In the Bible Belt, Southern women are often called upon to show hospitality to the clergy. (Translation: Lord help us, we’ve got to feed the preacher and his wife.)
Some rural Southern churches still have summer “revivals”—a week of special services led by a visiting evangelist and guest music director. But back in the day, EVERYBODY had them. Revivals sometimes lasted two weeks, with services morning and night. And since the traveling ministers were from out of town and couldn’t be expected to spring for restaurants (assuming your town even had a restaurant), the good sisters of the church got together and made up a dining schedule, taking turns serving lunch and dinner.
With old-time services becoming less common in the South, some of us are out of practice feeding the preacher. Should you be called upon, don’t let it take you by surprise. Mama can show you how it’s done. Here’s her step-by-step guide to preacher feedin’.
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1. Clean like all get-out.
“This is no time to Swiffer,” Mama advises. “You don’t want the preacher’s wife sizing up your housekeeping skills and finding you lacking. That kind of thing gets around. You need to clean like you’re hosting the Junior League. If worst come to worst, you can always call the Merry Maids.”
2. Anticipate the needs of your guests.
“Sometimes, even the most humble preacher will have a touch of vanity,” Mama advises. “Make sure to leave some hairspray in plain view in the powder room. That way, if he gets all animated in the pulpit later on, his coif will stay in place.”
3. Plan your menu.
“This is the easy part,” Mama says. “Serve fried chicken—always. I never saw a preacher who couldn’t eat at least three pieces, and women like it, too. Pick up an extra package of bone-in breasts. You don’t want any of the ladies stuck with a thigh when they really wanted white meat. (In a real pinch, you can always pick up a 32-piece box at Publix. It's even better than Memaw's, and if you serve it on your best platter, nobody will have the gall to ask if you fried it yourself.) Then just make side dishes that go with chicken. You’ll want something from the bean family—green beans, butterbeans, or peas. Make a nice potato salad for some starch—or a sweet potato casserole if you have time. Slice some fresh tomatoes. Baked apples are a nice touch. And deviled eggs, of course. Buy dinner rolls you can just pop in the oven. Have plenty of sweet tea and fresh coffee. For dessert, I recommend a layer cake. Show me a preacher who doesn’t like chocolate cake, and I’ll show you a preacher who just passed away.
4. Set a pretty table.
“You really shouldn’t serve the preacher on paper plates or even your everyday,” Mama says. “Like I said, that kind of thing gets around. When my daughter was a child, she called my fine china ‘the revival dishes’ because I never used anything else to feed the preacher. Use your cut-glass tea pitcher instead of that plastic one that stays in the fridge, and break out the coffee urn if you have one. Cloth napkins, please. And your good silver will look so nice against Grandmamma Bouderaux’s damask tablecloth. Cut some flowers from your garden and float them in a crystal bowl on the table—something everybody can see over because—let’s face it—you’re gonna be dealing with some serious talkers.”
5. Shout hallelujah when it’s over.
"I don't think that one needs any amplification," Mama says.
Every Mama knows there are some foods that only Southerners eat. So if Brother Harlan just moved here from Connecticut, you might want to think twice before putting these items on your preacher menu:
FYI, northern transplants probably won't eat Koolickles, either. We're talking to you, Mississippi.