If you're of a certain age, you probably recall that lovely, nearly vanished institution called Sunday Dinner.
If you're not of a certain age, allow me to enlighten you.
Sunday Dinner was not just a meal; it was the crowning glory of the entire weekend. Laid out at midday in the dining room on a table covered with crisp linen and set with the household's best china, crystal, and silver, it revolved around a main dish too expensive and/or labor intensive for weekday meals.
Accompanied by no fewer than four side dishes, it was rounded out by a basket of homemade rolls and cut glass dishes of pickles and relish, and (at least, here in the South) was washed down with iced tea so sweet that it almost guaranteed a diabetic coma. It always finished with a dessert of such magnificence that it would bring even the most unruly children to awed silence.
The entire family, no matter how estranged during the week, gathered around this table in their Sunday best, even if they didn't go to church (if nothing else, it created the illusion that that's where you'd been).
It was the perfect way to while away a hot summer Sunday afternoon, sipping frosty-cold tea and stealing an extra piece of fried chicken while the old folks shared family stories that were at turns hilarious, touching, enlightening, and embarrassing - the sort of things that gave young family members a touchstone to the past and older ones a sense of belonging to the present.
This lovely, old-fashioned institution began to fade in the 1970s as the so-called "foodie" movement nudged it aside with a trendy but amorphous thing called Sunday Brunch.
This new meal had a lot to offer, not least an excuse to drink champagne before noon. Starched Sunday dress-up clothes were optional, arrival times were casual, and the food could be anything (and I mean anything) from scrambled eggs to eggs Benedict to roast beef.
But that was part of its trouble - it had no real identity. One never knew what to expect, because it clearly wasn't breakfast, probably wasn't lunch, and certainly wasn't dinner.
It was just a gathering with food. Sunday Dinner, on the other hand, was an event. And regardless of whether it was the highlight the week or a weekly torture that had to be endured, it was not easily forgotten.
We can't, and probably shouldn't, bring it back as it was. I don't expect anyone will try to truss up the children in starched cotton, and no one seems to want to haul out Granny's china and silver (though know that everything will somehow taste better if you do).
But reviving this lovely institution offers rewards that are well worth the extra work and risk of being thought corny and old-fashioned.
Here are a few Sunday Dinner classics to help you get started.
The first and most critical element of this meal here in the South is sweetened ice tea, or, as we know it, "Sweetea." Yes, I know it's not the done thing outside the South, but let me point out that that's where you are, so get over it. Here's how to brew it well - strong, yet crystal clear and so sweet that a spoon will stand up in it.
Makes about 3 quarts, or 10-12 servings
6 teabags (black tea)
1 cup sugar
2-3 lemons, cut into wedges or rounds
Mint sprigs (optional)
1. Bring 6 cups water to a rolling boil. Put teabags in heatproof pitcher or teapot that will hold at least 8 cups. Take water from heat and let settle until no longer bubbling. Pour over teabags and let steep 5 minutes. Remove bags allowing liquid to drain from them.
2. Stir sugar into hot tea until completely dissolved. Tea should be very strong and sweet. Let cool a few minutes. Pour into a serving pitcher and add 6 cups cold water. Stir well. Let cool and serve over ice with lemon and mint if liked.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is the quintessential main dish for Sunday Dinner here in the South, but it does require some last minute attention if you plan to serve it warm. The nice thing about this one is that it can be served at room temperature and will still be crispy. The only downside is that you'll need to start this the day before. Drain off the brine and put it in the buttermilk first thing on Sunday morning and it'll be ready to cook by noon.
2 frying chickens (2Â½ to 3 pounds each, or smaller, if possible), washed and disjointed for frying
2 cups whole milk buttermilk
5 to 6 large cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
Hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Â½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
Lard or peanut oil, for frying
1. Put chicken in glass bowl. Sprinkle handful of salt over and cover completely with cold water. Toss gently until salt dissolves. Let soak, refrigerated, overnight.
2. Drain, discarding brine, and pat dry. Pour buttermilk over. Turn chicken until well-coated. Add garlic and hot sauce to taste. Toss to mix. Let marinate for 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.
3. Combine flour, a small handful of salt, and pepper in a large paper or zipper-locking plastic bag. Fold over top to close tightly and shake until well mixed. If serving chicken hot, position rack in center of oven and preheat to warm setting. Fit wire cooling rack into rimmed baking sheet. Put enough lard or oil in large, deep, cast-iron skillet or enameled iron Dutch oven to come halfway up sides. Bring fat to 375 degrees over medium-high heat (very hot but not smoking). Beginning with thighs and drumsticks, lift chicken out of buttermilk a piece at a time, allowing excess to flow back into bowl, and drop into bag of seasoned flour. Fold over top and shake until coated. Lift out, shaking off excess, and slip into pan.
4. Fry until outside is well sealed and beginning to brown, turning chicken once. Reduce heat to medium and continue frying, maintaining fat temperature at 325 degrees, until chicken is cooked through and golden brown, about 25 minutes for thighs and drumsticks, 20 minutes for breast and wings, turning halfway. Remove chicken as it is done, drain well, and lay on prepared cooling rack. If serving it hot, keep in warm oven until ready to serve.
