The Thing About Sunday Dinner In The South
Imagine a porch filled with rocking chairs and people sitting in those rockers with dogs laying at the feet of those around them, screened doors pulled open and slamming shut as kids dash out to play tag with one another, glasses with perspired edges filled with ice cold sweet tea, good smells coming from the kitchen, siblings pulling out card tables to set up extra seating because there’s not enough room at the family dining table and mom swatting at dad’s hand to stop eating all the deviled eggs before the pastor arrives. It’s almost time for Sunday dinner.
We’ve done over 40 episodes now of the Steel Magnolias Podcast and this topic is our number one downloaded episode. So there must be something intriguing about Sunday dinner in the south!
You may be thinking that this meal takes place in the evening since it is called dinner but it’s actually the midday meal. It’s the main meal, meaning the most hearty, for us southerners and yes we call a Sunday lunch, dinner. Sunday supper would be the evening meal. Now that we have the terminology cleared up, let’s get back to Sunday dinner.
Sunday dinner takes place between noon and 4 pm, the later the start the longer the pastor must have preached! I’m serious! Faith is a huge part of the culture of the south and impacts much of the weekly activities.
As time goes on, many grown children move away from their parents and immediate family and live far enough away that they aren’t able to come over for this sacred Sunday meal. Sunday dinner now might look more like a chosen family, a group of those you’re doing life within your community, but not necessarily a true-blood family gathering.
The beauty of eating together on a Sunday is that typically there are fewer demands on the day than other days of the week. The allowance for a little chat time while your food digests, or taking in a piece of pie and coffee, are oftentimes the moments of connection that can be the most meaningful in getting to know others. Somehow our guard is let down a little at mealtime. No matter who you’re with, there is a bond that happens when you break bread with others. To take full advantage of that experience, don’t rush it. Europeans understand this far better than us Americans.
So, what’s for dinner?
For the main entrée, you’re likely to see fried chicken, roast, chicken and dumplings, ham, chicken pot pie, meatloaf or brisket. The main dish may be selected simply based on how much time the host is going to have to prepare in advance or between church and dinnertime. Crockpots are very helpful for situations like this!
Typically you will see at least one potato dish as a side, if not a couple. Examples include mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, potatoes cooked with the roast, potato salad, or sweet potato casserole. Depending on the season of the year you could see corn, tomatoes, and/or okra, in the summer. In the fall and winter, you could enjoy squash casserole and collard greens. Thankfully, deviled eggs are likely to be on the table year round!
For dessert expect pie! Chess pie, pecan pie, buttermilk pie or in the thick of summer possibly a cobbler, such as peach or blackberry are all likely to show up at Sunday dinner. I am not ashamed to say that I am a regular at using already-prepared (store-bought) piecrusts. Making a piecrust from scratch is a wonderful touch but that definitely requires Saturday preparation. This is a place of progress that I’m happy to embrace!
Be prepared for someone to say grace before the meal. The head of the household usually shares a simple blessing or prayer of thanksgiving over the food.
What a great time this is to expose the family to social skills and table etiquette. Hopefully, you’re blessed to be around family and friends that represent multiple generations. It’s so good to stretch ourselves to make conversation with those that are much younger and older than us!There’s a great book called Sunday Dinner in the South – Recipes to Keep Them Coming Back for More by Tammy Algood that tells stories of southern pastors who have enjoyed the hospitality of parishioners for generations. Check it out if this is a topic that intrigues you or you love the art of southern storytelling.
One final note that might be obvious to you but is worth repeating…if you are invited over for Sunday dinner, please ask your host what you can bring, and if she says oh nothing honey’ then you should still bring something. Bring an appetizer like pimiento cheese with crackers, a dessert like strawberry pretzel salad or if you prefer not to cook, then bring a gift for the host to enjoy in her own time like a candle or bottle of wine.
Here’s to your next Sunday dinner, enjoy y’all!
Laura Beth Peters, one-half of the popular southern culture podcast, Steel Magnolias lives near Nashville, Tennesse. Each week on the Steel Magnolias podcast she and her sister cover Southern topics including cooking, events, traditions, homemaking, history, music, and more.
Grab a seat, a glass of sweet ice tea and listen in as Laura Beth and her sister, Lainie Stubblefield discuss the popularity of football in the south, southern expressions and much more.