Willow Branch dinner once again offers place for neighbors to gather

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Willow Branch United Methodist Church (in a November 2020 photo).

Anne Durham Smith | Daily Reporter

WILLOW BRANCH — Sometimes over the past two years, the church in Willow Branch would offer a chicken and noodles dinner via carry-out; drive by, pick up the boxes, take the food home.

But on Sept. 24, Willow Branch United Methodist Church’s cube steak dinner will finally be back. That’s good news for people who favor that menu, but organizers say it’s particularly good news for a community that has longed to come together again around the table.

Church member Judy Crist said the congregation has fielded many inquiries about when the dinner would return. In this rural community between Greenfield and Wilkinson, where the bank and the post office closed years ago, an event like the cube steak dinner is an opportunity to visit with neighbors over a meal.

“They’ve really missed coming back inside and the fellowship,” she said.

Pam Hayes, a longtime part of the congregation, has noticed that, too. She’ll prepare steaks the day before and show up at noon the day of the dinner to prepare noodles.

“This is a way for them to see somebody they haven’t seen for a while,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who get a carload of people and come up.”

Both women said the dinner is a long-standing tradition, one they estimate stretches back 50 years or so. Hayes remembers the church doing them when she was a teenager attending Greenfield High School, in the years before its consolidation with Hancock Central in 1969. Back then, before the 1987 construction of a ground-floor fellowship hall, people walked down concrete steps to dine in the basement.

A number of great cooks have attended the church through the years, she said, so a dinner “just seemed to be a really easy thing to do.” It also became a way people in farming families could buy dinners to go and take them to family members harvesting in the fields.

Much of the food is donated by people of the church, including Hayes and her husband providing steaks and church members baking a wide variety of pies. As a result, more proceeds are available for doing good and “the church can then give back to the community,” she said. Over the years it’s donated to organizations such as Changing Footprints, Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, Habitat for Humanity for a local build, and to other groups, as well as to families in need.

There’s a lot of laughter among the people putting on the dinner, Hayes said, and it’s apparently been contagious at times.

“People came years ago and said we were having so much fun back in the kitchen,” Crist said, “that they had to come back and join the church. And they did.”

CUBE STEAK DINNER

Willow Branch United Methodist Church’s annual Fall Dinner is set for 4-7 p.m. Sept. 24 at the church, 6422 N. Thomas St.

The menu features cube steak for $15, chicken and noodles for $12, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, corn, a variety of homemade salads, desserts and drink. Children 5 years and younger eat free.

Organizers hope to streamline ordering with separate areas for those ordering to eat in person and those ordering carryout.

Proceeds from the dinner will benefit local mission projects.

CHOCOLATE ALMOND PIE

Homemade pies are part of the tradition of the Fall Dinner at Willow Branch United Methodist Church. People of the church say they’ve known many great cooks over the years, and years ago the church compiled a cookbook: “We wanted to kind of preserve those recipes,” Judy Crist said.

This recipe is from the cookbook. It’s attributed to Mrs. Ida Case, wife of a former minister at the church.

Ingredients

1 cup milk

25 large marshmallows

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

1 (8-ounce) almond Hershey bar

Directions

Heat, and melt over boiling water, wilk and marshmallows. Add the Hershey bar. Stir until melted and let cool. When it starts to congeal, add 1 cup whipped cream. Pour into a 9-inch baked pie crust. Optional: Cover with more whipped cream and sprinkle chocolate shavings over it.

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