A Culture of Food: The Pink Supper House

Thanksgiving_Dinner_for_30Food is important for survival. Though my wife has told me many times that you should eat to live and not live to eat; my gluttony has gotten the best of me from time to time.  All in all I just love food. Food is important to humanity, not just because it keeps us alive; but because food is at the center of most of our happiest moments. First thought of Thanksgiving Dinner? Happiness while sitting around the table with family or friends. Thoughts after thinking about Sunday lunch with grandma? Happiness. Feeling loved. Good food. All of these qualities have made food not just the necessity for us to exist but eating has became a social activity. It brings people together. Over the years, the culinary arts and chefs alike have risen from being the unspoken savior in the kitchen to celebrity status. After the creation of the Food Network and TV shows showcasing chefs (like Julia Child, Justin Wilson, and Wolfgang Puck); the art of creating delicious dishes is on everyone’s mind.

Being a foodie is a common thing in today’s society. Terms like foodie, gastronome or gourmand have become commonplace. These people have so much love for a specific style of food or enjoy the experience so much that the search for better tasting item or just eating in general; that it seems to become more of a hobby than just something to keep hunger at bay. These people enjoy food for the pleasurable experience as well as enjoying the food itself. I myself don’t think that I am a foodie but I do love to eat, don’t get me wrong. My point is that enjoying a new BBQ joint in the town over or trying a new type of fish at my favorite sushi place does not constitute being a foodie. I enjoy knowing the little nuances about food. Like the history of a certain type of food or what it is made of. I like knowing what foie gras or duck confit is. Heck…maybe I am a foodie. So getting back to BBQ…I love BBQ!

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To some people here in the United States and around the world, ‘to barbecue’ refers to a technique of cooking that involves cooking a piece of meat or other items over flame. Most Southerners find it audacious when someone is cooking hot dogs and hamburgers…and call that a ‘barbecue’; but I digress. Technically, the technique referred to as ‘barbecuing’ actually involves cooking meat (mostly whole hog, beef brisket, pork shoulder, etc) in an outdoors environment, over a fire. This cooking takes place in a cooker or in a ‘pit’. This ‘pit’ becomes known as the ‘barbecue pit’. The meat takes on a smoky flavor derived from the choice of wood used to cook the meat and a barbecue sauce is added as an accompaniment (though not required) after cooking. In the United States South, barbecue is more than just a style of cooking. It is a subculture that has people like me spanning the near and distant land in hopes of finding the best bbq.

One of the biggest reasons that I have this love of BBQ is because of being raised in the South; and being raised down the road from the Pink Supper House. Barbecue in the Carolinas is usually in reference to pork. And most of the time that pork is cooked whole hog style and the meat is usually served pulled, shredded, or chopped. Eastern North Carolina barbecue is usually prepared by adding a spice mixture before placing it over the fire and ‘mopping’ sauce on the pig while it is cooking. The sauce is usually vinegar based and has herbs and spices added to it (usually a thin sauce with spices like black pepper, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, etc). <(We’ll have to discuss BBQ sauce regions at a later time.)> The whole hog North Carolina style barbecue is regarded as the oldest form of barbecue in the Americas which the Europeans were influenced heavily by the cooking styles of the African slaves, Native Americans and the cooking styles of their Czech and German ancestors. The term ‘to barbecue’ is said to have derived from the Spanish word “barbacoa” which means ‘to roast over hot coals’ or the French ‘barbe-a-queue’ which means ‘head to tail’. Either narrative could work in the word’s etymology, so what does this have to do with a place called “the Pink Supper House”?

‘The Pink Supper House’ had its origins in 1948 by three ladies from three separate churches, who got together and started raising money to help to ‘rebuild’ a church. My home church of Northeast Pentecostal Free Will Baptist church was just an old wooden building on the edge of the same creek that I live by (Island Creek). The Godly women, (led by Mrs. Sally Rivenbark (from the Northeast church) got out their old pots and pans from their homes, usable silverware, and even the string beans from their garden; and would go down to an old local store one Saturday a month and cook. The meal was made up of Southern staples but satisfyingly simple: bbq, string beans, and slaw. Most of the food was donated to them by the people in the community. Some person would donate the hog (that a man named Robert Cavenaugh would BBQ) while someone else would donate the cabbage the ladies made into the slaw.

It took the ladies about five years to build up enough money to help build the church and by that time they were called the “Northeast Ladies Auxiliary”. They decided to continue on with the meals and ended up helping raise money for for the other two ladies’ churches. That went on for about a decade until the health department stepped in (they were operating out of an old store and it wouldn’t have been approved by the Health Department) and the Ruritan Club (a service club located in many small towns and in rural areas throughout the United States) built them the “Pink Supper House”.

IMG_4256 (1)Over the years a couple of items were added to the menu. Fried chicken was added after the popularity of the item increased. Whenever there was a death in the community, they would fry chicken and hush puppies (along with the other staples: beans, cole slaw and bbq) to take to the families. Though originally ran by three Godly ladies once a month to help raise money for the community is now a nonprofit community group  which serves food every Saturday; almost half a century later, the menu which has only slightly expanded has not deterred the quality of the meals. You can taste the love in every delicious piece of fried chicken, every slice of cake homemade cake, or in the delicious vinegar based pork BBQ. So if you’re ever in Eastern North Carolina on a Saturday, go visit the Pink Supper House located between Chinquapin and Wallace in Duplin County. Save me a seat and go ahead and order me a sweet tea.

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Images:

Thanksgiving Dinner for 30 image accredited to Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886), Public Domain, http://www.reuseableart.com/v/holidays/thanksgiving/thanksgiving-03.jpg.html

A Southern Barbecue image by Horace Bradley – a wood engraving from a sketch by Horace Bradley, published in Harper’s Weekly, July 1887, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20250593

Pink Supper House images credited to me.

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