Soapsuds past my elbows as I plunged into the freestanding metal wash tub, I felt worthy of the status of a church lady despite the fact I was barely seven years of age. On each side of me at my workstation on the wooden table were more basins of hot water to dip and rinse the dishes as I did my best to keep up with the circle of older ladies drying dishes as fast as possible. Proudly contributing my youthful enthusiasm I worked at the dishwashing as long as my services were needed. Sometimes I was enlisted on other more pressing tasks such as running upstairs to the church sanctuary with messages for the elders pinned to my chest or collecting dirty dishes from my sister and sister-in-law ordering me around as they prepared available seatings for more guests at their assigned table.
The rural church kitchen had no modern features that I recall except an ancient stove of some kind and a deep laundry type sink with a tap. There was a hand pump on one side of the drain board I think but my memory is foggy on that. I don’t recall a refrigerator either. If there was one it was non-descript. Tall wooden cupboards to the ceiling held a large collection of old thin white china with a plain rim of burnished silver and another smaller collection of light green fiesta ware cups and saucers. As the dirty dishes came in through the swinging kitchen doors they were scraped quickly and plunged into the soapy water for a quick turn around use as they were needed for the next seating of people coming down the two sets of stairs leading from the upper sanctuary. I remember coleslaw swimming aound on top of the dishwater until one of the ladies would dump it out in the big sink and refresh it with clean hot water from the giant kettles steaming away at the back of the stove.
The experienced, talented younger ladies were involved in rolling out the white paper to cover the long tables and resetting the dinnerware and silverware ( as we called it). Once presentable, the men organizing the seating of our guests would announce that those seated in certain pews in the sanctuary were to take their turn for the meal while others would have to wait until a table was ready. It was a whirlwind of activity, friendly folks and wonderful turkey dinner smells. It went on for hours because we fed the community at large and I thought it was the most fun, ever to have at church.
The food was prepared at home on the farm and brought in to serve the huge turnout. Some local ladies were entrusted with the roasting of turkeys and their husbands roared home to collect the birds from warm ovens when supplies ran low. Canning kettles of mashed potatoes and turnip were kept hot on the feeble old stove while extra huge kettles were kept handy, close by at someone’s local home. Bins of homemade coleslaw marinated safely in vinegar ready for quick dishing up and served in a variety of bowls along with the potatoes and turnip. Homemade applesauce and pickles rounded out the meal along with stuffing and gravy.
Along a wall in the Sunday school were specially built shelves that held all the pies. Needless to say, they were also all homemade. There were mostly apple ,pumpkin,cherry, elderberry and raisin pies but some ladies would bring in show stopping lemon pies heaped with swirls of meringue. Coffee was made by my mom in a huge copper laundry boiler where the grounds boiled with salt and eggshells. Along with all the other tasks involved with the big supper her special job was to make the coffee for the crowd. I think she was the only one who could get tanks of it just right so it became her special job. Dippers of this strong brew were ladled into white metal coffeepots for the ladies to serve coffee along the rows of tables.
When the last guest had been served and sent again on their way home, the kitchen staff, servers and all the male helpers sat down to share the leftovers and rest weary legs. Every year, for a long time before and a long time after, these fowl suppers were a special event in my young life and represented to me what a church community did. They worked hard, did their best, encouraged each other and had fun whenever they could sharing their traditions and faith in a down to earth way. I am thankful for the memories and yes, we really did call them…Fowl Suppers!
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!