In the Bible, few dine alone.
Small wonder that Christians and Jews see sharing a meal with family, guests and strangers as a form of spiritual nourishment and hospitality — as valuable as the bread passed around the table.
Although the holiday season’s family feasts are fast approaching, many say it’s the weekly family meal that matters most across time.
Those dinners after Sunday church or around the Sabbath Friday night table are where the richest memories, deepest traditions and most treasured values are shared. Now, these family meals have inspired two new books, packed with stories and recipes from Christian and Jewish traditions.
Every person Diane Cowen told about her book, Sunday Dinners: Food, Family and Faith from Our Favorite Pastors, “immediately began to tell me about the family dinners of their memories and the dishes their mothers and grandmothers made.”
Cowen, religion and food editor for the Houston Chronicle, said families are “enriched by both faith and food … one meal and one prayer at a time.”
She consulted experts from sociology, psychology, and specialists in treating substance abuse. Their studies confirm that family meals bless more than the food. They knit generations together with experiences of love, solace, laughter and gratitude.
Sunday Dinners adds a fillip of celebrity: It highlights 13 megachurch preachers (and their spouses who often do the cooking) including Bishop T.D. and Serita Jakes who duel for the most decadent banana pudding — his mother’s recipe, which he would not share, or his wife’s recipe, which is in the book.
Meals for the family of the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, lean toward healthy fare but when the call goes out for comfort food, he heads to the kitchen to bake rich macaroni and cheese.
Most people know George Foreman as the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world who became a pitchman for an electric grill. But today, he’s the Rev. George Foreman, pastor of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston.
Sunday dinners with the family involve “mountains of food,” often including his favorite salad with berries, nuts and lemon vinaigrette. After the meal, the Foremans go back to church for an evening service. He tells Cowen, “I’m afraid they’re going to fall asleep during my sermon because they’re so full of food.”
Just as valuable as dining together is cooking together, said author and cooking instructor Tina Wasserman in her book, Entree to Judaism for Families: Jewish Cooking and Kitchen Conversations with Children.
“The kitchen and the table are the spiritual center of any home. It’s here where people open up, where they give of themselves, where they connect,” said Wasserman. “And if some food at the table is great grandma’s famous custard or your great aunt’s recipe from Greece, that’s how we tie past and future.”
Wasserman has an idea for tying up a menu for November when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah collide on the calendar, endangering treasured Jewish family menus for both holidays.
Wasserman counseled, “Don’t panic. Just take traditions from both.”
“If your family wants candied sweets with marshmallows on top, don’t substitute it with a new dish, just try adding something close like the sweet potato cazuela rich in spicy flavor.
“The key is to add but never subtract,” said Wasserman. That way, with food as with family, you never lose.