It’s Taco Tuesday here at Alpine! And the weather could not be more perfect. 70’s, low humidity, and abundant sunshine have marked our day. I have just returned to my house and actually put on a light jacket to sit on my screened porch as I type this. An ideal evening for an outdoor picnic. On Tuesdays we give our Work Crew (high school kitchen boys, most former campers) a much deserved night off. The rest of us get to enjoy a taco buffet, paper plates loaded with tortilla chips, ground beef, grated cheese, sliced tomato, shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream or some combination thereof.
Mentioning our picnic supper gives me a good chance to segue to food in general at Alpine. Much of this is borrowed from a previous post last term. But I think it’s important enough to mention again for those new to Alpine or maybe just finding my blog.
Food at Alpine is a big deal. When Mr. O started camp in 1959 his father gave him one piece of advice. His father, by the way, was Dr. Carter O’Ferrall (hence my wife’s name) a much loved physician in Jackson, MS who had delivered most of the boys who camped at Alpine those first few years. So his advice was that no matter what else you do don’t skimp on the food. Serve quality food that boys will eat. And so that is our goal every summer.
Dick’s first hire was Mrs. Bea Crow, a local lady who had learned to cook for Mrs. Martha Berry at Berry College. Mrs. Crow would become his longest hire, faithfully serving food to hungry boys every summer until her retirement in the late 2000’s (in her 90’s I might add!). She passed away last summer just shy of her 102nd birthday. Up until just a few summers ago she still maintained a full vegetable garden.
Her daughter, Mrs. Gail Collins, runs our dining hall now. She has continued the family legacy and even made things better, bringing in new dishes and ideas each summer.
We eat family style in the dining hall, large heaping bowlfuls of each item carefully placed on each table only minutes before the dinner bell rings, in hopes that we can still see steam rising when we arrive. Boys sit at the same table all term, with usually 10 boys their age and 2 or 3 counselors. Some will be from their cabin and a few others from the cabins right around them. We enter the dining hall in a shockingly orderly manner for over 300 hungry men and boys, each receiving a squirt of hand sanitizer on the way in the screen door. Standing behind our chairs, we resist grabbing that loose hanging piece of bacon as we await the Program Director’s call to sing the blessing.
There are 3 blessings, one for each meal, that we have been singing for as long as I’ve been at camp. We recently posted them on our Facebook page. The last note of “Amen” is usually mixed with the beginning sound of 300 plus chairs pulling back as we take our seats, eager to pass what’s in front of us and catch the next bowl headed our way.
We place an emphasis on manners and service at the table. It’s not perfect, mind you. But we are a community and we have to think about others even at the table. When we’re hungry, food can bring out the most selfish sides in all of us, and I include myself and all the other staff in that category. We spend a lot of time in Staff Training talking about it. We are very intentional in how we treat the table experience. It’s an intimate experience and boys take away a lot from their time in the Dining Hall.
We pass all the food around in one direction. We each take a reasonable portion to make sure everyone at the table gets a little bit (this does not come so naturally when you’re hungry! Sometimes our instinct is to pile as much on our plate as we can without regard to the others.) We wait until everyone at the table has been served until any of us takes the first bite. It all seems sort of obvious as I write it but when you get 12 or 13 hungry males at a table it takes a practice and self discipline.
And of course there’s plenty of food and the high school boys on Work Crew are happy to come and refill our serving bowls and platters.
This morning for breakfast, Mrs. Gail and her crew served a crowd favorite, French toast and bacon, along with OJ, milk, and water. Just like the old days, she serves a hot noon time meal each day. Midday we enjoyed a turkey pot roast with gravy, steamed, sweetened carrots, boiled new potatoes, and cornbread.
At breakfast each day the ladies also put out a breakfast bar with yogurt, Greek and plain, granola, fruit, and cereal. Campers and counselors alike line up to get items off the breakfast bar. A full salad bar accompanies every lunch, with mixed lettuce, fresh spinach, and an assortment of toppings and dressings. Sliced carrots, craisins, and sunflower seeds on a bed of spinach leaves topped with balsamic vinaigrette is my usual.
Maybe the best part of meal times are the conversations and the laughter heard all around, with no phones or other devices to distract. Tonight I witnessed multiple groups of picnicers listening and laughing to a story being told by a fellow camper or their counselor. Several groups even stopped me to say “you’ve got to hear this” and retold the story. Now I can hear the cheers and screams across the road as age groups are playing various night games around me.
Thanks for reading and good night for now, Glenn