Church Basement Suppers

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kaszeta
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2014/02/04 11:25:21 (permalink)

Church Basement Suppers

One of the big traditions up here in rural New England is the Community Supper.  Almost every weekend in late winter, harvest, and game season, there are a wide variety of community breakfasts and dinners, sponsored by a wide variety of local organization, churches, fire departments, and clubs, all of which provide a good way to meet a good cross-section of local society, as well as have a good hearty meal. While there are many such local dinners, however, quality really can run the gamut from “cheap spaghetti dinner” up to “homemade top-notch feast”. 
 
Around here, the granddaddy of them all is the Hartland (VT) Congregational Church ("The Brick Church", distinguishing it from the white-painted Unitarian church down the road), who throws what's known as the "Hartland Famous Roast Beef Supper".  In an area where most every church this time of year is sponsoring some sort of dinner, with a good number of them having roast beef, it takes a bit of chutzpah to proclaim your particular supper to be “famous”, but they do rise to the challenge and provide one of the area’s better (and most caloric) dinners. But they’ve been doing it since approximately WWII, and doing it well:

 
They run these every winter (and occasionally in the fall), this year running on Saturday evenings from 5 pm til the meat runs out, from January 19th through Feb 22nd.  Like I do at least once every winter, I rounded up a bunch of friends and coworkers, and this year we again descended on the Hartland Community Church.   The lines, however, start early.  It's not unusual for the line to start forming at 3pm, and if you aren't already in line by 4pm, you might not make the first seating (the basement holds about 80 people at a time, and after the first round gets seated, it's often 45 minutes until the next table is seated).  The deal is $14/person ($7 for children, unless they are really young, in which case they get comped) gets you a seat at the table all-you-can eat roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy by the pitcher, green beans, rolls, cole slaw, and pickles,all served family style.  And a slice of pie (16 varieties this time), although those are one per person (as my coworker Jed described it, "It's $14/slice for pie, but it comes with all you can eat roast beef supper!").

 
The beef is top-quality, they take full rib roasts (you can peek in the kitchen from the driveway behind the church) and slice them thin into giant platters of meat for each table. They tend to opt towards serving the meat on the rarer end of medium-rare, but for those that prefer their meat more well done, the staff will happily serve up a supplemental platter of medium-well or well-done beef on request. Add in some hand-mashed potatoes (no instant stuff here), gravy by the pitcher, some pickles, some green beans, and some of their excellent cole slaw (I usually don’t like cole slaw with raisins, but they do something to it here to make it really shine), you can easily assemble a bountiful feast on a plate.


 
But you have to be very careful to not overdo it too much, since you have to save room for pie. Aside from the vast steaming piles of fresh-sliced roast beef, the other attraction at the Hartland Famous Roast Beef Supper is the selection of pies. I strongly suspect that for the week prior to each Supper, local families are working in overdrive making pies, since one whole corner of the basement is filled with pies tightly packed in little racks:

 
Hartland prides itself on having a good variety of pies, handing out a pie menu after they clear the main course plates. Show up early, and you’ll have more than a dozen different pie varieties to chose from (conversely, show up late and you’ll only have two or three, I think the pies dictate when they’ve sold out more than anything else). This time, I opted for the cherry pie:

But you never know what else is on the list:

 
So this year was a success, like most other years.  Unfortunately,  I'm concerned that this tradition is dying.  The Hartland Congregational church has a declining membership, and with that, it's been taxing the church members a lot to put the event on.  When I came to the area, they served 10 times a year (9 in the winter, 1 in the fall).  Now, this winter is just 6 suppers in the winter, and fall is touch-n-go.  I've even heard rumors of them canceling the dinners.  So I always round up a serious posse to go each year (this year, we filled two tables).
 
So, what's going on for church basement suppers around your neck of the woods?
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    brisketboy
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 11:36:03 (permalink)
    I see the everpresent garden gnome adding to the festive occasion. We used to have something not unlike this in Norwich Ct but it was a fish fry sponsored my the local volunteer fire departments. Also great food and the proceeds all went to the improvement of the facilities.
     
    #2
    lleechef
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 11:47:57 (permalink)
    Our First United Methodist Church in Rochester, PA put on two huge suppers every year.  We had a congregation of over 1,000 so it was a big production......of course it was open to the public too.  The first one was "Salisbury steak" supper.  It wasn't really Salisbury steak........it was much better.  The ladies used round steak, breaded it, pan-fried it and then braised in brown gravy.  This was served with real mashed potatoes and some veg......probably green beans.  The second one was ham loaf supper which is very popular in PA.  The ham loaves were individual and topped with a brown sugar/ketchup glaze.  This was accompanied by scalloped potatoes and some veg.  Dessert for both was an assortment of homemade pies made by the ladies.  They also had homemade rolls.  Our church had a kitchen that was equipped like a restaurant, dish machine and all.  Those suppers were always excellent and a lot of fun!
    #3
    CCinNJ
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 11:48:51 (permalink)
    Looks like a fun time & the food looks outstanding!

