We love church suppers and we love enduring culinary traditions, but the annual autumn dinner hosted by the Carversville United Church of Christ, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is in another category altogether. This year marked the 148th edition of the oyster and pork feast. They missed a year for various reasons here or there over the centuries (a church fire, a pastor who didn’t like the tradition), so we’re not certain of the date of that first church dinner but our quick math puts it soon after the Civil War. How’s that for enduring!
As for the food, let it be known that this is no ordinary church meal. Just about everything is made by the members of the church, from the triple-hand-breading of the oysters and the butchering of the pork, through the processing of the fresh corn donated by a local farm, through the processing of the apples donated by a local orchard into applesauce, to the gravy made from the pork trimmings, to the stewed tomatoes and real mashed potatoes, right through to the assorted desserts donated by parishioners. Amazing! As far as we could discern, the only premade elements of the meal were the boxes of iced tea and lemonade, the dinner rolls, and the cole slaw.
The dinner actually began as an oyster-only event; pork wasn’t added to the mix until the 1940s. That first dinner was said to cost 50 cents. This year, $20 would get you a meal, $21 if you wanted takeout. It’s a very popular local event and, depending on when you arrive, you’ll likely have to wait a few minutes in the pews (singalong entertainment provided by a local musician). When your number is called, you’ll head downstairs to the dining room, where you’ll be seated at long cafeteria tables along with your fellow diners. Those tables are already set with slaw and homemade applesauce.
Someone will be by to take your order: pork, oysters, or both, which come with a giant mound of homemade mashed potatoes. All the while, bowls of the various sides are delivered, to be shared family-style. The fried oysters are mammoths, super-crisp without, goopy and “oystery” within. Either you love oysters or you don’t. The pork is moist and fragrant autumn food. The corn, which had been removed from the cob, blanched, and frozen some weeks earlier during corn season, is crisp and sweet, like no frozen corn you’ve ever tasted. The gravy is a porky jus and the applesauce is perfect.
The dessert cart will be wheeled over by a cub scout, where you can select what looks good from an assortment of homemade pies, crisps, squares, cupcakes, and cakes. Church coffee is available.
Everyone is put to work. The adults are hard-working and cheerful, most of the kids, and the scouts, are eager to do their best, and a few kids (but surprisingly few) obviously had their arms twisted. It all makes for a merry and festive afternoon or evening. Service begins at 3PM and runs until 8PM, or until the food runs out. There’s no reservations; first-come, first-served. Credit cards are accepted. Don’t forget to take a postprandial stroll over to the crafts room to do a little browsing and early holiday shopping. All proceeds go towards supporting the church’s missions.3736 Aquetong Road Carversville PA 18913 215-297-5166 Carversville United Church of Christ’s Website Carversville United Church of Christ on Facebook