Picnic season has arrived. Families will be firing up the Weber Grills, friends might bring potato salad, some chips and a pie and there will be plenty of Citronella candles to keep the mosquitos at bay.
But that’s not how picnics once were. Boomers remember church picnics as among the main events of the summer. What spreads they were! And if you happened to have family in North Carolina, you were in real luck.
The state motto of North Carolina is this:
If you have guests, feed them until they can no longer walk because their bellies are so full of food.
I went to church picnics in Clemmons, NC, at Grandma Brewer’s church, Centenary Methodist and I also had the privilege of attending the Bagwell family church picnic at Shiloh Baptist Church in Garner. Both had incredible food, but one of those church picnics in Garner stands out. I was about 12 at the time.
The Bagwell’s were my mother’s family. Needham Bagwell, a Raleigh, NC policeman married Mama Ida, a Davis, and they had two girls – Frances and Jo Anne. But Needham had 6 brothers and sisters and I had legions of aunts, uncles and cousins and they all came to the Bagwell Family Church Picnic in June. And they all could cook. Really cook.
There was never a slice of store-bought bread. Every loaf was home made. Vegetables didn’t come from cans; they came fresh out of a garden or not at all. We had homemade whipped potatoes with quarts of chicken gravy and some of the best southern fried chicken you ever put in your mouth. And barbeque? This was Eastern North Carolina where barbeque ruled. Each family tried to outdo each other with their barbeque and sauces. It was a powerful display.
And there were desserts, of course. Homemade pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, fudge, tarts and always a few tubs of homemade ice cream.
But the one thing that stands out among all that food was a platter of country ham biscuits. My great aunt, Sister Wall, had made the biscuits – she used lard, naturally – and Uncle Bert Wall had cured the hog. The ham biscuits were stacked high, not just a dozen or two, and I piled them on my plate and ate until I could eat no more.
After the picnic, we sang a few of the old Baptist hymns and went home, eager for the next summer and another church picnic.
Today, we still have church picnics and family reunions, but not like they once were. Those were special.