Everything was going according to plan at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Fat Tuesday pancake supper. Until the fire department came.
The Youth started off strong. They were pumping out pancakes like a Ford assembly line. I was proud of them. From pancake know-nothings to masters of the flip. They had it going on. Casseroles were flying out of the kitchen. Syrup was being refilled. The kitchen staff was in full battle mode. We were a well-oiled machine, an Army of the Lord. Until we smelled something burning. I checked one of the ovens. The tiniest bit of a breakfast casserole had dripped on the oven floor. Microscopic, actually. It will burn off, I think, as I shut the oven door.
A few minutes later, I open the door again. A cloud of smoke bellows into the kitchen. Oh, dear. What to do? I don’t know. I close the door again. I can’t see you. I wait several minutes and open it again. Smoke roars out of the oven. I close the door. I can’t see you. And then the fire alarm goes off.
The music minister, Dona Stokes-Rogers, calls the fire department to say that, no, the church is not burning down and they need not pay us a visit. Apparently, they could not hear her over the screech of the alarm. I am told later that Donna is conversant with calling the fire department because the last time this happened the choir was cooking in the kitchen. I feel slightly better.
The next thing I hear are sirens in the distance. Please, please let those be for someone else (not wishing anyone harm, of course). The sirens get louder. Really loud. In fact, they are right outside Otey Hall. Along with the ambulance, that is surely here to carry me away because I am having a freaking heart attack.
Finally, the alarm goes off. The crowd cheers. I slink back to the kitchen. If I chair the pancake supper next year all the food will be cold. There will be no turning on of ovens, there will be no spillage of casseroles. There will be no visit from the fire department.
By the way, we added a breakfast casserole to the menu this year. It was a big hit. If you are a Southern cook, you know this recipe. Everyone has it. If you’re not, here you go. Please take care not to spill any of it in the oven. Apparently, it’s highly flammable.
8 white bread slices, cut into cubes
1 pound bulk pork sausage, crumbled and cooked
1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
10 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
Grease 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Place bread in prepared dish. Top with sausage and cheese. Beat together eggs and next three ingredients. Season with pepper. Pour over sausage mixture. Chill overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake casserole until puffed and center is set, about 50 minutes. Cut into squares.