When we eat with our Brothers, we digest more than the meal.
– Bryce’s Law
Serving a meal either prior to or immediately following a Lodge meeting has been an inherent part of our Masonic culture for many years. Brothers attend such meals more for the camaraderie it offers than anything else. Although there are no definitive figures on the subject, many Masons assume the meal has a direct bearing on meeting attendance. I tend to believe this. Further, the cheaper the meal, the less likely people are willing to attend.
I recently went out on the Internet to ask the Brethren about this subject and received considerable responses for which I thank all of you for your input. Just about everyone seemed to confirm the correlation between meals and attendance. But I noticed substantial differences in how meals were treated in North America versus the United Kingdom. The North Americans seem to treat the meal much more casually than their counterparts in the UK where it is not unusual to have a catered “Festive Boards” AFTER the meeting and at a higher price than most North American Brothers would pay.
In North America, most meals are prepared under the supervision of the Junior Warden, a task that is seldom relished. But if the Junior Warden executes his job with a little imagination and effort, he can have a profound effect on Lodge attendance. I’ve met some Junior Wardens who simply do not care, and you would be lucky to get punch and cookies from them. However, I have met others who love their job and offer cuisine the Brethren greatly appreciate. So much so, they frequently return to Lodge for more.
In most Lodges in North America, a simple donation is requested to offset the cost of the meal, anywhere from $1 to $8 is common. In the UK, on the other hand, the meals can get as high as $25-$40, an outrageous fee by most North American standards. But then again, it is not uncommon for our UK Brothers to use professional caterers for their festive boards.
In North America, the nutritional value of the meals is questionable, since most Lodges rely on pasta dishes and a lot of starches that “sticks to the ribs.” If you are on a diet, you will probably want to avoid a Masonic meal. And because most Junior Wardens operate on a tight budget (some use the adjective “shoestring”), the fare is often basic. Here are some prime examples of typical meals served at North American Lodge meetings:
- Baked beans
- Baked ham
- Beef Stroganoff
- Bratwurst and sauerkraut
- Chicken, fried, baked or barbecued
- Chicken cacciatore
- Chicken and dumplings or noodles
- Chili con Carne
- Chili dogs (aka Coneys)
- Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers
- Hamburger Helper (believe it or not)
- Hot Dogs
- Macaroni and cheese
- Mashed potatoes and gravy
- Meat Loaf
- Pulled pork sandwiches
- Red beans and rice with sausage
- Roast beef, open faced sandwiches
- Sandwiches (cold)
- Sloppy Joes
- Soup and Salad, including Clam Chowder
- Spaghetti (meatballs or sausages optional)
- Stew, beef or rabbit
- Tacos, hard or soft shell
- Turkey Tetrazini
- Ziti, baked
(You do not see much in the way of fruits and vegetables do you?)
This is not to suggest North American Masons are incapable of preparing some fine meals, but they are served infrequently and reserved for special occasions such as a visit by the Grand Master, or a special year-end meal. Although you won’t find lobster tails or chateaubriand on the menu, here are the more common examples of special fare served:
- BBQ Ribs
- Deep Fried Turkey (popular in the Southern United States)
- Field Rations (to honor the military) – cooked in a “boil-a-bag” format
- Local delicacies – such as “Perogies” or “Vereneke.”
- Pork Chops, grilled
- Prime Rib
- Roast Pig
- Spamfest – a competition to prepare meals from Spam.
- Wild Game Dinner – where hunters bring deer, rabbit, quail, etc.
Some of these are a bit avant-garde as meals, but they inevitably draw a lot of Brothers to Lodge meetings.
Although our UK Brethren typically enjoy catered affairs, they also have thier own fare they enjoy, including:
- Bangers and mash
- Cheese – usually Cheddar, Brie, Stilton
- Cheese and biscuits
- Dessert – Usually some sort of Swiss roll and custard or fruit salad
- Lamb Chops
- Sausage Rolls
- Shepherds/Cottage Pie and vegetable.
- Steak and kidney pudding/pie
- Vegetables – usually potatoes, carrots, beans, parsnips
As one UK Brother explained to me, “The idea of UGLE members cooking meals for themselves is unheard of to my knowledge. Usually a chef or cook is used and paid waitresses (a few may utilize the stewards) serve the meals. Members pay the going rate for a three course meal (say about $26 – $40 – a lot more in London) excluding alcohol. They regard the fellowship (and cost) of dining as a very important part of their Masonry. The idea of having poorly catered meals would be unacceptable. Under the UGLE, you are not allowed to use lodge funds to subsidize meals. All dining must be self-financed.”
Like it or not, Masonic meals are an important part of a Lodge meeting. And think about it, do we attend Lodge simply to listen to a meeting or do we come for the warmth and camaraderie of our Brothers? A meal greatly facilitates brotherhood.
For those Junior Wardens who cannot think of a cost-effective meal to serve at a Lodge meeting, I’ve just given you a couple dozen ideas for you to consider.
Keep the Faith.
by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA
“A Foot Soldier for Freemasonry”
Originally published in 2008.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:
Article reprinted with permission of the author and www.FreemasonInformation.com
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