincere thanks for welcoming an old country boy who still loves that wonderful, basic home cooking.