Southern cooks aren’t known for carefully measuring spices… we just pinch and sprinkle until we hear the hints and whispers of our ancestors – ‘Add another pinch, okay, that’s enough’. Our spirits tell us- even God surely loves Southern cooking…especially Sunday Dinner. For decades now, I’ve been cooking Sunday Dinner- it’s not like weekday lunches or suppers- when the call goes out ‘It’s ready! Come on in while it’s hot! Y’all come eat!‘ No, on Sundays, folks still use the southern term- ‘Dinner’-for the midday meal. I know it’s strange but down here.. lunch is dinner and dinner is called supper. Go figure, it’s just how we talk. This weekly meal is my effort of bringing my family together- whoever is around and will come… with no TV blaring and no phone calls and cellphones down, please. There’s no phone call or talk show that can’t wait until Sunday Dinner is over… in fact, rarely a meal is eaten here at the cottage with any of that background noise. My momma used to say- ‘Cut that TV off, it’s so loud I can’t hear myself think!’
On Sundays, I step up to the fiery kitchen altars and cook. Call it a sacrifice, I call it devotion. Usually, it’s familiar food… I don’t think I have to tell you this…this special meal has it’s roots in my ancestral soil. Southern food is what we long for – all. week. long.
Sometimes it’s as simple as a Chicken Pie with tiny carrot coins and early peas. Lemon dressed Spring Greens, small Cucumbers and Cherry Tomatoes fresh from the vines, a side of cool salad- that’s what I fixed this past Sunday. Other times Sunday Dinner is more involved-
Fried Pork Chops, Gravy, Biscuits, Mashed Potatoes and Squash Casserole, maybe flat Green Beans and sliced Tomatoes. Or if the shrimp is fresh.. Jambalaya and cornbread.
Whether elaborate or plain and simple meals- on Sundays- Dessert always makes it’s way to the table. Maybe a cobbler or fresh berries with shortcake and whipped cream or plain sugared berries with our favorite summer berry topping- a dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkle of brown sugar, especially after a heavy meal.
I could go on and on with this… but I’m getting ahead of myself. While I finish up the cooking- another comes in and pulls out the goblets for Iced Tea and if the table needs a few finishing touches….I appreciate the help. Then perhaps the best ritual of all is the one who settles in his seat- knowing we won’t eat a bite until he says…‘Y’all want me to say the blessing?’ We always say- ‘Yes’ .
That’s the thing about Sunday Dinner- we’re on our best behavior. Okay- we say the blessing at other meals- yet somehow it’s different, more reverent on Sundays. The blessing is said, the dishes are passed- there’s no boarding house reach- quiet requests like-
- ‘Pass the peas, please’
- ‘I think I’ll have another roll…maybe another helping’
- ‘Could you pass the butter?’
- ‘When you can, pass me the salt and pepper.’ ‘
- Thank you, oh, you’re welcome’… words that are so nice to hear.
Far from the bustling crowds, as they say- after a long week…Sunday Dinner calms the soul, truly it does. It wouldn’t be authentic to say that Sunday Dinner here is a high culinary experience unless you haven’t run up on one in a long time…the love of Southern Food is what we all have in common- and that makes for an uncommon experience.
The southern cook has a tendency to be concerned; is the food she’s cooked is up to her usual high standards- she might say…
- ‘That cornbread didn’t turn out as good this time, seems dry’ or
- ‘How in the world did I get these beans so salty…
- hand it here, let me see what I can do with it.’
- Or maybe the dish comes to the table with warnings…
- ‘ Now, y’all watch out- that casserole just came out of the oven and it’s hot as fire’ or
- ‘Now, don’t y’all add a drop of hot sauce to my jambalaya until you taste it- I added cayenne and red pepper flakes! It’s already as hot as the hinges on the devil’s back door!’
As the meal winds down; you have to sit up a bit straighter so your stomach can manage the load you shoveled in, so you can eat just a bite of dessert; yeah, right…. Words that are music to the Sunday cook’s ears are…
- ‘That was soo good…’ ‘
- I enjoyed my dinner’ …
- ‘Let me help you rinse these dishes’ …
- Those words are a surefire way to get a response…
- ‘Wouldn’t you like to take some home with you? Maybe for your lunch tomorrow, keep you from having to cook.
- Go ahead take some of those extra cucumbers home too!’
Sunday Dinner or any Southern meal for that matter, is a table loaded with ancestral foods…it has an effect on folks. They can disagree on everything under the sun- but set ’em down to eat? Something mystical occurs… I can’t explain it, I’m not sure how the alchemy happens… yet I’ve seen it so many times- there’s no denying folks become gentler, easier to get along with… agreeable that’s the word. Gracious, quiet murmurs and kind. Eating our ancestral foods, with common spices and well understood combinations- well now, that is a life altering experience if there ever is one. Hopefully, by God’s grace… I’ll be able to take part in the making of Sunday Dinner until I’m promoted to Glory.
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine.