Picnic tradition recipes

Published 12:46 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Masonic Picnic’s getting on up there in years, but age hasn’t kept the historical event from maintaining the tradition it always has – one of bringing the county together for delicious food and fellowship.

On that score, the picnic’s never failed to live up to its reputation.  And that’s why generations of Masons and their families will arrive at the picnic grounds of Clement Grove this Saturday carrying baskets lined with colorful cloths, filled to the brim with favorite foods made from vintage, family recipes.

And it’s the reason why many local folks will make a beeline to the picnic grounds in anticipation of their favorite foods – and to share in fun and fellowship with one another.  But those aren’t the only reasons.

There’s this thing called tradition.

If only those grounds could talk. Now well over 100 years old, the Masonic Picnic in Davie County dates so far back that no one can even remember the first one, but yet the oldest folks living here, those who attended back in the day, and those who still do, have never forgotten it – and never will.

Such is what beautiful memories are made of. They stick with us. They have a purpose. They are a legacy unto themselves – they always have been and always will be the vestiges of one’s heritage, traditions, and local culture.

Back in the early days, excursion trains came from Winston-Salem; folks came from Statesville and other surrounding counties to participate in the picnic festivities. The picnic’s a lovely event that’s been going on for decades yet still draws people together, put on by Masonic lodges in Mocksville, Farmington and Advance.

Once held the second week in August – the big event was always on the Thursday of that week. Important government officials such as state governors and senators would attend and speak from an old, rustic platform stage under an arbor.

The picnic began at a site in Cooleemee in June of 1878 but has been held in Mocksville ever since the Masons purchased five acres behind the Brock Auditorium, an area known as Clement Grove.

A favorite memory for many residents, the event was much like a carnival with amusement park rides, live music, booths selling hand-churned ice cream, and stands of homemade lemonade made from fresh lemons.

This county tradition has been held every year since its beginning with the exception of two years, 1935 and 1944, when the event had to be canceled due to the polio epidemics.

At one time, the crowds were huge. People would start lining up at 11:15, and the admission line would be really long. When the Masons held the carnival all week, it took a lot of people to handle concessions, tickets, and parking. The event required lots of folks working many days. The picnic’s still a fundraiser, so to enjoy the feast, you must purchase an admission ticket. The proceeds go to the Masonic Home for Children at Oxford.

Due to the Civil War’s social and economic impact on the population, there was a high number of orphans, so the college was reopened as a haven for the protection and education of needy and orphaned children. In February of this year, the Masonic home turned 146, so in four years, the home will be celebrating a 150th anniversary.

To a certain extent, local resident Dianne Anderson has been involved in the Masonic Picnic all her life. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was a Mason. Dianne recollected that when she was a child, her grandmother cooked for the picnic and packed a basket every year. The young girl looked forward to the grand event as it was the highlight of her summer.

Today, Dianne’s son, Chris, is a fourth-generation Mason. Her husband, Jerry Anderson, comes from a long line of Masons. So her husband is a Mason, his father was a Mason, and his grandfather was a Mason. The family is originally from Davie County.

Women planned food for their baskets well in advance – and coordinated outfits for the day. Commenting on customary attire for the picnic in his book, History of Davie County, author James A. Wall made this reference, referring to the Masonic picnic of 1892.   

“The crowd appeared as a vast human flower garden. The country girl is partial to a gaily trimmed bonnet, and never makes her picnic dresses of any somber material. Consequently, the vast audience which must have approached 5,000 in numbers was fairly abloom…”

Describing how she remembered the picnic as a child, Dianne said: “The Masonic Picnic – that was the event when I got a brand new dress. And I did the same for my children.”

In years past, the Masons always brought a busload of children from the orphanage, and they would get to enjoy the carnival rides on that day and then have lunch with everyone. While it’s more of a dinner now, everyone still brings baskets plentifully packed.

Another reference from Mr. Walls book reads, “At about one o’clock, all the ladies in the audience took their well filled baskets and spread the dinner on the long tables…the banquet was ample but it was soon a mere wistful remembrance, and no baskets full were taken up after it was all over…”

Every year since Dianne married Jerry in 1960, she’s prepared food for the meal.

Describing her role over the years, Dianne recollected: “Everybody takes a huge basket of food, and you put your food out so everyone can enjoy what has been prepared – eating’s always been the main event.”

Jerry gets up early and cooks the country ham. She bakes at least 60 biscuits to go with the ham. Along with the ham and biscuits, she makes 60 chess tarts – they are some of the picnickers’ favorites.

“I always take some of the same things – people will look for your table and come to eat the food you cooked if they like it,” she said.

Cooking for the picnic was somewhat of a family affair. An entire family might help cook and pack the food on picnic day. “My mother always helped me with my basket. She made chicken livers for the picnic, and I still make those.”

On picnic day, Diane enjoys cooking foods that are in season such as green beans and corn, and maybe a little potato salad.

Thinking ahead about what she might prepare this year, she shared: “It will depend on what the week holds, but I’ll probably do some fruit – I usually do a great big bowl.”

And she’ll make some tomatoes if they’re still in.

