Dinner on the Grounds, ca. 1913 with Koval Distillery

For the next whiskey dinner with the Big Jones Bourbon Society, we’ve tapped our neighbors at Koval Distillery, makers of an impressive portfolio of artisinal spirits and cordials. And, since the dinner finds us in those long, lazy days of August during the hottest summer I can ever remember, we’re tapping an oft-forgotten but beloved Southern tradition: dinner on the grounds. Straight up I have to admit we’re not actually having dinner on the grounds; what we’re doing here is a tribute to that tradition and the dishes that would more than likely be on display at these occasions.

For you non-southerners, dinner on the grounds may sound like a foreign concept so a little background is in order. The term and definition would most often be used in rural or small-town settings, and refer to the potluck dinners that would be served after church on Sunday, on holidays, or during revival weekends. A little more literally we would say dinner on the church grounds. These were significant social affairs and you could count on each household showing up with their best dish for the buffet that served everyone from the pastor to the town mayor and everybody in between. These were meals everyone looked forward to because the eating was some of the best to be had.

A word about the word dinner: Only for the last two generations, with widely available air conditioning and a more service oriented economy has dinner been something Americans have in the evening. For most of our agrarian past, the big meal – dinner – was eaten early in the day, around when we have lunch now, and supper was a lighter, simpler meal eaten in the evening only so much as to not go to bed hungry. So, dinner on the grounds would have come after Sunday service, around noon or so and would have been the big meal of the day, indeed the big meal of the weekend.

The receipts for this dinner all start in one of my favorite cookbooks, Dishes and Beverages of the Old South by Martha McCulloch-Williams, first published in 1913. Some are adapted to our modern tastes and ingredients but minimally so. One thing I’ve been looking forward to serving for a long time is cold fried chicken. Not cold as in refrigerated, but cold as in cooked at home, walked to church in a picnic basket, held through the services and put up in potluck afterward. In other words, served at ambient temperature like you’d eat it on a picnic. If you’ve never had cold fried chicken picnic style, the revelation is as meaningful as that first taste of cold pizza. We’ll be happy to introduce you.

Unlike previous whiskey dinners and also likely future ones, this dinner will be served as a succession of dishes presented family style, informally and without coursing. Hopefully we can soak up as much of the spirit of a potluck buffet as we can while providing table service. This is a grazing dinner, not a formally coursed affair.

As is tradition, the price for the dinner is $50 per person including tax and gratuity.

Dinner on the Grounds, ca. 1913 with Koval Distillery

Wednesday, August 22 2012

6:00 reception 7:00 dinner

A Special Pimiento Cheese with Heirloom Sheepnose Pimientos and Otter Creek Summer Cheddar

Salt-rising Bread

Sliced Boiled Calf Tongue

Watermelon Pickles

New Crop Sweet Potato Biscuits

Green Tomato Preserves

Cold Fried Chicken

Cold Slaw with cabbage and summer apples

Dressed Sweet Potato Greens

Angel Food Cake

Peaches with Wine Jelly

$50 per person including tax and gratuity