Sunday Roast Chicken with Sage and Madeira Pan Gravy
Though fried chicken is the iconic Sunday Dinner centerpiece, I actually prefer roast chicken. If you're feeding a crowd, plan to roast two birds rather than one big one.
1 small young chicken weighing no more than 3Â½ pounds
Salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
1 medium yellow onion, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled, and thinly sliced
Madeira Pan Gravy (recipe follows)
1. Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 500 degrees F. Remove giblets and neck from bird (freeze to use for broth). Rinse under cold running water and pat dry. Rub inside with salt and black pepper and fill with sage and sliced onion. Tie legs together with kitchen twine and tuck wing tips under back of bird. Rub outside with butter and season well with salt and pepper.
2. Butter an oval or rectangular roasting pan that will hold chicken with just 1 inch on all sides. (tight fit keeps pan juices from drying up.) Put in chicken breast up and put pan on center rack of oven. Roast 10 minutes, gently shaking after 5 minutes to be sure skin isn't sticking.
3. Remove pan from oven and turn chicken breast side down with protected hands or carving fork and tongs. Reduce temperature to 450. Return chicken to oven and roast, shaking pan gently once or twice more to be sure skin isn't sticking, until thighs are just cooked through, about 45 minutes. A meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh should read 165 degrees. If skin begins to get too brown before bird is done, reduce heat to 375. If breast skin has stuck to pan, don't worry. It will still be delicious. Gently pry loose with spatula. Using carving fork and tongs, turn chicken breast up. Roast 5 minutes or until skin is golden and crisp.
4. Remove chicken to warm platter and let rest 10 minutes before carving. Make Madeira Pan Gravy while chicken rests. Serve with gravy passed separately.
Madeira Pan Gravy
Makes about 1Â½ cups
Roasting juices left in the roasting pan
1 cup Madeira
1 cup Chicken Broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1. After chicken is removed from pan, pour off but reserve pan juices. Let them settle and spoon off fat (or use a degreasing pitcher). Put roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add Madeira and bring to boil, stirring and scraping pan to loosen cooking residue. Let it boil 1 minute.
2. Add broth and bring liquid to boil. Boil until reduced by half, about 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add reserved pan juices and sage, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until lightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Turn off heat and swirl in butter. Taste and adjust seasonings.
SautÃ©ed Summer Squash with Green Onions
Squash casserole is an old Sunday Dinner on the Grounds standby, but here's a faster, and easier, way to serve those sweet summer beauties that is just as satisfying.
2 pounds young yellow summer squash such as yellow crookneck, pattypan, or zucchini
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large or 6 medium green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1. Scrub the squash well under cold running water and pat dry. Trim off the blossom and stem ends and slice thickly into rounds about Â¼-inch thick.
2. Melt the butter in a large sautÃ© pan or skillet on the heat to medium high. When it is melted and hot, but not browning, add the squash, tossing until they're uniformly coated. SautÃ©, tossing often, until they're beginning to color, about 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add the white parts of the onions and season well with salt and a liberal grinding of pepper. SautÃ© until the squash are golden brown and tender, about 3 to 4 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasonings, transfer the squash to a warm serving bowl, and scatter the green onion tops over them. Serve at once.
Bourbon Cherry Pie
Summer Sunday dinners weren't complete without a fresh fruit dessert, and since cherries are in season and plentiful just now, an old-fashioned lattice-topped cherry pie seems just right. You may gild this lily with vanilla or dulce de leche ice cream, but it's pretty perfect as is.
Makes 1 9-inch pie, serving 6
1 prepared pastry for a double-crust pie
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups pitted and halved dark sweet cherries (about 2 pounds whole cherries)
2 tablespoons bourbon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Divide pastry in half and roll out half 1/8-inch thick. Line 9-inch pie plate with it and prick bottom well with a fork; don't trim excess dough. Sprinkle bottom with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Roll out remaining pastry and cut with a knife or fluted pastry wheel into Â½-inch wide strips. Refrigerate while making filling.
2. Toss together cherries, remaining sugar, tiny pinch of salt, bourbon, and butter in mixing bowl. Sprinkle in flour and mix well. Pour fruit into prepared pastry and level with spatula.
3. Weave lattice top as follows: lay strips of pastry 1/2 inch apart on top of the pie. Fold back every other strip and lay strip crosswise along one edge over strips that remain. Unfold folded strips and fold back ones that had not been folded before. Lay another strip of pastry Â½ inch from other, unfold folded strips, and repeat until surface is covered. Trim off excess strips, brush undersides with water and press into bottom pastry. Brush edges of pastry with water and fold excess bottom pastry over edges of lattice. Press into place and flute edges with fingers.
4. Put pie on large, rimmed cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350Â° F. and bake until top is golden brown and filling is bubbly to center and thickened, about 30 minutes more. Let cool before cutting. Can be made a day ahead.