“I used to do stuffed, fresh tomatoes. I haven’t done those in a couple of years just because I didn’t have them, but I should have some this year.”

Dianne and Jerry have always had gardens but don’t garden as much as they once did. The couple still maintains a small plot just for tomatoes and cucumbers. She likes to make beet pickles and another type pickle, too.

“They’re not a dill pickle but plainer. I slice my cucumbers and put them in sugar and vinegar with salt and pepper. I usually put some onion in it and marinate them.”

Dianne cooks often but doesn’t use a lot of recipes – her style is more basic. Believing fresh herbs enhance taste, she said, “I have an herb garden, and I enjoy using a lot of herbs when cooking.”

She has two granddaughters, and when the girls were in college, Dianne and her daughter, Dawn, tried to think of meals that could be sent back to school. One condiment they learned to make was pesto. The ladies cooked pasta to go along with the pesto, making up a large batch of pesto pasta salad.

“We make pesto in big bunches and then put it in smaller containers. It was easy for the girls to take back to school with them,” she said.

When Dianne has extra tomatoes, she makes spaghetti sauce and freezes it to enjoy later.

“I cook a lot of my food for big crowds.”

She’s shared recipes for large quantity spaghetti that feeds 50 or more people as well as the one for chess tarts – the dessert everyone craves – and her grandkid’s favorite chocolate cake.

Because August is a good month for grilling outside, Dianne included a recipe for a simple BBQ sauce that works well with many dishes. People do appreciate simple summer recipes. It’s just too humid to toil over a hot stove.

Regarding her cakes, Dianne offered some advice. “You can’t substitute items if you want it to turn out right. You can’t use skim milk if it calls for whole. You have to use the real stuff. Good eggs and real butter.”

Usually, folks that come to Dianne’s table want her ham biscuits and chess tarts. Yum. They sound like a savory beginning and sweet ending to any picnic.

This year’s picnic will be held on Saturday, Aug. 10. I agree with Mike Barnhardt’s comment in a previous article.  The Masonic Picnic – it’s a tradition – and its purpose is important. We have a duty to minister to – that is, to attend to, the needs of the needy.

Hopefully, there’s no rain in the forecast. But so what, if there is? With a big arbor covering the picnic tables, one would not expect the food to get wet. But just in case that happens, allow me to share this advice from James Wall’s book.

At the 1912 picnic, a man known as Phil Johnson knew the right thing to do after a rain shower on picnic day.  Following his lead, one would just need to, “…turn a chess pie upside down to drain off the water.”

FRIED SQUASH

6 yellow squash, peeled, sliced in rounds

1 egg

¾ cup milk

Yellow cornmeal

All-purpose flour

In a bowl, mix egg and milk. In another bowl, mix equal amounts of cornmeal and all-purpose flour. Cover bottom of an electric skillet with olive oil, and set the temperature at 350-degrees. Take squash rounds and dip in the egg mixture and then in cornmeal mixture. Place squash in a skillet, and cook 4-5 minutes until brown, and turn and brown on the other side. Drain on paper towels.

BAKED SWEET POTATO ROUNDS

Peel sweet potatoes. Cut into ½ inch rounds. Place rounds on a cookie sheet greased with olive oil. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Turnover and bake 10 more minutes. Dip potato rounds in the honey mustard dressing.

HONEY MUSTARD DRESSING

¼ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup mustard

¼ cup honey

Pinch of salt.

Combine all ingredients, and use as a dip for baked sweet potato rounds.

SPAGHETTI SAUCE FOR 50-60

12 pounds of hamburger

16 sauteed onions

2- 105oz. cans of tomato sauce (Sam’s Club)

4-12 oz. cans tomato paste

¾ cup sugar

4 tsp. garlic powder

8 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

8 tsp. salt

8 tsp. pepper

2 Tbsp. chili powder

2-46 oz. cans tomato juice

Cook hamburger by putting 6 pounds of meat in two pots. Put just enough water in to cover. (Watch carefully while cooking because it sticks easily) Once cooked, drain it, and then run hot water over it. In a skillet, saute onions. Divide the onions and other ingredients between the two pots. Mix well. Simmer on low for several hours.

DIANNE’S BARBEQUE MEATBALLS

8 lbs. ground chuck

3 ¾ cup original oatmeal

1 ¼ cup chopped onions

5 cups tomato juice

5 beaten eggs

3 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

36 oz. Kraft Original barbecue sauce

36 oz. ketchup

1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice

Combine meat, oatmeal, onions, juice, eggs, salt, and pepper, and mix well.  Form into 60 (4 oz.) meatballs. Arrange in baking dishes. Mix remaining ingredients, and pour over meatballs. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

FRESH SPAGHETTI SAUCE

4 quarts peeled, cut tomatoes

1 cup chopped onion

¾ cup sugar

6 tsp. salt

2 tsp. pepper

2 Tbsp. fresh oregano

2-12 oz. cans of tomato paste

Combine fresh tomatoes, onion, sugar, salt, pepper, and oregano. Simmer for 1 hour, and then add tomato paste. Simmer another 2 hours. (I freeze it in amounts for 2 people.)

