The Harvest Dinner
- story by Pat Saik
It is a simple, elegant white wooden church with clear cathedral windows facing the Mississippi Sound just across South Beach Boulevard. Many know the place by the carved wooden angel in the front of the sanctuary, guarding from harm and inviting inside anyone in search of peace and fellowship: this is Christ Episcopal Church.
The grounds are studded with aged live oaks that have sheltered all who have strolled through the grounds or entered the church.
Christ Episcopal, formed in 1889, has since its inception, helped to bring the community together to serve common objectives and to enhance the experience of living in Bay St. Louis.
The Fall Harvest Dinner, organized by the Episcopal Church Women, is an event that engages every member of Christ Episcopal, who volunteer to help with everything from ticket sales to serving tables.
Event co-chair Susan Stevens said, “Our goal this year is to serve 600 meals to our friends and neighbors in the community. It takes the efforts of all church members to create this feast.”
The meal is not only fabulous, but a real bargain, too. Tickets still sell for only $10 and can be bought at the door, or beforehand from the church office or a Christ Church member.
For those who choose a sit-down meal, one may dine-in with others at the Parish Hall from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. Meeting and greeting friends while sharing a meal lovingly prepared is one special way to enjoy the Fall Harvest Dinner. Those who prefer to “take out” can do so beginning at 4:00 pm. and enjoy dinner at home.
The third organization benefiting from the generosity of the church is Friends of the Animal Shelter in Hancock County, a shelter for animals in need of a “forever home.” Friends has played a major role in reducing euthanasia rates by providing a low-cost spay and neuter program that helps reduce the overpopulation of unwanted animals. Christ Episcopal’s contributions are a welcome addition to the fund to make better the lives of companion animals and to help their owners pay for the procedure.
“Generations of Christ Church families continue a tradition that started in 1948,” says co-chair Kim Lucas Uram. “Three generations of a family may work side by side, preparing and serving this special meal.” In fact, a fourth generation of the Lucas family now joins the ranks.
Parishioner Nannette Stroh remembers attending the very first harvest dinner as a child, when her mother helped prepare the meal of Hungarian goulash. She is looking forward to keeping her record of attendance unbroken and to overseeing the dessert table, a job she has had for years.
During the dinner, naturally, folks are happy to see friends and neighbors, but it is the homemade food that is the main attraction. The roast turkey with homemade gravy is mouthwateringly moist. Pork lovers can enjoy slices of glazed apple-smoked ham. Doubtless most will want both.
Accompanying the turkey and ham, expertly sliced by men who have doing the carving for years, is bread dressing full of turkey juices, homemade spinach Florentine casserole and made-from-scratch sweet potato casserole.
Everything is fresh and, if available, produced locally. The sweet potatoes definitely are not from a can. Slowly baked, the potato becomes so soft its flesh is easily scooped from the skin. Once mixed with spices and placed into a casserole dish, then warmed for serving, the casserole is topped with marshmallows that become gooey and crispy and melt in your mouth.
Other than the marshmallows, processed foods deliberately play no part in the creation of the dishes served. Using recipes handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, dishes are made from scratch in the cook’s own kitchen and purchased with the cook’s own money.
Dinner rolls purchased locally and a mélange of tantalizing homemade desserts like pumpkin pie, pecan pie and chocolate cake round out the meal.
The Christ Episcopal parishioners see themselves as family and work together for the good of the church and the community. Its doors are open for all who wish to attend.
After the service on Sunday, attendees congregate to visit and to enjoy refreshments. “It’s simple,” Susan Stevens says. “We enjoy each other’s company.”
Combine the following:
1 quart fresh cranberries
3 ½ cups white sugar
½ lb. seedless raisins
Grated peel and juice of 1 orange
½ half cup vinegar (white or cider)
½ tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1tsp. ground ginger
Place all ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a boil and then simmer slowly to marmalade consistency.
Christ Episcopal also brings to the community music and art at the Fourth Sunday at Four, a free concert in the church featuring local and interesting high-caliber musicians. After the concert, attendants may enjoy refreshments in the Parish Hall while perusing an art exhibit of a local artist that is a part of the cultural offering.