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Friday, July 29, 2011

Dinner on the Grounds

Chloe Webb, author of Legacy of the Sacred Harp, on the left and Melinda Esco, production manager at TCU Press, on the right. Below, some of the guests at the Dinner on the Grounds.
The Bookish Frogs, a community support group for TCU Press, met at the home of Mary Volcansek tonight for dinner on the grounds, a feast usually associated with Sacred Harp or shape note or fasola singing. Yes, dinner is usually held outside, on picnic tables, or with blankets spread on the ground, but as I assured serveral nervous would-be guests, we would be meeting inside tonight. Too darned hot for dinner literally on the grounds--besides, Mary's backyard is the domain of her two feral cats. But we had the traditional bounteous feast associated with this custom, a potluck that ranged from the best lemony potato salad I've ever tasted to a tomato mozarella salad and the crunchy Asian salad that author Chloe Webb said is the reason she started shape note singing--I need more details on that story, but my friend Jim Lee declares it's the best salad he ever ate. We had asparagus and pasta salad and deviled eggs and spanikopita (all gone before I got any, but I did sneak a deviled egg before anyone began eating because I knew they would go quickly). There were spinach balls and boursin cheese and watermelon and fruit salads and simply a host of good dishes, including peach cobbler and homemade ginger snaps..
After dinner Chloe gave a brief talk on the origins of sacred harp singing and what people should expect. It is, she emphasized, participatory music and not listening music. She passed out music sheets and encouraged everyone to sing. First she and a small group of singers who had come to dinner sang Amazing Grace in fasola syllables--the melody was lovely and clear--and then she encouraged all of us to sing it in the words we know. But I got tickled when she said if you don't know what to sing, it's perfectly okay to just sing La, La, La. It was an interesting program about a musical tradition that is gaining followers across the country and undergoing a revival of interest.
Legacy of the Sacred Harp, which mixes genealogy and sacred harp history, is available from University Publishing, 1-800-826-8911.
But the purpose of this blog is not to sell books, it's to talk about food. I intended to take two dishes: I cleaned and sliced Brussel sprouts, doused with them a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted them for 15 minutes. While they were still hot out of the oven, I tossed them with a light lemon vinaigrette. And then I left them in the refrigerator when I went to the dinner. But I did take the main dish, which we know as Louella's rice. I never met Louella--she was the stepmother of my good high school friend Barbara Ashcraft--who remains dear to me to this day. Here's the recipe, although I doubled it--for the faint of heart cook this couldn't be easier.

1 cup Minute Rice
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1 cup sour cream
1 can cream of celery soup (since everything else in this is high cholesterol, try to assuage your conscience and use the Healthy Heart version)
1 4 oz. can chopped green chillies

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Not exactly gourmet fare, but so delicious. Barbara tells me it appears at every family meal they have--and they have a lot, since she and Don have five children and I've lost count of how many grandchildren plus they just had their first great-grandchild.
There may well be a sacred harp group in your area--you can visit, join in the singing, and, if  you're lucky, they'll have dinner on the grounds.

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