Thursday, November 5, 2009

Harvest Festival, Taos, Missouri

As I told you earlier this fall, one of our favorite fall church suppers is the one at Taos, Missouri, at the St. Francis Xavier Parish. It’s one of the last of the fall suppers around here, since they taper off as people turn their attention to Thanksgiving and the other big holidays. This year the Taos dinner was on November 1; it’s always on the first Sunday in November.

I guess the biggest reason we like the Taos supper so much is because of its bounty of foods, particularly side dishes. Like the rest of the parish dinners, it’s all you can eat. The cost per person? Nine bucks. And look what you get.

There are always two different meats at these church suppers, and the meats at the Taos fall dinner are fresh-made sausage and turkey.

The sausage, as usual, is outstandingly meaty and good. When the big platter of links comes by, I always get the idea of bringing an exceptionally large purse with me—plastic-lined—so I could dump in the whole platter and carry them home. Fortunately, they do also sell the fresh uncooked sausage, so you can take some home and freeze it for later.

The turkey? What’s to say? One of the best food combinations ever invented was “Thanksgiving dinner.” Turkey an’ dressing an’ gravy an’ potatoes an’ cranberry relish. By the time November hits, there’s enough of a chill around here that such hearty foods are just right. You start thinking about Thanksgiving.

As I said, the vegetables at Taos are the biggest draw for us. Yes, there’s plenty of starches, but it goes well beyond the mashed potatoes and stuffing. They also have mashed sweet potatoes, and . . . get this! . . . cooked turnips.

That’s right, turnips.

Can’t get that at Ruby Tewsdee’s!

Plus green beans, cooked apples, and homemade bread. And, of course, your choice of homemade desserts. I selected a piece of gooseberry pie; Sue picked up a slice of blackberry pie. We shared, getting a half-slice of each. Ahhhh. You can’t beat this with a stick.

I’ve said it before, but I want to say it again: I’m always impressed at the multigenerational involvement at these parish suppers. Everyone pitches in, cheerfully: young, old, and everyone in between. In a single day, they serve around three thousand dinners and to-go plates. It’s pretty amazing.

Because the weather can be kind of chilly this time of year—you never know—the Taosians have all their activities in their nice big gymnasium, including the bake sale and the country store (home-canned jams, relishes, and pickles; houseplants; and fresh local produce including bins of peppers, pears, and turnips, glorious turnips).

The place was packed, as well, with the bingo game, children’s games, and their massive raffle. They had lots of raffle items—ranging from gift certificates to children’s bikes to gift baskets to handmade quilts to cases of Coca Cola products—so there were going to be lots of winners. They even had a special raffle for a whole beef. Yes, you read that right, a whole beef. . . . They have a relatively large and prosperous congregation, I guess.

After dining, Sue and I left the St. Francis Xavier Catholic School building (where the supper is held) and crossed the street to see the St. Francis Xavier Church, which dates to 1883 and is the congregation’s third church. The church was carefully renovated in 1998, including beautiful interior restoration and painting.

There is much to appreciate about this church. The three altars at the front of the church display original Renaissance masterpieces by the Italian painter Guido Reni (1575–1642). The sanctuary is beautifully decorated with numerous other sculptures and paintings depicting inspirational persons and events. One sculpture is a beautiful copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta. Candles are kept aglow near it.

The ornate wooden altars were purchased in the 1880s and early 1900s and were built in Columbus, Ohio, by young German orphans at an orphanage that eventually turned into a seminary, the Pontifical College Josephinum. The altar at the left features displays of relics—purported bones of, or objects thought to have been touched by, saints.

In a room next to the front entryway to the church is the crypt of Father Ferdinand M. Helias van D’Huddghem, S.J. (1796–1874), the “Apostle of Central Missouri,” the Belgian pastor who founded several parishes in our area: St. Thomas, Loose Creek, Westphalia, Jefferson City, Rich Fountain, Cedron, and of course, here at Taos.

He’d been buried in the old cemetery down the road, but in 1964 they exhumed the body and reinterred it here, beneath a shiny granite slab, as a memorial to this active, zealous fellow.

(By the way, it’s pronounced “huh-LY-us,” and not “Helios.” The latter is the Greek sun god. And the name of the town, after the city in today’s New Mexico, was created during the Mexican-American War.)

There is much to see here. The lower level of the church houses a museum about Father Helias and the history of the Taos church and nearby communities. The museum was a project of the congregation’s sesquicentennial in 1983, and you can arrange a tour by contacting the church office (see their Web site, which is where I’ve gotten my information here).

I guess you could say that Taos is just another one of several rural podunk towns in Missouri, but like everything (and everyone) else, the more you know about it, the more interesting and dear it becomes.

If you missed the fall supper this year, mark it on your calendar for 2010: First Sunday in November. And their summer picnic is always held on Father’s Day. You know everyone’s welcome.


Kathy Appleton said...

Thank you, Miss Julianna, for this blog. I am trying to find out if there are any particularly German festivals in Taos. Can you help me?

Kathy A., German Instructor, Westminster College, Fulton, MO

Julianna Schroeder said...

Gosh, Kathy,

I'm not sure what you mean by "particularly German"--I mean, that community's pretty solidly ethnic-German-Catholic, as I understand, so just about everything they do is pretty Germanic. But as for self-consciously German events, I don't know. I'll keep checking. I suspect it might be quicker to contact the St. Francis Xavier parish, since they would be in the know on that kind of thing.

Also--I'm not sure why you're looking particularly at Taos. All the JC-area parishes do German stuff. And the Old Munichburg neighborhood sponsors an annual Oktoberfest at the end of September. Maybe check with the JC Convention and Visitors Bureau?

But I do have a few Taos contacts; I'll see what I can find out.

Thanks, and apologies for my delay in replying.