Last week I was asked to be the speaker for a Ladies' Spring Gala at a church in Cullman County. I chose the theme "Come to the Table" because it is a subject dear to my heart, and I believe there are many Bible passages to support the practice and benefit of sitting at the table and enjoying meals with friends, neighbors, family, and people we want to know better. That night I stopped speaking after about 35 minutes, but I could have gone on MUCH longer. With that in mind, I've decided to repeat some of what I said and expand on it with recipes and scripture passages in a six-part series beginning today.
Recently I read a very disturbing (to me) article that said the sale of dining room tables has dropped dramatically. Along with that, fewer plates, serving dishes, and cutlery pieces are being sold. The reasons are sadly obvious. We're buying ready-to-eat food in throwaway tubs and trays. We're eating lots of finger foods that need no forks, and we're eating at the computer, while riding in the car, or on a tray in front of the television. Family meals shared around a table -- with no cellphones in sight -- are disappearing. Fewer meals are being cooked at home. In fact, I've heard real estate agents remark that kitchens are becoming less and less important to potential homebuyers. That is almost unimaginable to me. Planning my kitchen has been a huge factor in the houses we've built.
I was so blessed to grow up in the 1950's. For a few of those years, we lived next door to my maternal grandparents and within a 10-minute drive of my paternal grandmother. Meals at their tables were highlights of my life!
My Grandmother Rose and my Big Mama Collier probably had two of the tiniest kitchens I've ever seen. Yet they were able to produce bountiful lunches and suppers for their eager guests. Grandmother Rose made the world's BEST cornbread dressing, and Big Mama made amazing chess pies. Oh, for a chance to watch them at work once again and sit at their tables!
(I wish I had a photo of us gathered at the table, but this will have to suffice. Here I am posing with my mother in the front yard of my Big Mama's house in Athens. I'm sure we'd just finished a great meal or at least a piece of her chess pie).
Another food-filled childhood memory was walking in the door after church on Sunday and smelling the roast that was ready to come out of the oven. Momma would put it in, along with potatoes, carrots, and onions, before we left for Sunday School. Then, when we got back, all we had to do was heat up some peas, brown the rolls, put the ice in the glasses, and it was time to eat. Oh my goodness!!
My mother LOVED to have people over for meals. She often planned those meals by first choosing an entree, then the dessert, with side dishes as more of an afterthought. She wanted her guests to leave with a "sweet taste in their mouths." She was also very fond of casseroles and congealed salads. I am a casserole lover because of her.
I remember those childhood meals as being delicious but also filled with great conversation and laughter. We learned a lot during those hours around the table, maybe not deliberately but more through observation and osmosis. There were no "devices" distracting us, and it seemed that we had endless time to enjoy the food and each other. Yes, I do realize how blessed I was to live in that idyllic time.
Studies show that children who eat with their parents 5 or more times a week have less trouble with drugs and alcohol, do better in school, and say they have closer relationships with their parents than those who eat fewer times with their parents. We didn't know about such "studies" when I was a child. It's just what we did and the way we lived.
Jesus recognized the value and the teaching opportunities of gathering around the table and sharing meals. There are MANY examples, but I'll be using passages from the Book of Luke in this series of posts.
In Luke 7, Jesus was dining with Simon, the Pharisee. A woman living a sinful life came in and started crying at His feet, wiping her tears with her hair and pouring perfume on His feet. When Simon criticized, Jesus used it as a teaching moment.
Luke 7:36-50 --
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
To represent this period of my life, here is my mother's Orange Congealed Salad recipe. It's unlike any I've ever seen in other places. Enjoy!
ORANGE CONGEALED SALAD
2 small packages of orange jello or 1 each of lemon and orange
1 1/2 c. hot water
1 1/2 c. cold water
1 small can of well-drained crushed pineapple (reserve juice)
3 bananas, chopped
1 c. miniature marshmallows
1/2 c. sugar
2 T. flour
1 well-beaten egg
Whipped cream or Cool Whip
Mild grated cheese
Mix hot water and jello, then add cold water. Let cool. Add drained pineapple, bananas, and marshmallows to jello. Refrigerate until congealed. In a medium-size saucepan, mix reserved pineapple juice, 1/2 c. sugar, 2 T. flour, and 1 well-beaten egg. Cook until thick, then let cool. When cool, spread mixture over jello, then spread whipped cream or Cool Whip over cooked mixture. Spread generously with mild grated cheese, then refrigerate until serving time.