PESTO

½ cup pine nuts

3 Tbsp. chopped garlic (9 cloves)

5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 15 seconds. Add basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube, and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top. (I make this recipe x 9 and put in 1 cup freezer containers. It freezes well and is perfect for serving over pasta.

PESTO PASTA SALAD

½ pound bowtie pasta

1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cups pesto

1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup premium mayonnaise

½ cup grated fresh Parmesan

1 can Lesueur green peas

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.

Cook the bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10-12 minutes until each pasta is al dente. Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the pesto, and lemon juice. Add the mayonnaise and puree. Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta and then add the Parmesan, peas, pine nuts, salt, and pepper. Mix well, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

REFRIGERATED PICKLED BEETS

1 pound cooked, sliced beets (7)

½ cup white vinegar

¼ cup sugar

¼ tsp. salt

2 bay leaves

Combine vinegar, sugar, and bay leaves in a saucepan, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in salt, and remove bay leaves. Add beets to a sterilized jar, and pour the hot brine over them. Cool to room temperature, put lid on and refrigerate. Keeps 6-8 weeks in the refrigerator.

MUSTARD ROASTED POTATOES

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. melted butter

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 chopped spring onions

3 minced garlic cloves

½ cup Dijon mustard

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pounds of potatoes

Combine olive oil, butter, lemon juice, onion, garlic, mustard, thyme, rosemary salt and pepper in a bowl. Cut washed potatoes into small chunks and toss with the mixture. Pour onto an olive oil greased baking sheet, and spread out in a single layer. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 30-40 minutes, stirring potatoes after 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

MOTHER’S CHICKEN LIVERS

½ bag of Flour

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp. Pepper

Chicken livers

1 stick salted butter

In a gallon sized Ziplock bag, fill the bag halfway with flour, add salt, and pepper, and shake well. Put a few chicken livers at a time in the bag of flour and shake to cover. In a 350-degree oven, melt one stick of butter in a 9×13 baking dish. Remove from oven after melting, and place chicken livers in the dish. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Turn livers, and bake another 20 minutes.

BAR B QUE SAUCE

1 cup ketchup

1 cup vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 level tsp. pepper

1 heaping tsp. salt

Tabasco sauce-several shakes to taste

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Baste meat while cooking, and then use for a dip. Also can make a slaw with the recipe. For chicken, add 2 Tbsp. prepared yellow mustard so the sauce will stick to the chicken.

CHESS TARTS

¼ pound salted butter

2 cups brown sugar

Juice from ½ lemon

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 large eggs

2 boxes of tart shells (8 to a box)

Pecans

Melt butter and allow to cool before mixing with other ingredients. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Fill pie shells until ¾ full. Top with 4-5 whole pecans.  If you don’t have whole, you can use crushed pecans. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or 5 minutes longer, making sure crust looks done. Makes 16 tarts. (Sometimes makes more so you might want to get 3 boxes of tarts.)

FAVORITE CHOCOLATE PIE

1 ½ cups sugar

4 Tbsp. cocoa

1 Tbsp. flour

2 beaten eggs

½ stick melted, unsalted butter

½ cup evaporated milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 unbaked pie shell

Mix dry ingredients. Add beaten eggs, butter, milk, and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. (This is a grandchild favorite.)

FAVORITE CHOCOLATE CAKE

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

¼ tsp. salt

2 sticks unsalted butter

3 Tbsp.sifted cocoa

1 cup hot water

2 beaten eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. baking soda

½ cup buttermilk or ½ cup milk with 1 Tbsp. vinegar

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt. In a saucepan, bring butter, cocoa, and water to a boil. Remove from heat, and stir into flour-sugar mixture. Beat with mixer until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk. Add to mixture and beat. The batter will be thin. Pour into a 9 x 13-inch pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. (A favorite of all my grandchildren.)

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup evaporated milk

2 cups marshmallows

1 cup chocolate morsels

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Boil butter, sugar, and evaporated milk together for 2-3 minutes. Add marshmallows and chocolate morsels, and stir until melted. Spread on the cake that you have punched holes in.

COCONUT CAKE

Pound Cake Recipe

2 sticks softened, unsalted butter

½ cup Crisco shortening

3 cups sugar

5 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

3 cups sifted, measured Swans Down cake flour

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Icing

6 oz. pineapple juice

Whipped cream

Real or frozen coconut (3 packs)

In a mixer, combine butter, Crisco, and sugar, and mix until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly after each one. Alternate flour, baking powder, and salt with milk and end with flour. Always start with flour and end with flour. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Check doneness with a toothpick as ovens vary. Cool the layers on cooling racks. When cool, slice layers in half. For the icing, place first cake half on a plate, and punch holes in it with a fork. Pour pineapple juice over it. (I use a 6oz. can for the entire cake.  I use my recipe for pound cake but pour the batter into two round cake pans. The recipe will make more than the 2 pans needed for the cake, and I usually make a small loaf cake out of the leftovers.) For the icing, make real whipped cream. No Cool Whip. Put whipped cream over the layer then add coconut. Frozen coconut works well. Repeat with putting the next layer on, punch, pour juice over, and add whipped cream and coconut. Then do the same with the 2 other layers of cake.