Every year, on the day after Easter, Parker Ford Church has held a men’s dinner. Officially called the Men’s Fellowship Dinner, the meal goes back to the mid-1950’s when my dad, Ray Willauer; and uncle, Herb Yost, started the tradition. The church had just constructed a separate building for use as a fellowship hall, and Uncle Herb remembers that the first dinner was held in that new building. So, the year of the first dinner was most likely 1957.
However, there was one problem: There was no kitchen in the new Fellowship Building. The food had to be prepared elsewhere and brought in. That was most likely how my dad and Herb were “elected” to head up the dinner. They lived across the street from the church! (My mother, and the Yosts still live in separate halves of the same double house that both couples “went to housekeeping” in.) Dad made the roast beef in our oven, and Uncle Herb put the foil-wrapped potatoes in his. The only other hot food was corn, and that was made “stove-top,” and also brought in. (A kitchen was eventually constructed in 1961, I believe in response to the men having to cook the food remotely and carry it in.)
Over the years, the menu has not changed one iota: Roast beef, baked potatoes, corn, cole slaw, applesauce, and rolls with butter. Tomato juice for anyone who wants it, and iced tea and coffee for beverages. Pie and ice cream round things out for dessert. I think the only thing that has been added over the years is sour cream for the potatoes and horseradish for the beef. Simple…plain…and truly a man’s meal.
Dad and Uncle Herb continued to organize the dinner ever year, until Dad became ill in 1989. Other men took over, and I began to assist Frank Weaver about twelve years ago, baking the potatoes at home, and bringing them from Skippack in an insulated chest. (They would stay hot for hours in there!) When Frank passed away, I begin to coordinate the dinner with the able assistance of a small army of men. Even Uncle Herb continues to play an active part…more than fifty years after the first dinner.
Our count for the men’s dinner has ranged from 65 to 85 over the last four years, so I was a little surprised when the final count for this year was only 55. I had pre-ordered 50 lbs. of beef about two weeks in advance of this year’s dinner, and then called Kolb's to see if I could reduce the quantity. (Not even Parker Ford Church men can each eat a pound of roast beef!) The friendly people at Kolb’s assured me that they would do what they could, but reminded me that full bottom round roasts weigh in at around 15 lbs. each.
When I picked up the order, the final total weight of the three roasts was 43¾ lbs. Technically, at a half pound per person, that’s still enough for 87 people, but remember, this is a men’s dinner. According to my records, PFC men eat about .6 lbs of beef per guy. I decided to “buy back” the smallest of the three roasts and only make the two largest ones.
|Bottom round roasts fresh from Kolb Bros. Meats, Spring City, PA|
Arriving at the church at 8:00 a.m., I prepared the roasts by placing them in disposable aluminum chafing dish liner pans, placing each disposable liner in an actual chafing dish pan for support.
|These are LARGE roasts! To provide perspective, each pan is 20" long.|
I sprinkled Kosher salt and black pepper liberally over each. I next peeled and halved about 3 pounds of yellow onions, putting half in each pan. I usually place pieces of celery in the roasting pans, but left the celery at home! I added no water and covered each tightly with aluminum foil, placing a chafing dish lid on top of each roast. By 8:30 a.m., both roasts had been placed in a 275° oven. The key to a tender and moist roast is “low and slow.” Keep in mind that no matter what size roast you are making, these procedures will guarantee moist and tender beef.
|Liberally sprinkle each roast with Kosher salt and black pepper.|
I usually include celery along with the yellow onions, for flavor.
I left the kitchen for an 8:30 a.m. Elders’ meeting, and returned to find that faithful men’s dinner helper, Don Trauger had washed and foil-wrapped 60 potatoes. As they were ready for the oven, we put them in at 10:30 a.m. We checked on one of the roasts, and it was already starting to brown. Almost ¾” of juice had collected in the pan. Gravy was anticipated and mouths were already watering!
Assisted by Jim Hollen, we dished out and covered the cold items on the menu, preparing everything to be served family style. When we left the church, we asked the pastors to “tune” their noses to the kitchen in the event of any unanticipated disasters.
Fortunately, there were none. When I returned at 3:30 p.m., this is what I found. The pans were almost filled to the brim with wonderfully-seasoned beef stock, and both roasts were well-done. In addition, all 40 lbs of potatoes were done baking!
|Roast One - beautiful! Can you see the steam?|
160°-165° is the temperature at which beef is considered well-done. You can’t read the temperature on the digital meat thermometer below, but it is registering 198°. Yes, the meat was done all right! Fearing that the meat might have gotten dry…especially with all of the juice that the roasts had produced, I immediately removed the roasts from the oven, left them covered, and allowed them to “rest.” Allowing roasted or grilled meat to “rest” before carving or serving is critical. It allows juices to be reabsorbed, or at least re-distributed in the meat.
|Roast Two - simply gorgeous!|
After about a half hour, I began to siphon the meat juices from the bottom of the pan using a turkey baster. For good quality gravy, you want mostly juices and only a little fat. Gently siphoning from the bottom of the pan allows the fat to stay floating on the top of the juices. Stop siphoning when you start getting fat. I obtained 3 quarts of beef stock and put it aside to be thickened for gravy closer to serving time. I allowed the roasts to continue to “rest” another half hour and began slicing with an electric knife at 4:30 p.m. The meat was so tender and moist. I was glad that I left it rest for an hour. Even after resting outside of the oven for an hour, the meat was still too hot to handle.
The sliced beef was placed in disposable half pans with about a cup of water in each. They were then covered with foil and returned to a 180° oven, along with the finished baked potatoes to keep everything warm until our 6:00 p.m. serving time. Five minutes before 6:00, Rob Brunner heaped the beef on serving platters and we were ready for Pastor Tim to offer the blessing before the meal. After the meal, only about two pounds of beef were leftover. The PFC men had broken a new record! Each had consumed an average of .66 lbs of roast beef.
Following dessert, Mike Wolfe, a PFC congregant, treated the men and boys attending to a magic show. Mike was assisted by his son, Chris. Part of the show was the illusion “Metamorphosis,” which included handcuffing and “sacking” one of our pastors, Josh Bytwerk, before placing him in a locked coffin-like box. Within seconds, Josh and Mike had traded places, wowing everyone in the audience…even though several of those attending wondered aloud if Josh’s wife, Shelby, might like Josh in the more “controlled” state!