When I got home, I started to notice announcements in the local paper of church dinners. I think the first one I went to was a Swiss steak dinner down at the Brimfield Methodist Church. There is a routine for these events, differing only slightly from church to church. You buy your ticket from a couple of ladies at a small table, on which sits a cash drawer. For this first experience, I was led through the process by a helpful gentleman who was a kind of church dinner usher. First you go get yourself a salad: iceberg lettuce, a radish, a sliver of green pepper, a bit on onion and a choice of Italian, French or ranch dressing- or you can have applesauce or Jello (always red). Then you go over to the dessert table and pick out a dessert: apple or cherry pie, cheese cake with vivid red stuff on it, brownies or chocolate cake. Next you enter the dining room proper, where you are asked how many are in your party. Then you are led to your table and asked what beverage you would like: punch (always red), ice tea, decaf coffee or water.
In some places you are waited on and in others you go through a line where scoops of green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy and slabs of Swiss steak are plopped on a Styrofoam divided plate.
The best place to go for Swiss steak is not the Brimfield Methodist Church, however. The best place to go for Swiss steak dinner is the Brady Lake Methodist Church. At the Brady Lake Methodist Church you do the salad and dessert thing first, but then when you sit down at the table, everything is served family style. A huge platter of Swiss steak appears, ditto a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, a huge bowl of corn, a huge bowl of green beans, and an enormous gravy boat. No Styrofoam here; real plates with the church's logo on them. There are hot rolls, too. That's the one you have to get to early because they have been known to run out of food.
The other church supper offering is spaghetti. There are two which we frequent and it works out well because one does theirs on the first Friday of the month and the other does theirs on the second Friday, so we can hit both of them. One, the First Christian Church does plain or meat sauce and the other, Trinity Lutheran, does meat balls. I was very skeptical about Lutherans making spaghetti; it does not fit. There is cognitive dissonance in the very thought. However, they do make excellent meat balls and they have the best looking hall, a brand new pseudo Gothic affair of which they are very proud, or as proud as Lutherans are allowed to get.
Another favorite, a sort of Gloccamora experience since they only do it on Fridays during Lent and then it disappears for another year, is the fish fries down in a little Catholic community called St. Joseph, which was founded by German settlers back in the 1800s. It's a real family affair and the I love to watch the little kids in their bright aprons solemnly delivering the cole slaw (really terrible) and applesauce on trays as big as they are. The conversations around the tables are very Lake Wobegon and it's so comfortable seeing all these people who know each other and are so obviously part of a real community. They are very welcoming and the children always ask if you enjoyed your meal. Alas, last Friday was it for the year.
I think it is obvious that these events are not for the calorie conscious; in fact they should serve anti-cholesterol meds as an aperitif. The church supper season here runs from September through May, so we shall soon be on our own for the next few months. My sister claims that the big-armed ladies are disappearing. Maybe in New York state, but not in Ohio.