Sunday, in the Christian tradition, is the intersection of food and religion. It’s the high point of the workweek for most pastors, and the dinners that follow provide time to rest and enjoy family, friends and fellowship.
“Sunday dinners,” thought Houston Chronicle food and religion editor Diane Cowen, “are America’s tradition of grace and good food.” And, what better tradition than Sunday dinners to include in a new cookbook?
Houston is home to the largest church in the country, as well as the largest Southern Baptist and United Methodist churches. Naturally, Pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen of Lakewood Church — the largest church of any denomination — came to mind as a couple who relaxed after church with family. So did the Rev. Ed and Jo Beth Young of the city’s Second Baptist and the Rev. Kirbyjon and Suzette Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist.
These couples — and others from San Antonio and Dallas as well as California, Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and New York — are featured in the finished product, Sunday Dinners: Food, Family, and Faith from Our Favorite Pastors (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $24.99).
Victoria Osteen wrote the foreward and contributed recipes steeped in Southern tradition. Several, including her recipes for roast turkey, sweet potato casserole, cornbread dressing and banana-berry cream pie, are holiday favorites. Texas fudge cake, on the other hand, is a staple in the Osteens’ kitchen.
“We’ve always been people who sit around a table and talk and eat,” Victoria Osteen told Cowen. “The table is a real gathering place.”
The Caldwells, who have built Windsor Village into the largest United Methodist church in the country, are usually busy with church matters well past the traditional Sunday lunch. But the afternoon and evening are reserved for the nuclear family.
The three Caldwell children love their mother’s marinated grilled chicken, cinnamon-raisin biscuits and spritz cookies. Their dad’s best dish is his old-fashioned macaroni and cheese.
“As a relatively older dad, I am particularly aware of being involved in the children’s lives,” Kirbyjon Caldwell said. “When life is testy to them, later and always, I want them to know they can come to Mom and Dad.”
Cowen tested all of the recipes in Sunday Dinners. Some needed tweaking because she could only guess at the measurements — recipes handed down through the generations called for a pinch of this and a scoop of that.
Many Sunday evenings, she invited friends over to sample the results. A cake that called for strawberry Jell-O and a cake mix in the ingredients — from the Rev. Mike and Jeannie Glenn of Tennessee — had friends demanding more.
“Get your own. I’m not sharing,” one friend said.
Bishop T.D. and Serita Jakes of The Potter’s House in Dallas often host a houseful of their children’s friends after church, with T.D. Jakes joking that he can feed an army from his refrigerator. Everyone in the Jakes family loves to cook, but they all know that when Dad does the cooking, it’s going to be a meal you don’t want to miss.
Collectively, the families in Sunday Dinners are ambassadors for great food, strong families and deep faith. Cowen, a native of Indiana, experienced the power of all three as she was growing up, and that helped her tell the stories of the pastors.
When Cowen was growing up, she and her family went to church, then shared Sunday dinner at home, with relatives or, as a special treat, in a restaurant.
But wherever they ate, Sunday was the day to focus on family.
It’s a simple message, Cowen said. “Life is better because we’re all in it together.”