Is there a better meal served anywhere than in a Church basement? I've been to New York and Chicago and Beijing and many places in between. I've eaten in some pretty high-falutin' eateries.
There was one fancy place Karen and I went where the guy stands by the table with a little brush and scoop. Every time you dropped a crumb on the table, he'd step in, sweep up the crumb into his little scoop and step back from the table. I guess someone somewhere thought that was pretty fancy, but with the amount of crumbs Karen and I can generate in a meal, it got to be downright annoying.
Anyhow, last night I had the privilege of going to the West Eel River Church of the Brethren Ice Cream Social, near Silver Lake, Indiana. They made good on their promise of sloppy joes or coney dogs, chips, pie and several flavors of home-made ice cream.
The truth of the matter is that the sloppy joe and chips are side-dishes. The real meal is in the home-made pies and home-cranked ice creams. The table was spread with a variety of pies and brownies that would make your head spin. I chose the Dutch apple pie, that I think was probably about 1/5 of the whole pie. But the variety was a culinary mosaic that you only find in Church basements - peach pie, sugar cream, pecan, various apple pies, blueberry, blackberry, gooseberry, raspberry, banana cream, coconut cream, lemon meringue, and more.
The ice creams rule the evening, though. There were chocolates and vanillas, black walnut and butter pecan, fresh strawberry and lemon and cherry. Dipped right out of the freezer into large bowls provided by the Church ladies.
This raises another interesting point about Church ice cream socials. The women were in the kitchen, dishing out sandwiches and chips, pouring orange drink and coffee, and going table to table collecting used dishes for satisfied customers.
The men were manning the ice cream. These were not fancy men, who knew the nuances of sophisticated ice creameries. No, these were real men who know that good ice cream is made with heavy cream, lots of sugar, and real fruit. And, though it is more convenient to go to Dairy Queen or pick up a box of Breyer's, these men know that real ice cream takes work and tastes best right out of the freezer.
"Be sure to come back and try the butter pecan," you could hear one of them say.
"I made the black walnut - here, try a scoop," said another.
The West Eel River Church has a usual Sunday attendance of about 30 souls. It is a Church that has known better days, when farm families were large and no one worked the fields on Sunday. They have an ample sanctuary and two large fellowship rooms in the basement.
At the ice cream social, however, you would have thought it was the only Church in Silver Lake. In both fellowship rooms, every seat was full. The line stretched from the serving counter and ice cream area, all the way through the hall and up the stairs and out the door. Hundreds of folks who know the inside track on a good sloppy joe and home-cranked ice cream.
And therein lies the "social" part of the whole event. The whole place was filled the wonderful sound of human conversation. People laughing at jokes they've probably heard a hundred times. Farmers sharing ideas and war stories. Women complimenting each other on recipes and outfits. Youth in equipment dealer caps stealing glances at girls in pretty tops and jeans. Old folks reminiscing and babies playing in high chairs.
What was the cost of this culinary extravaganza? A donation. Yep. A donation. And the donation box was full. No set price for all you can eat. What a sweet deal. Better food you won't find anywhere and I have yet to be in a fancy restaurant that ever provided so pleasant an atmosphere as a Church ice cream social.
The Silver Lake Church Ice Cream Social is always held the fourth Saturday of August at the Church, located about 4 mile east of Silver Lake, Indiana, on State Road 14. Hope to see you there.