TUPELO • Some of Alice Rogers’ fondest memories growing up are of the food and fellowship at First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo.
Rogers, a lifelong member of the congregation, said when she was a little girl, the church had hostesses who prepared delicious Southern fare for potlucks and other church gatherings.
“The same range is in the kitchen that my mother cooked on,” said Rogers, 67. “When it came time to cook for the church, Mother and her friends would be in the kitchen making special dishes – popular dishes of the day.”
When First Presbyterian was preparing for its sesquicentennial, which it celebrated in 2017, Rogers started looking back through some of the church’s cookbooks for recipes and history.
“I found recipes we enjoyed 50 years ago in church and I realized people still liked those recipes and missed them,” she said. “Those cookbooks took me back.”
Rogers also realized that the numbers for the Wednesday night dinner and program at the church had become stagnant.
“We were not growing,” she said. “The Wednesday night program had been going on forever and the programs were excellent. The weak link had to be the food.”
So Rogers proposed an experiment. She would volunteer her time and organizational skills and, with help from other volunteers, see if they could offer those tasty old-fashioned meals with a nod toward health and keep costs down.
“My approach was fresh food – we offer a full salad bar with fresh vegetables such as lettuces, celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli and green onions, and fruits like raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, tangerines and apples. And we have lean protein such as boiled eggs, string cheese and grilled chicken breasts.”
Rogers makes 5 gallons of Southern-style green beans every week and a couple of other side dishes and a caterer provides a meat casserole, rolls and desserts. And there are always chicken tenders.
“People’s eating habits have changed,” she said. “Healthier options should be offered. If someone is on a strict diet or doing keto or clean eating, they don’t have to let food be a reason not to come. There is something for them to eat here.”
Rogers’ experiment has been met with great success. The numbers on Wednesday nights have tripled since she took over the kitchen in 2016.
“We call it an experiment that has become a solution,” she said. “What I especially love is that the meal promotes a feeling of community and belonging. The room is filled with conversation and laughing in God’s house. You cannot put a price tag on that.”
1 quart squash, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 stick butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Salt and pepper
3 cups grated Cheddar cheese
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
Cook squash in a little water until tender. Reserve 1/2 cup pot liquor. Saute onion and bell pepper in butter until tender. Add cooked squash and reserved pot liquor. Add eggs, sugar, salt and pepper. Reserve a little cheese and cracker crumbs to cover the top of the casserole; add the remainder to the casserole ingredients and stir to mix well. Pour into a greased casserole; top with reserved cheese and crushed crackers. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until brown. Serves 6 to 8.
TURNIP GREEN CASSEROLE
2 (27-ounce) cans Glory seasoned turnip greens or mixed greens
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 small to medium onion, chopped
1 stick butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
Drain turnip greens and place in a bowl. Add soup, red wine vinegar and sugar. Cook onion in butter and add to ingredients in the bowl. Stir in eggs and season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to greased casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve with pepper sauce.
Note: If desired, you may mix 1/2 cup bread crumbs and 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese, or some crumbled cornbread, and sprinkle it over the casserole before baking.
HOMESTYLE SOUTHERN GREEN BEANS
1 gallon cut green beans, with about 1 1/2 cups liquid drained off
2 cans chicken broth
4 beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons Morton’s Nature’s Seasons seasoning
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 to 2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1/2 stick butter
Place all ingredients in a large cooking pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 3 hours, stirring regularly. As the beans cook down, add a little water or more chicken broth, if needed.
COPPER PENNY CARROTS
2 pounds carrots, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 can tomato soup
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Boil carrots in salted water until tender; cool. Alternate layers of carrots, green pepper and onion in a baking dish. Combine remaining ingredients and blend until thoroughly mixed. Pour over vegetables. Refrigerate and serve cold or heat at 350 degrees until warm. Serves 12 to 15.
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, room temp
2 eggs, well-beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cream sugar, butter, eggs and oil. Add flour, soda, cream of tartar, salt and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Drop onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
ORANGE CONGEALED SALAD
1 small box orange gelatin
1 small can crushed pineapple, with juice
8 ounces small-curd cottage cheese
1 (8-ounce) tub whipped topping, thawed
Combine gelatin and pineapple in a small saucepan and heat until gelatin is dissolved. Let cool. Combine cottage cheese and whipped topping together in a bowl, then add gelatin mixture. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours. This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, etc. You may substitute lime or raspberry gelatin, if desired.
1 1/2 pounds fresh, frozen or canned asparagus
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Cook fresh or frozen asparagus for 7 to 10 minutes; do not overcook (canned asparagus does not need to be cooked). Layer asparagus in a casserole dish. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over asparagus. Refrigerate for several hours or up to 3 days. Serve chilled or at room temp.
FROZEN STRAWBERRY SALAD
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, softened
1 (16-ounce) package whole frozen strawberries, thawed
1 (14-ounce) can crushed pineapple, slightly drained
3 bananas, sliced
12 ounces whipped topping, thawed
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
Combine all ingredients and pour into an oblong casserole. Freeze for 12 hours. Remove from freezer and cut into squares an hour before serving.
‘LOTTIE CAKES’ BROWNIES
1 stick butter
1 ounce dark, unsweetened baking chocolate (4 small segments)
1 ounce semi-sweet baking chocolate (4 small segments)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Melt butter and both chocolates over low heat or microwave in a bowl. Cool slightly. Beat eggs and sugar together. Add the chocolate mixture. Add flour, sifted one time, salt and vanilla and mix well. Pour into a greased pan and top with pecans, if using. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes. Do not overbake. The brownies will harden even though they feel soft when you touch them before you remove them from the oven. They’re meant to be gooey. Serve with ice cream.