    Streecha in the East Village is becoming very popular...& that's good to see. The ladies take lots of pride & care with the food.

    http://blogs.villagevoice...05/streecha_hidden.php
    #4
    kaszeta
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 12:09:22 (permalink)
    lleechef
    Our First United Methodist Church in Rochester, PA put on two huge suppers every year.  We had a congregation of over 1,000 so it was a big production......of course it was open to the public too.  The first one was "Salisbury steak" supper.  It wasn't really Salisbury steak........it was much better.  The ladies used round steak, breaded it, pan-fried it and then braised in brown gravy.  This was served with real mashed potatoes and some veg......probably green beans.  The second one was ham loaf supper which is very popular in PA.  The ham loaves were individual and topped with a brown sugar/ketchup glaze.  This was accompanied by scalloped potatoes and some veg.  Dessert for both was an assortment of homemade pies made by the ladies.  They also had homemade rolls.  Our church had a kitchen that was equipped like a restaurant, dish machine and all.  Those suppers were always excellent and a lot of fun!

    This sounds divine.
    #5
    kaszeta
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 12:11:09 (permalink)
    brisketboy
    I see the everpresent garden gnome adding to the festive occasion. We used to have something not unlike this in Norwich Ct but it was a fish fry sponsored my the local volunteer fire departments. Also great food and the proceeds all went to the improvement of the facilities.

    Yeah, the victim of our earlier gnomeland prank wanted to come, but she's out of town.  I took some pictures with one of the gnomes to taunt her.
    #6
    lleechef
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 12:18:07 (permalink)
    kaszeta

    lleechef
    Our First United Methodist Church in Rochester, PA put on two huge suppers every year.  We had a congregation of over 1,000 so it was a big production......of course it was open to the public too.  The first one was "Salisbury steak" supper.  It wasn't really Salisbury steak........it was much better.  The ladies used round steak, breaded it, pan-fried it and then braised in brown gravy.  This was served with real mashed potatoes and some veg......probably green beans.  The second one was ham loaf supper which is very popular in PA.  The ham loaves were individual and topped with a brown sugar/ketchup glaze.  This was accompanied by scalloped potatoes and some veg.  Dessert for both was an assortment of homemade pies made by the ladies.  They also had homemade rolls.  Our church had a kitchen that was equipped like a restaurant, dish machine and all.  Those suppers were always excellent and a lot of fun!

    This sounds divine.

    I can tell you one thing.........those ladies sure could cook!!!!  The food at your supper looks excellent!   
    post edited by lleechef - 2014/02/04 12:22:52
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 12:39:23 (permalink)
    lleechef
    I can tell you one thing.........those ladies sure could cook!!!!  The food at your supper looks excellent!   

    It is.  I think it's the finest roast beef dinner I've had under $30.
     
    It's also wonderfully consistent.  I've been going every year since 2003, aside from last year (stupid kidney stone!).  And aside from a modest increase in price ($11 in 2003, up to $14 now), it is otherwise unchanged:
     
    Here's the 2011 edition:

     
    And the 2012 edition:

    post edited by kaszeta - 2014/02/04 12:44:02
    #8
    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 12:51:23 (permalink)
    From the looks of those plates $14 is more than a bargain for AYCE!
    And since the gravy's served in a pitcher I think I'd just fill my coffee cup and take a drink with every forkful.
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    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 12:53:36 (permalink)
    They just had the annual raccoon dinner in Danville, Ohio. For a mere $11 you get a plate of roasted 'coon and all the fixin's.
     
    http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/02/04/raccoon-dinner-a-danville-delight.html
    #10
    pnwchef
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 12:58:25 (permalink)
    I'm feeling a Born Again experience coming on for Sunday morning....Nice way to meet and mingle with your neighbors........
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    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 13:30:23 (permalink)
    Migod! Who wants to meet or mingle with -- gasp -- neighbors? I met a neighbor once. Once was more than enough.
    #12
    Pancho
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 13:32:01 (permalink)
    I used to live in Camden, ME and these events are HUGE at the local churches. You possibly might have seen a Bourdain No Reservations segment where he partook of the beans and all the fixins'. What a fun time...
    http://thesunriseguide.com/the-maine-bean-suppah/
    #13
    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 13:54:51 (permalink)
    Michael Hoffman

    They just had the annual raccoon dinner in Danville, Ohio. For a mere $11 you get a plate of roasted 'coon and all the fixin's.

    http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/02/04/raccoon-dinner-a-danville-delight.html
    I hear the head chef even has a special beverage recommendation!

    #14
    love2bake
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 15:20:55 (permalink)
    What a great tradition!  If any churches around here offered something like that, I'd go, for sure.  I love that they use real tableware, too--not throw away paper and plastic.   And the pies!!    Can you only have one??
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    ChrisOC
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 15:55:15 (permalink)
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 16:50:36 (permalink)
    love2bake
    What a great tradition!  If any churches around here offered something like that, I'd go, for sure.  I love that they use real tableware, too--not throw away paper and plastic.   And the pies!!    Can you only have one??

