Thursday, November 26, 2009
Happy Thanksgiving & the tale of Pickle Eyeballs and the Church Basement Ladies
And now, as promised, the tale of the pickled eyeball and the church basement ladies...
I promise there is food content coming, but first, I want to say a thank you to the ladies that started me on my foodie journey, the church basement ladies of Liberty Baptist Church in Pekin, Illinois. I have a long and sad story that I will not be telling today. But the short version of that story (the part you need to know to appreciate the happier parts) is that when I was a freshman in high school, my father got very sick. He spent several months at a hospital 150 miles from me. My mother stayed by his side most of that time. My older brother and I were asked to take care of ourselves while doctors do what they do.
A sad enough time, but in a way, very exciting. I was asked to grow before my time. But, 2 high school age kids could not have managed without a support system in place. We had friends and some family that looked in on us often. Not the least of which was my church family. Activities kept me busy, and church pot-luck dinners kept me fed beyond blue box max and cheese.
Church pot-luck dinners were amazing things. The ladies of the church would try to out do each other. Very competitive. Simple casseroles were followed by plates of imaginative meat dishes, followed by incredible desserts. Some of the best eating of my life happened in that basement. I still recall that miracle Sunday when the very first green bean casserole with French's fired onions appeared on the table (I am old).
Like I said, the ladies were very competitive. On pot-luck day, there were a handful of "church basement ladies" who warmed all the dishes during service so that when the singing, praying and eating the heads of live roosters was finished, the congregation was fed hot items. It was a difficult task, and there were a small select few members of the youth group that helped set up and do the beck and call of the ladies. I was one of those youth. I also got to be a part of the clean up. Which gave me a chance to be a bug on the wall, as these ladies would critic the finished meal. I listened to the ladies discuss the best (and more often, they discussed the worst) of the meal. They knew which church members were taking home empty plates (a huge honor), and which dishes were barely touched.
Not all comments were... Christian. Like I said, very competitive.
Which brings me to the ladies that started me on my journey...
One Sunday afternoon, the ladies challenged me to bring a covered dish for the next potluck. During the Witty banter that followed, I not only vowed to bring a covered dish, but by the end of the day, I would be taking that dish home empty. Remember, due to the volume of foods served, for one dish to be emptied, it would need to be an exceptional item.
This recipe came from a friend's mother who assured me that no one could resist these.
wrap a pickle with a bit of cream cheese
wrap that with a few slices of buddig meat
cut into slices
And sure enough, when these were made, when they were presented at the pot-luck, the plate was empty at the end of the day. Whatever small measure of success I may have had since then as a cook or host, I will never be as thrilled as when i was announced by the church basement ladies to have an empty dish to take home! These ladies gave me the first and best encouragement I ever received regarding foodie matters.
So, to those unsung heroines of the basement, those ladies that kept the social wheels of the church greased... To those wonderful ladies that went out of their way to befriend a sad child, dealing with issues beyond his years, the ladies who also worried about his family...
And to the ladies that encouraged me after my first, albeit simple, culinary success...
Today I am thankful...
Thanksgiving has a complicated origin in the United States. Only occasionally were there presidential proclamations of a national day of thanks prior to the American Civil War. In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving day. Since that day, Thanksgiving has been observed annually. Likewise, only a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, in 1941, Thanksgiving became a federal holiday. It is not a coincidence that this most "family" centric of all our holidays has it's origins when we were asking our best and bravest to sacrifice to the fullest measure of devotion. Enjoy your day with your family, make all your friends welcome in your home, and consider for a moment (dare I be politically incorect and ask you to pray for) the people in harm's way who earn our thanks every day.