Sunday Dinner and Me

My great-grandparents, Maude and Claude Phillips, sorting potatoes. Photo courtesy Susan Lutz. Photographer and date unknown.
My great-grandparents, Maude and Claude Phillips, sorting potatoes. Photo courtesy Susan Lutz. Photographer and date unknown.

I grew up in a small town, one generation away from the family farm, but I inherited a bit of practical knowledge about raising food and an interest in cooking and American foodways. Like many people in this country, I spent many years living thousands of miles away from the family farm (which my uncle still runs, although ostriches replaced cattle as the main cash crop for a while). I stay connected to my family by sharing recipes with them and preparing my family’s favorite meals for friends.

Sunday dinner with the Phillips family.
My parents and Uncle Richard eating Sunday dinner at the home of my Aunt Frances and Uncle Walter, 1962.

Sunday Dinner is the once-weekly gathering that brought people together in a celebration of food and family. It’s pretty much died out, and probably for good reasons, but it still has a powerful hold on our imagination. A few years ago I received a grant from the Library of Congress to research Sunday Dinner and since then I’ve been obsessed with tracking down vintage photographs and stories about this lost American tradition. I have a vision of a Sunday Dinner reborn, without the drudgery that traditionally fell to the woman of the house.

Sharing a meal may be one of the last remaining ways our culture has to strengthen ties with friends and family and to reconnect to our heritage. I invite you to join me in my quest to investigate Sunday Dinners of the past and to re-make the grand tradition of Sunday Dinner.