Think food is used only to nourish our bodies? Think again! We use food to celebrate, to stereotype people, to express love or compassion, to treat ourselves, to compete or make money, to remember our roots, to garner compliments, and to come together as a community. Our tastes in food have changed over time depending on where we live, what we can afford, and what’s in fashion.
Church members often gathered for “dinners on the ground.” Blankets were laid on the grass and then piled with a bounty of delicious foods. Lucile Dees McVay attended such dinners during the late 1920s and 1930s at the annual Decoration Day at Wedington Cemetery. Every woman brought her specialty, whether it was homemade bread, deviled eggs, or candied sweet potatoes. Young Lucile waited patiently by her mother’s salmon cakes until the blessing was said--then she helped herself! Canned salmon was so expensive that these treats were rarely made at home.
There’s something about food that has made us come together over the years. Neighbors gathered for community events such as house raisings, funerals, and school functions. During John Quincy Wolf’s youth in the 1870s Ozarks, women came together to prepare food for the men building a house. When the dinner horn was sounded promptly at noon everyone came running to partake of the fried ham, preserves, pumpkin pie, hog jowls, biscuits and cornbread, cabbage, sausage, turnips, coffee, and greens.
Families gathered for celebrations such as holidays, birthdays, and weddings. When Wayman Hogue was growing up in the late 1800s, a wedding was held at his home in the Ozarks. A dozen chickens were fattened with corn and lots of cakes, custards, pies, and light [white] bread were made. Tables placed end-to-end in the yard held three boiled hams. The hams’ skin had been removed and large round dots of black pepper added as decoration. Coffee was expensive so sassafras tea was served.
Picnics were fun occasions for friends and family. Betty Greathouse of the Greathouse Springs community southwest of Springdale liked having big picnics in her yard. Sawhorses were placed under the old sycamore tree and outfitted with wide boards and overlapping tablecloths. Family members fried chicken and guests brought covered dishes of food. One of the community elders said the blessing, “usually profound and well spoken."