Wednesday, 14 November 2012 14:49

Small town fall suppers are true works of art

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Last weekend, I was reminded that a group of pink apron-wearing, fixed-up hair, fancy jean-wearing women from rural Alberta are nothing to mess with.


Resourceful, strong and can work a draft horse under the table, these women are reminiscent of a small army. Oh my! Don’t get in their way.


Across our wind-sculpted prairies some old traditions hold current today. Years ago fall suppers, where folks gathered in churches to chow down on chicken, salads, and potatoes, were an important way to connect after the grueling days of harvest were over.

These meals were all prepared without running water and electricity and ladies’ groups, did just that — grouped together and cooked. As fundraisers for the women’s clubs in churches, fall suppers were a place where neighbour after neighbour would show up to visit, eat, and enjoy a short program.

My Grandma remembers as a child being all shined up and waiting upstairs with a nervous stomach, for her number to be called to eat. The nerves weren’t for the meal, but for the program afterwards that the children helped put on.


Now, our fall suppers are generally a buffet style spread of deliciousness. Turkey is served instead of chicken, and potatoes, vegetables and salads adorn the plates. Accompanied with coffee and pie, it’s too bad that there weren’t couches to have a snooze on afterwards. Women’s organizations from churches, as well as town and country clubs from our small rural communities unite to make money and serve up a full meal. As a girl, I washed dishes in the back with other young girls from the community. You always wondered who you would get to chat with while going through tea towel after soaking wet tea towel, drying dishes.
A few days ago, I washed my girls up, getting ready to haul them into our nearest community, a place where less than 100 people reside, probably counting kittens and pups all around.


The sun blazed down on the snow left over from two weeks of ice fog that had caused power outages. Folks rendered themselves a little crazier than before, from the lack of brightness in the sky, and the sunshine was welcomed. We plowed across muddy gravel roads, with a sort of tricky spring feel in the air with the snow turning into liquid in the ditches.


Heading into the hall, we were greeted with the sound of dishes crashing, and a dim room with a few candles on the tables stretched out before us. We might live in the boondocks, but these aren’t the pioneer days, no sir, the power was still having major glitches after the hokey weather of the past few weeks. Apparently on this day, of all days, there was an outage for several hundred miles and women gasped in the morning, not daring to open their ovens as turkeys were being browned to perfection.
You can imagine the scene being set; nerves were racked and nails tapped maniacally on the counter with eyes on the clock, waiting for light to flicker in the kitchen.


These women were something! I have never seen the like, and you would think that I would have been prepared, having grown up in this area — moulded, raised, and supported by these ladies. When the power went out, a stern phone call was placed to our local electricity provider and a reminder was made to put our teensy hamlet on priority. Forget those communities with hospitals in them, there is near 300 pounds of turkey cookin’ around here. In the hall murmured conversations led to phone calls and a general consensus of “this show must go on!” People joke about gas-powered blenders, but folks, with my very eyes I saw extension cords hauled around and generators brought in, and gas powered blenders were indeed used.


Warnings of “Watch your step!”; blenders whirring to mash potatoes; and electric knives coming to life, the women worked at Mach speed to make up time lost to black.


A cheer went up when the lights came on, and almost like something out of a storybook, a collected sort of ‘awwwww!!’ when the power went off again. Like an army of ants, these women put a spread on, but I tell you, the process was somewhat scary to get there. I have an awed sort of respect for these gals, in a, “Heck yes, ma’am, I’ll do whatever you say! I know that pink apron means business!” — kind of way.


If you want to experience a piece of prairie history, find a small town in the fall, ask about their turkey supper and you surely won’t be let down as you help celebrate the completion of harvest and support a women’s organization. You might sit down next to your Grandpa’s old neighbour who can tell you tales of round ups from years past, or you might meet the tiniest, newest neighbour to the community, swaddled up tight. No matter who you cross paths with there, you will be better for it. It might not be as exciting as our last one was, but it will have some sort of tasty pie to punctuate whatever adventure it will hold and trust me — all are welcomed.


Happy Fall!
(Cheyenne Stapley helps operate her mixed farm in Central Alta. with her husband and family. Her column Rural Route will appear monthly in Prairie Post and is also on our website at www.prairiepost.com)

Read 2320 times Last modified on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 15:45