I am grateful today for the company of lifetime friends, for the joy of long memories, the chance to spend time together reliving some of the halcyon moments and hours of another time. We’ve done a lot over the past several days, but really, for these kinds of times there is never enough. On Wednesday evening the three of us drove over to a town fifty miles west of the beach, Maitland, and enjoyed the company of my sister and brother-in-law over dinner. Today’s post is by R visiting from Louisiana with his wife D—My friends.
Much has been said about hospitality in the South, in the Old World South, the mannered dinner with its bounty of food, the courses one after another of homemade dishes that tease the palette until the inevitable questions about the recipe and if it is a family one handed down over the years. Now, with the fast pace of living, of heaping plates directly from the stove and retiring to a chair or couch in the den (perhaps to watch the news or whatever game might be on), the art of the leisurely meal and conversation only has (sadly) gone out of style for so many. Easier to pick up burgers or fried chicken or pizza or some ready-made meal from the deli than it is to cook with the idea of the meal as entertainment.
Vacations would seem to be the very thing for those fast food or quick-trip supermarket meals, leaving more time to explore the sights and experience environs other than the one so familiar. And there have been fine hamburger meals on stools positioned at windows facing the ocean, but an unexpected pleasure to be treated to a sit-down dinner (even with jeans as an okay form of dress) and to experience a meal in courses with candles burning among a table centerpiece of the season. More than worth the drive to another city in Florida. And here’s the thing about Southern styled hospitality—whether transplanted from Louisiana to Florida or to any other state or country: it travels well. Stepping into someone’s kitchen complete with small blackboard sign and welcoming message is a fine beginning to a truly enjoyable evening. Matters not that a good friend’s sister and brother-in-law haven’t been seen in half a century; there are hugs all around like long lost cousins.
Wine? Beer? Something harder? Try one of these.
Oh, my goodness. Delicious. What is it?
Just an oven-baked date wrapped in bacon.
I’ll have another.
No twelve course meal but just a few—maybe four including desert. And the pictures speak for themselves. A meal that starts with a soup called Beverly's Glory Collard Green Soup. So tasty, thoughts are immediately of future meals at home with just the soup and bread hot from the oven. A fine green salad with all the good things that are good for you. A main course called Country Captain, a chicken curry dish one adds toppings as if at the corner ice cream stand: peanuts, toasted and shredded coconut and inviting, green pickled tomatoes, homemade chutney. And the meal ending with offered coffee and scoops of vanilla ice cream next to apple ginger ale turnovers. And the easy talk only adds to the comfort of true hospitality, about family members and relatives no longer alive, about grandchildren and how they are making their way in the world, even talk about other grand meals and the good times so associated with food in the South.
So sit down dinners with courses served may be even more rare in the time to come, but for those of us who got a leftover taste of true Southern hospitality from the 1940s or 1950s or even into the 1960s, that taste of the genteel time will always linger—when families made time to eat together, when questions could be asked across the table while looking into the eyes of someone else and some sense of honestly wanting to hear the answer being communicated, of being able to touch someone’s arm for emphasis instead of yelling for them to turn down the television. True hospitality—Southern or otherwise, even within families—is something to be valued and used and given out because it is one of the finest things that can inherited.