The church I grew up in, in Hysham, has always put on a dinner where the men of the church cook and serve a meal as a fundraiser for the Presbyterian Women. The PW ladies’ group uses funds raised to provide church camp scholarships for community children, to put on funeral dinners, to put together Christmas baskets for the needy, and more.
Three years ago we re-organized the meal — which had previously toggled between pancakes, spaghetti, meatballs, and a baked potato bar — as a prime rib dinner held right around Valentine’s Day (in a town where there’s not much else to do on V-Day!).
Here’s some of the math from this year’s event, which raised a little over a thousand dollars for the PW:
We had 104 reservations this year. (We learned early on that you don’t advertise a prime rib dinner as open to the public. The first year was a disaster wherein some people made reservations, some didn’t, and we ran out of food and had to send many people away who’d had only shredded cheese, bacon bits, and coffee to eat for the ticket price.) We can seat 36 people per hour in the church basement. Reservations are actually an hour and 10 minutes apart to give us time to clear tables. We served three sets of reservations this year.
Nine cooks prepare one prime rib each in their own homes. (Shout out to Laureen, Emily, Jessie, Marj, Belva, Gail, Hanna, Ruth, and Dana.) Three prime ribs are delivered to the church each hour. (Prime ribs stay warm for an hour or more if covered correctly for the transport from oven to the church. They actually need to rest for a length of time before slicing, so it works out perfect for the meal.) We tell the cooks it’s okay if their prime rib is done early because it will stay warm. We also tell them it’s okay if the prime rib is underdone because the men have a method for finishing individual slices (dipping the slice in simmering au jus). The most important thing is for the prime ribs to be to the church on time and for them to not be overdone. Other than that, there’s no way to mess up!
The prime ribs weigh between 10 and 14 pounds each. We get them at Costco and I believe the price this year was $9.99 a pound. That means you definitely hope as you’re delivering the raw beef to each cook’s home that you don’t drop it for the dogs to gobble up!
Each cook is provided with a recipe (we all use Pioneer Woman’s recipe, of course), a disposable pan, a meat thermometer, and a seasoning packet. They only need to provide olive oil and an oven! Warning: the prime rib roasts at 500° in the beginning, which’ll smoke up your house! But that’s a small price for a volunteer to pay… right?
The men of the church — headed up by Greg — are the real heroes of the show, chopping up lettuce for salad (9 heads of iceberg!), wrapping and baking the potatoes (all by themselves!), making coffee, slicing the prime rib (Rich gets all the credit here), serving the crowd, and doing the dishes (lots and lots of dishes!).
We also serve stewed green beans with tomatoes (an electric roaster full), and for dessert, a selection of cheesecake or chocolate cake (made and donated by individual ladies in the church). The ladies also always have the church basement, where we serve, sparkling in reds and pinks. And Mae, the town photographer, shows up, puts up a background, and takes photos of the couples who come in all their finery.
I am so proud of the church and its people… not because we make money on the dinner, but because we come together as a team to make this event happen. All this food described above is accomplished despite a church kitchen where the breakers flip if we don’t hold our mouths just right and where the hot water heater is usually on the fritz. Everyone pitches in, everyone just sees a job and does it, and many hands make light work. Yes, it’s a fundraiser, but it’s also a way we can serve our restaurant-free community on a day that’s all about love. And come to think of it… isn’t that what church is all about?
© Tami Blake