Row after row of tables heaving with steaming casseroles and crisp salads, platters of crunchy fried chicken and potato salad, slow cookers filled with little smokies bathed in barbecue sauce and vibrant bowls of punch speckled with frothy scoops of sherbet. A sea of tables has transformed the carpeted church gym and nothing can be heard but the dull roar of churchgoers chatting over their sagging plates. While you wait in line you plot and ploy, anticipating the dishes you love and strategizing how to maximize the space on your always-too-small paper plate. You make your way through the labyrinth of pyrex, piling your pillage high and trying so very hard to obey your mother’s instructions not to sneak a bite in line. You praise her for her contributions and make sure to taste her dishes, whether or not they are your favorites. And when it’s all said and done, you hit the seventh level of heaven, also known as the dessert table.
This my friends, is the glory of the magical, mythical church potluck. I was lucky enough to grow up in a church that still practiced the art of potlucking. I remember some of the dishes with delight, and others with disdain, but the affair itself, well there’s just nothing quite like it.
Since we’ve moved out to the country, and week after week drive by dozens of country churches, I’ve been thinking about doing a blog series on classic church lady/potluck recipes. There’s something so beautifully nostalgic about the potluck tradition and I always drool a little, imagining all of the delicious things being consumed inside those churches as we drive by. All of the Grandma Betty’s secret sauces being savored. All of Aunt Becky’s almond bark being devoured. So I decided it was high time I live up to my new role as a farmer’s wife and dive deep into the wealth of potluck history. Take some of the old favorites and put my own fresh, seasonal spin on them, all the while paying homage to those that have gone before. I’ve done some pretty intensive research, consulting many a church cookbook and a few relatives, and I think I’ve come up with a pretty good roster of recipes. Join me in my exploration of potlucking lore, won’t you? This is going to be fun.
My first recipe comes from one of my very favorite church ladies of all time, my Mother-in-law! This salad has been made quite a lot in our house over the years, especially in our newlywed days when I was less than adept in the kitchen. Taylor still loves it to death and I just knew I could give it a fresh twist. I made a homemade, herbed buttermilk ranch instead of using bottled dressing and threw in a mix of heirloom spinach and baby kale to liven up the salad portion. I boiled some organic pasta I had on hand, and chopped up a nitrate-free chunk of ham and some extra sharp cheddars, both white and orange. Though I’m not a huge fan of olives, my husband is, and they add such a nice pop of color, I decided to add them anyway. I threw them in whole to add a little depth and texture. I sat down with a little bowl of this stuff for dinner and quickly decided I’d be proud to take this to any potluck I was invited to! Which I hopefully will be soon…
What are your favorite church lady potluck dishes? I’d love to know!
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons teaspoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup organic mayonnaise
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Smoked paprika, pinch
- 10 oz Pasta, cooked (I like corkscrew for soaking up the dressing)
- 6 oz fresh Spinach
- 6 oz Fresh Baby Kale
- 8 oz Extra Sharp Cheddar, cubed
- 8 oz Extra Sharp White Cheddar, cubed
- 1 can whole, pitted Black Olives
- 6 oz nitrate-free Ham, cubed
- 1 Tbsp chives, sliced
- Chop herbs, shallots and garlic and combine with other dressing ingredients in a pint mason jar. Shake to combine.
- Bring a small stockpot full of salted water to a boil and cook pasta, adding a little olive oil. When cooked, drain and let cool. Toss in a little olive oil so it doesn’t stick together.
- Meanwhile, prep the salad ingredients. Chop chives, wash greens, cube ham and cheeses and drain olives.**
- When pasta is cool, combine ingredients and toss with ranch dressing.*