Cooking for the home folks

May 16, 2013

Dinner here. Sunday. Y'all come.

Dinner here. Sunday. Y’all come.

You may have perhaps noticed a dearth of posts of late. I’ve been in a blue funk all week, in large part due to a tragedy suffered by a dear friend, who lost her 20-month-old granddaughter in a house fire on Saturday. After a funeral yesterday, there’s a sad road trip today to Central Pennsylvania to lay the little angel to rest in the family plot where her ancestors can watch over her.

Which put me in mind of my own upcoming road trip to visit the family church, and the graves of my parents, this weekend. It’s Memorial Day.

Not Memorial Day the holiday created to honor the war dead across the centuries; Memorial Day to honor the ancestors who built the church in which I grew up, which is always the third Sunday in May, which was noteworthy when I was a kid because there was no Sunday School so I got to sleep late, and there was Dinner on the Ground.

(N.B. I’ve never been sure if it’s “dinner on the ground,” or “dinner on the grounds,” as in, the property. If anyone knows, please enlighten me.)

It was never, literally, on the “ground.” It was originally on big folding tables, augmented by sheets of plywood on sawhorses, out back of the church, in the shade of the trees, long tables stretching the width of the church, groaning under the weight of casseroles and fresh vegetables and ham and fried chicken and homemade desserts and plates after plates of sliced tomatoes and deviled eggs and every other delectable thing you can even begin to imagine. The old folks and the women would generally eat inside, in the fellowship hall. The men would generally eat on the tailgates of pickup trucks. Us kids would betake ourselves to the cemetery, where tombstones would serve as both seat and table.

I always went for Mrs. Audrey Farrar’s baked beans with hamburger in them, and Mrs. Ruth Milliken’s pecan pie. (That woman made a pecan pie that would charm birds out of trees; I have never had a better one, anywhere, any time. Though the Little Rock Club comes close.) All else was optional, though I did always opt for the deviled eggs that had paprika on top, as opposed to the olive slice. In those days, I didn’t like olives. I was a kinda dumb kid about some things.

Now, there’s a big new Fellowship Hall, and we can all eat indoors, in air-conditioned comfort, sans flies and ants. Progress is a Grand Thing.

So. We’re going home for Memorial Day this Sunday. Child A and I (if she gets over her attack of shingles, which are giving her fits) will leave East Arkansas early Sunday morning, to get there in plenty of time for the 11 a.m. service. We’ll be met by Children B and C, and Amazing Grandchildren 1 through 3, who’ll drive down from Nashville, where Child B and AG 2 will have gone the day before. We’ll go to church, we’ll eat dinner, we’ll see everyone, and we’ll head home.

Time was, I could gather up the children, head up there, and not worry about cooking, as my Mama would handle that for us. However, Mama is not there to do the cooking any more. My stepmother may well go, and if she does, she’ll cook, but as the resident adult in the Atchison clan, cooking falls to me.

OK. Let’s look at the logistics of this. I need to go from Hot Springs to East Arkansas, a three-hour drive, on Saturday, so Child A and I can go to Camden, another 3-hour drive on Sunday, and get there in time to visit and put the food in the kitchen before the 11 a.m. service. That means I need to cook, well, tomorrow, or at the latest, Saturday morning. And it has to be something that will hold for 48 hours, and travel.


Now, bear this in mind. At a basic pot luck, one brings one dish. This has never been the case for Memorial Day. It’s expected that lots of people will come from off somewhere back to the “home place,” if you will, for the day, and for many of them, it won’t be practical to bring dinner. (N.B. 2: It’s in the middle of the day. But it’s dinner. Deal with it, those of you who are not Southerners and used to the usage.) Some will pick up buckets of chicken or trays of barbecue, or bring cups and plates and napkins, or chips, and all such.

I feel relatively certain you could see the movement of earth in the adjoining cemetery that  would be my mother turning over in her grave if I showed up with a bucket of chicken and a couple of plastic containers of store-bought salads. She would be ashamed, and so would I.

So, while I’ve been in my blue funk this week, a piece of my mind has been pondering on what I’ll make to take to Memorial Day. And I’ve about settled on my menu.

I have thawing at this moment a five-pound Boston butt pork roast, which before the night’s out I’m going to coat in Who Dat’s Cajun seasoning and stash in the fridge to marinate overnight. I’ll roast it tomorrow, basting it periodically with Tony Chachere’s Cajun marinade. Cajun roast pork. That can be stashed in an aluminum tray and warmed in the oven at church Sunday morning.

I’m going to make baked beans. I make good ones, and though they start with the canned variety, they’re not recognizable as canned when I get through with ’em. And I can make a gracious plenty, and they’ll hold for the trip up there without refrigeration.

And I’m going to make potato salad, German potato salad, so I don’t have to worry about food-poisoning anyone with mayo that’s set out way too long, and that will hold just fine for 48 hours and travel well, too.

Regretfully, I’m not going to make deviled eggs. I have an overabundance of eggs, and I’d love to do that, but I don’t have one of those handy-dandy Tupperware egg-takers (come to think of it, I don’t even think I have a deviled egg serving platter!), and there’s just no way to transport those slippery little buggers. Plus, the mayo thing. Plus, the 48 hour thing.

As much as I’d like to make my Mama’s coconut cake, that requires too much room in the fridge. I think I’ll make the triple chocolate Bundt cake that everyone seems to love except me, and that’s OK, because there’ll be lots of other desserts there I can eat.

And I’m going to pack it all up in Mama’s old picnic basket, and off to church we’ll go. And if you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em show up, we’ll see you there. (Doesn’t matter if it’s not your church; they’ve always been great at welcoming, and feeding, anyone who shows up.)



One Response to “Cooking for the home folks”

  1. Ellen Ellis Says:

    It all sounds soooo familiar. Good times.

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