Thursday, January 10, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
How do you tell Beulah something’s wrong with recipe?
You must have known that eventually the preacher would get around to sharing recipes! Every church worth the name has wonderful cooks, and while congregations often publish recipes, the details of recipes are not necessarily the minister’s province.
By the way, I think the grand prize for the best means of promoting a congregational cookbook goes to Gayden Metcalfe’s “Being Dead is No Excuse: The Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral,” which takes what would otherwise have been a rather traditional collection of Old South church recipes, and transforms the collection into a New York Times bestseller with the addition of sidesplitting stories of the things that go on in and around the church.
This book forms a wonderful exposť of the follies and foibles of religious folk in the Mississippi Delta in general and St. James‚ Episcopal Church of Greenville in particular, and as I say, transforms what might have been just another church cookbook into a delightful window onto a particular interesting corner of Southern culture and cuisine. Even somebody like me who never cooks can read such a book with a knowing smile.
Now, Ms. Metcalfe along with Charlotte Hays has produced a sequel -- equally entertaining -- this time with wedding recipes, “Somebody is Going to Die If Lilly Beth Doesn’t Catch that Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Wedding.” In addition to all the standard recipes, these two books contain a nice sprinkling of appropriate advice about manners and etiquette, as well as hilarious examples of the fates of those whose best-intentioned nuptial occasions went wrong.
The subject of recipes crossed my desk when my friend Frank Brooks of Corinth gave me a recipe for communion bread. It had been used to bake the bread used for the service at the centennial celebration of the Leland Presbyterian Church down in the Delta. The recipe had found its way to Mississippi via the mother of our then-pastor at Greenville, Stuart Baskin, via Kip Zbinden, the wife of a well-known Presbyterian minister, who in the 1960s, served the Augusta Stone Church in Virginia where Dr. George L. Bitzer, my predecessor here in Holly Springs (1920-1926) was pastor away back in 1885. Kip Zbinden (neť Katherine Sherrill Shoaf), by the way, is a native of Covington, Tenn. Her husband, the Rev. Louis H. Zbinden recently retired at San Antonio, Tx., and before that served the Presbyterian church at Lenoir, NC, from which two of our fine new Holly Springs Presbyterians, B.C. and Bonnie Crawford hail. So you see how the relationships (and the recipes) waft about like the aromas of a good kitchen.
Well, here is the recipe. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 2 cups flour. 1/2 tsp. baking soda. 1/2 tsp. cream of tarter. 1 stick butter, frozen. 1/2 tbsp. sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup ice water. Put all dry ingredients in the work bowl of Cuisinart with butter (cut into 4-5 pieces) and process for 30-60 seconds until mixture looks like cornmeal. Pour the water into the tube while motor is running. Once it forms a ball, let it go around several times to beat. Divide dough in half and roll each half to almost an eighth inch thickness. Put on cookie sheet and finish rolling to the shape of the cookie sheet. Cut (score, don’t separate) into 1/2 inch squares or 1 by 1/2 rectangles, if used for dipping into the chalice. Bake for about ten minutes. Do not brown!
According to the story as ’twas told to me, this recipe was brought to America by a group of Scots who built the Augusta Stone Church in Virginia in the 1700s. The original recipe called for beating the dough for two hours with a sledge hammer. Thanks to the food processor, the time is cut to two or three minutes. (I am also guessing the sugar came along later. I cannot imagine my “auld Scots” ancestors ever bringing anything “sweet” to their religion.)
Now there are many variations on the recipe for communion bread. I grew up with little cubes of Wonder bread, and was told that John Calvin had said that we ought to use bread representative of our “daily bread.” However valid the theological point, I am quite sure that John Calvin never consumed anything remotely like white Wonder bread. (Man certainly could not live by that bread alone!)
Other churches use those little round wafers, approximating the unleavened bread of Moses and the Israelite Passover, whose principal ingredient seems to me to be some variety of Elmer’s glue. The spiritual aura of these is usually heightened by the fact that they are manufactured by pious communities of nuns in some remote location.
When I published the information above in our regional church newspaper, Ruth Galloway of Booneville shared this recipe from the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, which she uses to make the communion bread for her church at Booneville. It calls for 2 cups flour, 2/3 cup of butter, 5 or 6 T. milk, and no salt but what the butter contains. Sift flour into bowl. Cut in butter until flour is mealy. Sprinkle in milk one spoonful at a time, tossing together with fork until soft dough is formed. Divide into four equal balls. Roll each to an inch in thickness, taking care to keep a perfect circle. Using a strip of cardboard, check off in half-inch squares. Prick with fork. Bake in hot oven only to a white bake. Take care not to brown in the least. Place one circle on each communion plate.
This recipe was brought to Mecklenburg County, NC, by Scots pioneers in the 1840s. The wives of church elders took turns making the bread. Ruth says that the “hot oven” refers to a wood stove, and is not needed with modern stoves. She says it is very difficult to keep the bread from turning out at least slightly brown.
I have told you in the past about the old communion bread recipe used in the church I served in Chicago. It was also a variety of unleavened bread. I have no idea of the recipe’s history, but it was an old one and had been prepared exclusively for the congregation by a saintly member duly regarded for her long service in this regard.
The trouble was that the bread was turning out increasingly hard for each successive communion. The pieces were cut into tiny bits, looking like a cream-colored piece of Chicklet gum. Those “in the know” reminded one another not to bite down directly with the front teeth. I am sure that several of those not warned had to visit the dentist.
From my perspective, I recall it was difficult to lead the twenty-third psalm before a large congregation with a piece of hard communion wafer still in one’s mouth. At the time I moved to Holly Springs there were anxious conversations being held about how to tell Beulah that something was going wrong with the recipe, and I have no idea how the situation turned out.
If you or your church has a treasured recipe for communion bread, I would love to know about it. Please send the recipe via The South Reporter, and I will publish some of them in this column.
(Please send recipes to: email firstname.lastname@example.org; fax 662-252-3388 or mail to The South Reporter, Communion Bread Recipe, P.O. Box 278, Holly Springs, MS 38635.)
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