    Alas, the pies are limited to one slice per person (hence the comment about it being "$14/slice, plus free AYCE roast beef").  And there's more than a little roulette involved, since they usually have 400 slices of pie.  As the earlier seatings consume the pie, the supply dwindles.
     
    Most of the pies are good.  Some are phenomenal.  A few are just phonin' it in.  It's best to get there earlier, and peruse the pie shelves and strategize.  This time, the Vermont Oatmeal Pie was actually where the smart money was.
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    kaszeta
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 16:51:53 (permalink)
    ScreamingChicken
    From the looks of those plates $14 is more than a bargain for AYCE!
    And since the gravy's served in a pitcher I think I'd just fill my coffee cup and take a drink with every forkful.

    I can usually stuff myself crazy-full at this thing.  And let me tell you, they know how to roast some beef!
    #18
    pineyhill
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 17:31:28 (permalink)
    I grew up in a United Methodist Church in Menomonie, WI, the thing I remember were the once a month or every other month Pot Luck Lunches after church service. Everyone brought a dish to pass we had to bring our own plates and utensils.  Good food was always to be had.... Lots of Hot Dishes don't you know!!!   
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    lleechef
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 18:41:18 (permalink)
    We had pot luck suppers at church too.  They were called "covered dish dinners".  The church provided the meat.......roast beef, chicken, pork and everybody brought a "covered dish" which was a vegetable casserole, Jell-O salad, other salad or whatever.  Again, the ladies provided the pies.  There was no charge for these suppers.  The church provided the meat, coffee, tea, plates (real ones), silverware and of course the tables and chairs.  In the spring we had a strawberry shortcake social.  I guess us Methodists liked to get together and eat!!    
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    love2bake
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/04 22:51:37 (permalink)
    Yes--that's what I remember:  church potluck dinners that were free, but it was for the congregation and everyone brought something.  My mom got a bunch of those recipes, too.
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    SeamusD
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/05 11:47:03 (permalink)
    We did potlucks at our Methodist church also, and for the traditional/yearly dinners (spaghetti or RB), those of us in the youth groups would work as servers. That was more fun than just eating at them. Nowadays I mostly just hit the church bbq's whenever I can, Cornell style chicken roasted over an open pit. Fantastic.
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    ScreamingChicken
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/05 12:31:57 (permalink)
    lleechef

    The church provided the meat.......roast beef, chicken, pork and everybody brought a "covered dish" which was a vegetable casserole, Jell-O salad, other salad or whatever.
    Undoubtedly a fair number of those dishes can be found here...
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    lleechef
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/05 12:56:56 (permalink)
    ScreamingChicken

    lleechef

    The church provided the meat.......roast beef, chicken, pork and everybody brought a "covered dish" which was a vegetable casserole, Jell-O salad, other salad or whatever.
    Undoubtedly a fair number of those dishes can be found here...

    Those are hilarious but thank God they never worked their way into our church basement!!!
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    FriedClamFanatic
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/05 18:04:11 (permalink)
    I remember as a kid the famous Strawberry Festival sponsored in part by our church.  Not all you can eat, but great lobster rolls and strawberry shortcake.  Along with fun and games, it was the highlight of early summer.  Those ladies would sit around all night picking at lobster or hucking strawberries that a local grower donated ( I assume).  Once it was gone, it was gone..but if you got there early enough, it was a wonderful delight.
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    love2bake
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/05 19:48:21 (permalink)
    ScreamingChicken

    lleechef

    The church provided the meat.......roast beef, chicken, pork and everybody brought a "covered dish" which was a vegetable casserole, Jell-O salad, other salad or whatever.
    Undoubtedly a fair number of those dishes can be found here...

    Thanks for the giggles!!!
    #26
    billyboy
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/08 01:12:08 (permalink)
    Kaszeta, great write-up and pics, man!  My stiomach is growling just looking at them.  I grew up on a lot of church/firehouse suppers in Central NY.  BBQ chicken dinners from the firehouse behind my grandma's house, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti suppers, roast beef dinners, pierogi & keilbasa dinners and oyster stew suppers at local churchs, etc...  Whenever I go back to visit I check the local newspapers to see if there are any of these happening while I'm there.  Thanks so much for shining a spotlight on some grand Roadfood traditions that don't get much press! 
     
    SeamusD, I sure do miss that Cornell chicken.  I do have a bottle of Brooks' sauce in my cupboard but no grill since I'm on the 24th floor of a high rise.  I've pan seared and then baked my chicken but it just isn't the same as gettting that char from an open flame.
    #27
    ann peeples
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    Re:Church Basement Suppers 2014/02/08 10:52:38 (permalink)
    How I loved those once a month( and 2x per year huge dinners)suppers.I think that's where I cut my roadfood teeth! Dad only entered church for weddings, funerals AND those shared meals!
    #28
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