Last Sunday, we were invited to an African-American church to hear a new friend speak as they celebrated Black History Month. The whole experience was so positive... from the warm reception we received to the amazing singing... the earnest message to the Soul Food Feast we enjoyed afterward... All were completely delightful standing alone and made all the more wonderful for the glimpse it offered into a culture different from (and somehow the same as)ours.
Now, I could write whole blog entries about many aspects of the service, but as this is a food blog I'll write a smidge on the soul food meal.
Allow me to be your eyes and ears (or maybe nose and tongue, in this case). It was a small church and it was quite tight in the Social Hall. We snaked in a line to the back of the room where the food serving tables were set up. We took our plastic plates and cutlery and with mouths watering pretended to patiently wait our turn. First there was a table of desserts, already dished out on their own plates. There was angel food cake, pound cake, and I sampled my first ever sweet potato pie. Next we dished out from bowls of lettuce salad and potato salad, then rolls and cornbread.
Before we move on to the hot food, I'm reminded of a time when Oprah mentioned on her show that black people put paprika on their potato salad. Paprika-wielding white ladies were indignant and bombarded the talk show host with bowls of their own potato salads garnished with the spice. All this to say, the potato salad on Sunday was, in fact, topped with paprika.
The biggest difference I saw between my friend's church meal and my church's meals was in the handling of the hot food. At our potlucks, everyone helps themselves from the dishes, but some of the women of this church donned aprons, hairnets and plastic gloves to serve us from big chafing dishes of yams, macaroni and cheese, green beans cooked with potatoes, fried chicken, turkey and dressing.
We balanced dinner plates, dessert plates and silverware, fussed over the children's food-carrying techniques and tried to make ourselves skinny enough to sqeeze through the aisles to empty seats. We sat at folding chairs at long tables, where styrofoam cups of fruit punch waited to wash down the feast. The next 45 minutes were all about delicious food, warm company and friendly conversation. While I certainly felt like a welcome guest peeking into a New and Wonderful church/food/ethnic culture, ultimately I decided that it wasn't so different from my Familiar and Wonderful church/food/ethnic culture.
I'm glad for my old friend Anne, and my new friend Lawrence, who reached out to Me and Mine and welcomed us into Theirs for the day.
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