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Southern Picnics and Suppers

By Patricia B. Mitchell

Southern people have long enjoyed community or neighborhood gatherings. Barn-raisings, corn shuckings, hog-killings, church dinners on the grounds, weddings, reunions, funerals — all provide opportunities for fellowship and food.

House-raisings and the like are less common today, but picnics and some of the other old-timey eating events still occur.

“Lemonade stirred with a spade” and “a pile of apple pies stacked a foot or so high” comprised part of the menus at post-Civil-War picnics. Today fried chicken and ham, coleslaw, potato salad, deviled eggs, pickles, cakes, etc. appear at many Southern communal meals. These days the chicken might be from “the Colonel” and the ham from a deli, but nevertheless, people do get together to share a good time.

Church groups and fire departments in our locality (Pittsylvania County, Virginia) frequently prepare huge pots of Brunswick Stew. The cooks work outdoors, using an open fire. They start early in the morning, and hours later the rich, savory steam of the stew pot begins to entice customers who purchase the soup by the bowl, or in quart containers to take home. Gibson Jefferson McConnaughey recorded the following poem concerning Brunswick Stew in her 1977 cookbook, Two Centuries of Virginia Cooking. The rhyme was penned by John Banister Tabb (1845-1909).


The Tryst

Potato was deep in the dark under ground
Tomato, above in the light;
The little Tomato was ruddy and round,
The little Potato was white.
And redder and redder she rounded above,
And paler and paler he grew,
And neither suspected a mutual love,
Till they met in a Brunswick stew.

Large- and small-scale barbecues are also common — politicians taking advantage of this means, as well as fish fries, to garner votes. Individual families often host a backyard cook-out, grilling steaks, burgers, hot dogs, whatever they please, on a charcoal grill.

Church homecomings are an annual occurrence at some of the area country churches. The ladies all bring different foods to put on long tables, creating a “pot luck” meal.

Clan gatherings, at which an extended family meets, greets, and eats, are perennially popular. Sometimes individuals bring certain specialty dishes for which they have been known for decades. Fresh coconut cake, damson pie, fried pies, watermelon rind pickles, fudge — such delicacies can make a cook's reputation.

The following excerpted account, from the Sept. 8, 1926, Danville Register (clipping provided by Mrs. Ollie Yeatts Jennings of Danville), describes a Pittsylvania County family gathering which honored Susan Alice Edwards Yeatts (Mrs. Coleman Bennett Yeatts):


Family Reunion Held Dry Fork

Yeatts Reunion, September 6, 1925

Sixty-[Seventh] Birthday Mrs. S. A. Yeatts is Happy Occasion

DRY FORK. — At the home of Mrs. S. A. Yeatts was held a family reunion on Sunday, Sept. 6th. The happy family gathering was made up of Mrs. S. A. Yeatts, now in her 68th year, with her children and grand-children, all being present except one grandson and the only great-grand- daughter, Mr. R. B. Yeatts and little daughter, Bernice May, of Durham, N. C., making a total present of nine children and 46 grand-children. Among those were: Richard and Dave Yeatts and families of Whitmell, Robert Jones and family, Danville; Chas. Jones and children, Messrs. Dewey, John, Bernice, Stanley and Sam Yeatts and families all of Dry Fork; Mr. W. A. Yeatts and family of Climax and Mr. and Mrs. G. N. Cundiff, Whittles.

A large table had been prepared on the lawn in the cool of the nice old shade trees. Each family carried a basket and lunch was served about 12:30, consisting of mutton, beef, pork, ham, chicken and all kinds of sandwiches, cakes, pies, pickles and hot coffee, which was enjoyed by old and young.

In the afternoon the older members were charmingly entertained with songs and games by the youngsters and social greetings from old friends who came in to talk of their young days together.

All during the afternoon, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry [ice] cream and lemonade were served all.

About mid-afternoon Dearing came out from Chatham and made some pictures of the family group ….

At 6 o'clock supper was served, immediately after which the group parted for their several homes all declaring a pleasant day.


Notes