Bridgette A. Lacy wants us at the table for Sunday dinner.
She whets our palates for the return – and, perhaps, a necessary reinvention – of the Sabbath-day tradition of food, family and fellowship with a culinary tribute. “Sunday Dinner” is a Savor the South cookbook published by UNC Press.
Lacy invites us for a literary taste of “Sunday Dinner,” with recipe samples, at a reading at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh.
The book offers 51 recipes in its 136 pages. There are traditional southern favorites: Sunday yeast rolls, Grandma’s Fried Chicken and Papa’s Nilla Wafer Brown Pound Cake.
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And there’s lighter fare: roasted vegetable medley and summer fruit salad.
Lacy hopes her stories and recipes inspired by the dishes of family and friends will reignite and re-energize our own Sunday dinners. Or maybe it will give us ideas about how to reinvent into contemporary tradition the practice of cooking together and sitting at the table together to eat good food and make memories.
“I love that ritual,” Lacy said. “At the Sunday dinner table is where we learned manners and heard wonderful stories of our family heritage; where there was companionship and fellowship; and where we often first articulated our dreams.
“There was a lot of stuff going on at that table,” continued Lacy, recalling a childhood of Sunday visits to grandparents in Lynchburg, Va. “Sunday dinner is not just about the meal. There also was a lot of love.”
Lacy offers a hardy reminder that it’s a tradition worth going back for seconds.
“There are too many people who are alone, too many people who are isolated,” said Lacy, a native of Washington, D.C., whose move away from family inspired her now-tradition of Sunday dinners with friends. “You don’t realize as a child that those you love will disappear from the table, but the memories of Sunday dinner bring you solace.
“When I eat Papa’s Nilla Wafer Brown Pound Cake, I can’t help but think of him. It’s like a warm blanket around me.”
“Sunday Dinner” is a debut book for Lacy, an award-winning food journalist who spent 16 years at The News & Observer, which owns the Midtown Raleigh News.
The book celebrates lessons from her grandfather, James R. Moore Jr., a blue-collar worker turned “master chef on Sundays” who taught Lacy the importance of food and table presentation.
“The first bite is with the eyes,” she said, noting her Papa’s precision, from measuring to setting the table. “Once you sat down, you didn’t get up until the meal was finished. Everything you needed was right there.”
The love and spirituality in “Sunday Dinner” renders it universal, said Irene Owens, dean of the School of Library and Information Sciences at N.C. Central University, who supervised Lacy as a work-study student at Howard University’s divinity library. The two now share meals.
“I’m probably one of the very few people in this area who’s actually tasted her grandfather’s coconut pie,” said Owens, recalling a reward of Lacy’s weekend trip home from campus. “It was heavenly.
“I’ve never had anything like it, and I’m from the South – and my mother was an excellent cook.”
But “Sunday Dinner” is bound neither by ethnicity nor by region, she said.
“ ‘Sunday Dinner’ is a new way to create traditions as we age and as our family structures change,” Owens said. “That touches the lives of so many different people in so many different ways.”
Raleigh children’s book author Kelly Starling Lyons, whose stories center on family, said “Sunday Dinner” takes her back to childhood meals when “there was always room at the table for one more.”
It also gives us permission to create family and make Sunday dinners special wherever we are.
“It’s a wonderful way to remind us how special and wonderful it is to break bread with people we care about,” Lyons said.