Saturday, January 23, 2010

Top Ten Tools for Keeping Southern - 1. A Big Table

Thus begins a somewhat regular series in ten parts highlighting some of the basic accoutrements of keeping Southern.

The table pictured is a little over the top to be ideal, but at minimum, the table should be big enough to seat twelve – and fourteen to sixteen if you’re squishing. I don’t have such a table, but I am fortunate to have a dining room big enough to hold one. So I currently make do by pushing together two tables – one of them my roommate’s and one of them borrowed – that completely don’t match. With that configuration we can seat twelve (and more if we’re squishing). My previous roommate had a nearly ideal table – one that would seat six with slide-under leaves on either end that doubled its length. But that table moved on into married life with her and is now blessing their home with its lovely versatility.

The ideal table has leaves so that a cozy dinner of two or four is not overwhelmed, but extends to embrace a dozen. It’s not a table you fold away in the garage or basement – that table’s an exception. It is a table that makes a space for family and friends every day. It’s also a solid, pedestal table, so that more can be squeezed in without concern for knocking knees with table legs. It’s solid wood, but made so that bangs and spills don’t so much damage it as give it the warm patina of enthusiastic and welcome use. No one should have a moment’s nervousness sitting down to this table. I remember a table I saw in a store once years ago – it looked like it had come out of a medieval monastery or working castle. Not fancy, but solid and well-used.

And that’s the important thing about the big table – how you use it. I am rarely happier than when my table is filled with too many friends, too much food, and too much laughter, because I really don’t think there’s any such thing as too much of any of those things. A big table should be like an open door – always ready to welcome. One of my pastors in North Carolina had a big table like that. Actually he had two – the second one took up one side of their huge front porch. When it was time for dinner, anyone who happened to be around was welcome. Keeping Southern is knowing how to extend that welcome. It doesn’t have to be fancy – maybe no more than a big pot of beans and a cake of cornbread, but it’s as warm and good as friends together. As a smile in the eyes that says I’m glad to be here with you right now enjoying this moment.

Maybe you don’t have a big table (or even two smaller ones you can push together), but you can pretend. The spirit can precede the table.

Note - Closely associated to the big table is the big pot. I mean a really big pot. The kind you can make Brunswick stew for thirty in. I don’t have a pot like that. I have a friend with a pot like that, but he’s moving it to Orlando. I have pot-envy.


  1. My table is 45 x 125 and my largest pot holds 20 quarts, guess I'm still a southern girl after all :)
    Drop by anytime, we eat lots of beans but we're watching the carb intake so probably not cornbread ;) Miss you.

  2. I really like round tables. It's easier to squeeze people in. It's easier to have conversations with everyone, and there is no head to the table. The one draw back is that when I expand my round table to an elongated oval, we can't quite squeeze in twelve. My dream table is But it's expensive, and I'm not likely to get it.

  3. Ah, Chapelle, were that it weren't so far to drop in! Your table and pot both sound wonderful!

    and Maria, I'd want that table just for the cool-toy factor!

  4. Here's another fine example (sorry, you'll have to login to Facebook to see it):

    Click to see another Southern-style table settin'.

  5. This is *exactly* the kind of table we are looking for to inhabit our new dining room--intimate enough for 2-4, but expandable to 12. I haven't liked the pedestal tables we've seen, but I can see your point about not knocking knees on table legs.... time to look again. We probably won't get one for a while, anyway.