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The Great American Sunday Dinner

I don't know how much of a tradition this still is, but growing up in the 70s, a special Sunday dinner was a common occurrence and a pretty big deal. The matriarch of the family--paternal or maternal grandmother--would prepare a luxus meal--usually a late lunch--and invite the extended family over to partake.

My maternal grandmother was not much of a cook, quite frankly. She lived in rather straightened circumstances most of her life and was abstemious in the extreme. Consequently, she was loth to shoot the works in the kitchen, and I think felt a mild disdain to those who did. This culinary puritanism did not, however, prevent her from preparing one hell of a roast beef with mashed taters, rolls, gravy and all the usual trimmins. This was her Sunday dinner and it was easily the best thing she ever cooked.

My paternal grandmother, although also a bit poor, had no such qualms about ritzing it up in the kitchen, and she was a superb country cook. Her Sunday specialty was supernal fried chicken--everybody who tried it agreed it was the best they had ever tasted--with biscuits, cream gravy, green beans, etc. We grandkids practically fought over the "pulley bone" and always broke the wishbone, with the lucky kid holding the long piece getting to make a wish. After dinner, the adults smoked and drank and played 42, canasta or 31 while we kids did what kids do. Great times.

Did you have such experiences as a child? Do you still?

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  1. Yes, the following is a stereotype and generalization....but in my opinion, the Great American *Family* is fractured. Too busy in life for family getting together. It's not happening on Sunday's and it's not even happening during the week.

    What you describe seems to happen only in ethnic families today.....where they are noticeably more dependent on each other in family care taking and business support...and maintaining family traditions.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fourunder

      Boring white woman here. My husband and I try to do a nice Sunday dinner semi-regularly and it's just us, although we have an addition arriving soon. Both our families had pretty regular Sunday dinners and its just a nice tradition to keep up. Generally when we do invite family over, it tends to be for Sunday dinner. It's a nice thing to have before the week starts, not to mention good for leftovers.

    2. Absolutely! Sunday dinner was always a special time. I seemed to have carried on the tradition. Even if I'm alone for dinner I usually plan a nice Sunday dinner. If I didn't live 2 hours from my parents, there would still be family gatherings on Sunday night with dinner made by my grandmother who usually whips up the family favorites - roast lamb, braised pork chops, smothered collard greens, mac and cheese.

      1. I did as a child, first at my grandmothers house, then at my mothers house.
        By the time I became an adult, everyone moved away. Now, my adult children and extended family all live hours and hours away from one another. Family dinners are only on holidays now.

        1. Yes. As a child I had four sets of grandparents. My moms biological parents which I never met, her adoptive parents, my dads mother and her husband and my dads father and his wife. My dads mother and his step mother were excellent cooks. Dad's mom was a cook in a school cafeteria and made food based on that style of cooking. But Sundays were a special pot roast and trimmings day. And Sundays at step grandma's house was either fresh eggs from the coop, bacon from the pigs grandpa raised, slaughtered and smoked, and biscuits or pancakes. If it was dinner, it was late afternoon and it was a fresh slaughtered chicken, swamp cabbage or greens from the garden, sliced tomatoes from the garden, radishes,green beans etc... all fresh. Or sometimes it was sausages that grandpa made served with sauerkraut that grandma made fresh(rediculously good, not like the canned crap) and boiled potatoes. My knees are buckling from the memories.

          1. I never experienced this growing up in the 70s, despite having ethnic grandparents (Italian on paternal side, Polish and Slovenian on maternal side), and despite living a slow life by today's standards. (My mother did not drive, which curtailed most opportunities for extracurricular activities.) I don't recall ever eating dinner at my maternal grandparents' home, and my paternal grandmother only hosted Thanksgiving dinner, with good homemade ravioli but mediocre everything else. Quite frankly, considering the emotional dynamics in my parents' families of origin, having to sit at the table and struggle through a so-so dinner would have made the weekly visits even more trying. It was a little better at home, but not much. My mother regarded preparing and eating dinner as tedious chores, so she regarded Sunday as a break day, meaning fast food.

            One bright side of growing up without heartwarming traditions is that you can start your own without the emotional baggage of the past. I often go all out for Sunday dinner with my husband and daughter. Sunday is a great opportunity for meals I would not have time to prepare during the week, such as roasts and stuffed cabbage. I also love combining Sunday dinner with an outing, such as visiting an apple orchard and then preparing a pork roast with apples. Fourunder's stereotype and generalization does not hold up with us, as my husband and I both work full-time, we all participate in extracurricular activities, and we are not ethnic by any of the usual connotations of that term.

            3 Replies
            1. re: MrsBridges

              Tough having a mom who regards doing things for her family as grim tasks, isn't it?

              1. re: sandylc

                Yes, it was tough, but I'm sure it was worse for her. My mother was never meant to be a stay-at-home mom, but she came of age in a time when that was the expectation, and she did not have a rebellious spirit. She's much happier now that my dad is retired, and they can enjoy sharing adult lives together. This is why I have no sentimentality or nostalgia about SAHMhood. It's great if that's your vocation, but if it isn't, you're better off adapting your lifestyle to your true self.

                And somehow, despite their lack of role models, my parents are wonderful grandparents.

                1. re: MrsBridges

                  I can relate, if you read my story you'll notice it's all about my grand mother and myself. My mother, not so much. Her favorite thing(s) to make for dinner were reservations.