The tradition of Sunday dinner with guests, thriving in our Mennonite (and larger) community as late as the early 1970s, was an expression of a communal spirit. It was an equally culinary and sacramental Sabbath experience. Now, except among the Plain People, it has been largely done in by individualism, business and restaurants, so says author John L. Ruth in “Remembering Sunday Dinners” in PA Dutch Companion.
The men and boys and some of the other guests lounging in the living room or “parlor” could be made weak in the knees by the promising aroma of roast beef. A metallic knocking signaled that potatoes were being mashed. Sometimes the hostess would put on a fresh apron. One Mennonite woman used to tie her apron strings in the front, making a neat bow before slipping it around to her back.
Then would come the call, followed by the men taking off their coats, and a flurry of choosing among the miscellany of chairs around a table that sometimes stretched room-length. Elbow room could be as minimal as in an airliner.
“Now children, put your hands down.” The long unannounced silence concluded only with the audible intake of breath by the host. “Now just reach and help yourselves,” said the hostess, who often remained standing at the kitchen-end of the table. “I don’t want anybody to go hungry.
As the conversation ebbed (with children, plates cleaned, also staying in place), toothpicks were passed, to the considerable satisfaction of the dentally challenged elderly participants.
“We’ll return thanks,” inaugurated another silent prayer, possibly half as long as the earlier one.
With the clatter of dishes in the kitchen, the male component reconvened in the parlor, sometimes sharing cigars. Conversation could turn to farming, which might lead to a walk outside – the men viewing cattle and fields and the women the garden and flowers.
Note: John L. Ruth, historian, author, teacher, is a prolific writer, well known for his large tome, The Earth is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference.
My Sunday-dinner memory
Excerpt rom Chapter 6, “My Two Mothers” Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl
A mistress of the culinary arts, Mom loved to entertain, thrilled to add leaves to her dining-room table for a dozen or more. Two sets of fine crystal stood in her corner china closet, one with etched-in lines near the lip, the other floral. The goblets and sherbets, along with ivory china with a silver scalloped edging, decorated the feast when Mother invited company. Five or six times a year, she sat at one end of the dining table close to the kitchen so she could serve a formal dinner. Always on Sunday. Usually after church. As a hostess, she wanted everything perfect. Once when I was helping, her fist flew to her mouth when she opened the oven to find the roast already done and the gravy bubbling like crazy on the stove. She probably wanted to swear (she never used curse words), but I sped up to keep the courses moving along, taking her agonized gesture as a scream for help.
After I left home, Mother and Aunt Ruthie continued sharing hospitality, here Aunt Ruthie’s Sunday School class of seniors at Bossler Mennonite Church circling her table.
Farm to Table(s)
Introducing Caran Jantzen’s new book: Grow, intentionally. Cook, passionately, Eat, thoughtfully. Share, generously
Caran Janzen’s memoir, the title words aligned with the four seasons, alighted on my writer radar, when she featured my book, along with other Mennonite memoirists (Canadian authors and at least two from the USA) on her website.
Now it’s my turn to showcase her book. . . .
Homesteading is not for the faint of heart–Caran Jantzen confesses in this honest memoir–although I have felt faint of heart often since homesteading. It is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. Although falling into bed after a long day of outdoor laboring or indoor jam making has its appeal, to do this daily requires more than an acreage and a yearning for the country life. It demands equal parts grit and romance, seeing through both the sweat of my brow and through rose-colored glasses. I am still trying to decide if I have what it takes. . . .
You can find her book here on Amazon!
How have you experienced Sunday dinners?
What menu items stand out on these occasions?
Did you know about either authors featured here, historian John L. Ruth or Caran Jantzen?