Breaking bread

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2000

In the South, churches have long been the town meeting place: the place where congregations would meet to break bread together and enjoy fellowship during mealtime.

This year, the Natchez Literary Celebration will focus on the role religion has played in literature. The event takes place June 1-3 at several locations around town.

But churches have played another role in our lives: breaking bread. While dinner on the grounds was once a common occurrence at Southern churches, those dinners have become fewer and many families go to restaurants for their Sunday lunch.

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Two churches here in Natchez, First Baptist Church and Jefferson Street Methodist Church, decided years ago that the fellowship was too important to lose and they simply changed from Sunday dinner on the grounds to Wednesday night dinners inside.

For 20 years Deloris Smith has spent her Wednesday evenings cooking dinner for other people, actually a lot of people, anywhere from 150 to 250. Smith is the head cook for First Baptist Church’s Wednesday night fellowship dinners. As the manager of the cafeteria at Natchez Middle School Smith is accustomed to serving large numbers and accommodating different tastes.

&uot;During the busiest part of the year when there are youth activities going on we sometimes serve 250 people. The ladies that work with me come early in the afternoon, around 1 p.m. and then I come in at 3 p.m.,&uot; Smith said. &uot;We always manage to have everything ready when people begin arriving at 5:15 p.m.&uot;

At Jefferson Street Methodist Church Norma Barron cooks for a smaller crowd, anywhere from 60 to 75 people.

&uot;I’ve been in charge of the Wednesday night dinners for two years now. I do all the cooking myself, so I usually get here around 2 o’clock and start assembling my entree,&uot; Barron said. &uot;I try to vary the the menu, and we also have a separate menu for the children.&uot;

At both churches members spoke in overwhelming favor of the dinners. Dan Ratcliff, minister of youth and activities at First Baptist Church, said the fellowship time is a critical factor in keeping the dinners going.

&uot;With so many households where both parents work now and children being so active, this gives everyone a chance to stop in the middle of the week and regroup,&uot; Ratcliff said. &uot;I love Wednesday nights. My wife and child meet me here for dinner and then I have church youth activities. It also give me a chance to speak to people I only see on Sunday mornings out in the congregation.&uot;

Kathy King, a member of Jefferson Street echoed those thoughts.

&uot;On Wednesday night we have an opportunity to mix and visit with church members of all ages,&uot; King said. &uot;Whereas on Sunday mornings we are with our own age Sunday School and then either in the choir or with our families during the service, this gives us a chance to know everyone in the congregation.&uot;

With a list of 14 different menus Smith and her helpers dish up a variety of foods. When asked about some of her dishes Smith just laughed and replied that she was from the old school where recipes are rarely used.

&uot;Most of the time I cook from memory and we just taste as we go along,&uot; Smith said.

For her chicken spaghetti Smith suggested following these guidelines:

Boil several chicken breasts and dice them. Be sure you save the broth. Cook your spaghetti noodles in the broth also. Then saut\u00E9 a chopped onion and green pepper in some butter until soft, not browned. In a large bowl, mix your chicken, spaghetti, onions, peppers, a can of cream of chicken soup and some grated American cheese. Add some of your reserved broth if the dish is dry. Place in an ovenproof casserole dish and bake until bubbly and browned. For her broccoli casserole Smith said to combine frozen chopped broccoli that you have thawed, sauteed onion, cooked rice, a can of cream of mushroom soup and some Parmesan cheese. Then bake this combination at 350 degrees until hot.

While Barron is more accustomed to cooking for 60, she shared her recipes with us in a more pared down version.

Crunchy Chicken Casserole

2 large carrots, peeled, sliced and blanched

8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup plain flour

1 can chicken broth

6 chicken breasts, boiled and chopped

1 2-ounce jar chopped pimentos

1/4 cup butter

1 box Stove-top stuffing

Melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour, mix well. Add broth, stirring constantly, and cook until mixture thickens. Lower heat and add cheese, stir until melted. Remove from heat, add chicken, carrots and pimento. Spread in a shallow casserole dish. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the next 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan. Mix in the stuffing, stirring well, coating the stuffing with the butter. Spread over the chicken mixture. Bake for 30 minutes.

Corn Casserole

1 can creamed corn

1 can whole corn

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium green pepper, chopped

1 2-ounce jar chopped pimento

2/3 cups milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup Ritz cracker crumbs

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 stick margarine

2 tablespoons sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all the ingredients, pour into a casserole dish. Bake for 45 minutes or until brown.

Mexican Meatloaf

1 package small corn tortillas

1 1/2 pound of ground beef

1 package taco seasoning

16 ounces Monterey Jack cheese

1 can ranch beans

1 can Rotel tomatoes and chilies

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 large onion, chopped

Mix Rotel and chicken soup together. Brown the ground meat, drain well and mix the taco seasoning in with the meat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an ovenproof casserole dish layer the ingredients in this order: tortillas, seasoned meat, half of the cheese, beans, onions, tortillas. Then pour the Rotel and soup mixture over the casserole, sprinkle with the remainder of the cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Poppyseed Chicken Casserole

6 chicken breast, boiled and


2 cans cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 16-ounce sour cream

1 tablespoon black pepper

Box of Ritz crackers, crushed

2 sticks margarine, melted

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix chicken, soups, and sour cream and place in an ovenproof casserole dish. Mix together the cracker crumbs, melted butter and poppy seeds and sprinkle the mixture over the chicken.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until hot and bubbly.