Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving & the tale of Pickle Eyeballs and the Church Basement Ladies

Happy Thanksgiving all!

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.

Three ingredients,

Cream Cheese
Buddig meat

3 steps...
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.


  1. Great post. I grew up in those church basement pot luck events. Every Sunday night actually. You've described it perfectly. Where do you think I got that Sloppy Joe's for 60 recipe that I posted a couple of months ago. As a kid I would spend time in the kitchen watching all of the commotion of getting the pot luck dishes ready to arrange on the tables, all of the church ladies comments and conversations while uncovering the dishes and getting them arranged for the buffet line, then of course the post-motrum while cleaning up. Always lots of pies and casseroles and just plain great food. Then we'd all sit at those long banquet tables and eat, visit and just enjoy fabulous fellowship. Good solid people enjoying fellowship. Great memories and thanks for this post on Thanksgiving Morning.

  2. I lived for the dessert table.. 20 Dutch descended women all baking and bringing their best? Heaven on Earth! I have about 8 or so church cook books- good solid Midwest food recipes..

  3. What a great post, Dave :) Such a heartfelt and touching tale...although I'm not sure these look too tasty to me, but I'd try 'em at least once, lol...Have a blessed day :D ...and eat lots of good food.

  4. Great heartwarming post Dave. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! :-)

  5. I'm not a fan of pickles, but maybe I'd like them when they are all wrapped up in cream cheese and meat. Happy Thanksgiving, Dave!!

  6. I would actually try these one day. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family !

  7. Beautiful story....and I soooooooo would eat that. I love pickles, cheese and a strange affection for buddig meat that has lasted since childhood! Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. I loved your story. My Dad was a pastor, so I was surrounded by these ladies and now am one myself! ANd yes, a COMPETITIVE bunch, to say the least. I have made these little appetizers for years and they are addicting!

    I'll always think of you when I make them now.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  9. boy! just when you think you have seen it all you come out with these - I might take a nibble and let the others clear the plate - HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

  10. Wonderful post! I remember those potluck dinners in the upper room of the Methodist church of my childhood with similar memories. What gracious ladies, what wonderful food. We make those meat-pickle-cream cheese things, too, but we keep them whole and add a bit of the pickle juice to the cream cheese before spreading it on the meat and rolling it up around the pickle. You are right, there are never any left on the plate. Happy Thanksgiving!

  11. Great post! You crack me up. Happy Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

  12. I never thought of these, I know that a mild pepper wrapped in a piece of cream cheese covered ham or turkey is good, but I never thought of a sweet pickle, or actually wrapping the central item with cream cheese for the "eye" effect. It's one I'll have to try

  13. Loved this post, Dave! I don't know about the Buddig meat though; I do remember what it tastes like!
    Gotta love church dinners- we have one coming up in 3 weeks so, yes, I've got to plan what to take!

  14. Ms. Goofy just said the pumpkin pie has too many cloves in it. The Raiders just lost. the gravy is soo good. I may just lay down on the couch and take a nap.

  15. I so enjoyed reading this. I loved church potlucks as a kid and still love em' to this day. At the last one, I took home a clean plate too. I had to laugh when one of the ladies told me that if her dish doesn't get touched she just leaves it there and pretends that she didn't know who brought it. My husband and I got stuck sitting at the senior citizens table last potluck and it was fun to watch the older ladies raising their eyebrows at certain dishes and whispering to one another.

    I've made pickles this way before...only I used dill and ham. They are yummy!

  16. What a great story! I hope you had an excellent Thanksgiving filled with empty plates (although a few leftovers are always nice). Those pickle wraps look very intriguing. I love a good, salty pickle.

  17. I miss church pot lucks... Went religiously as a kid. I need to find a good one again.
    Outdoor cooking fun

  18. Church pot lucks sure do bring back wonderful memories for me!! Wonderful story by the way...... Happy holidays......


  19. Great story and LMAO over eating of live chicken heads....what, you guys didn't handle snakes ;)

  20. Beautiful post! Happy thanksgiving to you and your loved ones.

  21. HA, one of our dear friends brings these every year for our Superbowl party, I could eat them all!

  22. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving - the turkey sure looked inviting!

  23. Dave, what a great, great story. Loved every single word of it. Have never ever seen Buddig meat, but dare I presume that a sliced deli turkey or ham would suffice?