A COUNTRY church revival consists of several evenings of special services, usually with a guest speaker. Area choirs are invited to participate on different evenings, and old-time hymn singing is a highlight of the service. Opening day there is generally a churchyard picnic, followed by a service and special music.
Many small churches still thrive in rural Virginia. Wesley Chapel, near Orlean, is one that still supports an active membership. Today it is nestled in the huge sheltering oaks planted as saplings when the cornerstone was laid in 1844. The gentle Blue Ridge foothills surround this peaceful setting, and suburban farmettes sprout here and there, posing a mild threat to the tranquillity of the past.
Services are still held here regularly, with hymns you may not often hear . . . like "Lily of the Valley" or "In the Sweet Bye and Bye." At Christmas time, the hanging oil lamps light a traditional evening service, and throughout the year fellowship dinners are held on beautiful Sunday afternoons. The preacher, the Rev. William Burrough, is a circuit rider in Methodist tradition, serving Wesley Chapel and four other churches.
If one wished to make a habit of "crashing" these country church buffets, it could be done simply by keeping track of the revival and homecoming events listed in the local papers. Baptists and Methodists are famous for these happenings, especially when mild fall days roll around. Bring a nice covered dish, and you will find that even strangers, when properly introduced, are made welcome.
The experience will convince you that the multi-generational family unit is still alive and well and living in Fauquier County. Wesley Chapel's oldest member, D.D. Sanford, celebrated his 95th birthday in July. His son and wife attend church every Sunday, along with Margaret Minter Sanford's two brothers and one sister. For families like this, the church provides a social and religious focal point, linking them with the community and with the past.
A tradition of good eating, of home cooking and "putting by" is an important part of church life. For churchyard dinners, three white-plank picnic tables are placed end-to-end and piled with a bounty of good food -- from appetizers, salads, casseroles and desserts on down. The dinner progresses; recipes are exchanged along with mutual praise.
Aunts, uncles, cousins and shirttail kin lean against their Cadillacs, pick-up trucks or economy cars, their plates loaded. One hundred years before, their ancestors may have occupied the same spot on the back of a rustic wooden wagon. The chicken hasn't changed much, nor the ham-biscuits made from home-cured country ham and Aunt Erna's special biscuit recipe.
The menu is somewhat baroque in spite of the simple country atmosphere. But the point is to sample every cook's specialty. Struggle through a plethora of vegetable casseroles and salad creations. Don't resist at least one piece of country ham or some fried chicken, and never pass by the corn muffins. Plot to return to the dessert-laden end of the table while you can still walk. Eat slowly, deliberately savoring the medley of spices and flavors, knowing that Aunt Margaret has brought her Italian cream cake and Carol her favorite brownies. Where will you find room? Mother was right. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach. (Mothers always say that at church dinners.) Nevertheless you must continue to the end of the table; surely overindulgence can be forgiven, and what better place than the churchyard, you ask? HOW TO COOK A COUNTRY HAM
Scrub ham with a stiff brush, under running water, removing mold and dark residue. If excess mold and particles remain, some of the rind may be cut off. The end bone may also be removed with a saw.
Place ham in a large roasting pan or waterbath canner (or even a lard tin) on the stove. Pour in enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes per pound. Drain water and cover with fresh warm water. Bring to a boil and simmer another 15 minutes. Place cover on pot.
In an out-of-the-way spot, spread out an old quilt or blanket and cover with newspapers. Wrap the pot securely in the newspapers and bundle it in the quilt. Let the bundle sit wrapped for 12 hours.
Drain water and remove ham. A country ham must be cooled before cutting. If ham is left in the rind before cutting, it will be moister. Directions by Erna Minter of Warrenton, Va.
SPOON BREAD (6 servings) 2 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons butter 1 cup white stone-ground cornmeal 4 eggs 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 cup milk
Bring the water, salt and butter to a boil in a saucepan and add cornmeal. Cook until thickened, cool and beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add baking powder and milk. Pour into a greased casserole and cook in a 400-degree oven for 1 hour until golden brown, but still slightly creamy inside.
STUFFED BAKED APPLES (8 servings)
1 cup water
2 cups brown sugar
8 large apples
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup yellow cake crumbs
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Bring water and 1 cup brown sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour in square baking dish. Wash, dry and core apples and place upright in dish. Mix remaining dry ingredients with fork, including the remaining cup of brown sugar, and fill each apple with mixture. Dot with butter and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
SWEET POTATO PIE (Makes two 9-inch pies)
3 eggs, beaten
4 cups mashed sweet potatoes
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 13-ounce can evaporated milk
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
two 9-inch pie shells, unbaked
Mix all ingredients well and pour into pie shells. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 45 minutes or until set. Pie is done when knife inserted in center comes out clean.
SPICE CAKE WITH COCONUT GLAZE (Makes 1 sheet cake)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour milk
1 cup raisins Coconut Broiler Cake Glaze:
2 tablespoons scalded cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup coconut
To prepare cake batter, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Combine flour, spices, baking soda and salt, then add to the batter alternately with the sour milk. Pour into a greased and floured 13-by-9-inch pan for 30 minutes.
To prepare coconut glaze, heat butter and cream to boiling in a small pan, stir in brown sugar and coconut and spread on the warm cake. Place under broiler until glaze bubbles and browns. Turn cake to brown evenly if necessary. Glaze should be well browned, but watch carefully because it burns easily. Recipes from "Wesley Chapel Cookbook"