Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Dinner on the Grounds

Dinner on the grounds in appalachia

dinner on the ground(s) noun phrase An outdoor meal in connection with a church meeting or revival. In the 1930s churches and families frequently had services followed by, or interspersed with, picnic dinners around a tablecloth spread on the ground. Later picnic tables were usu used and the event was held on decoration day. Same as basket dinner.
1977 Shields Cades Cove 44 The audience traveled from church to church, pausing at noon for “dinner-on-the-grounds.” 1978 Peterson/Phillips New Harp of Columbia xxv It is almost as though the morning sing points the way to dinner on the ground. There is nearly audible relief when, as noonday approaches, a break is suggested so the tables can be unfolded and loaded with the covered dishes. Dinner is outdoors in good weather, up the center aisle in bad. It is a time not only for nourishment but for fellowship, for renewing acquaintance with those not seen for as long as a year, or meeting visitors and singers who have come to the sing from places far from Wear’s Valley. 1982 De Armond So High 85 There, we met other families for church services, box suppers, pie suppers, all day singing and dinner on the ground. 1996 Parton Mt Memories 172 Church singings, with “dinner on the ground,” are a tradition that has survived the test of time. Each family brings dishes of food to the church, and after the worship service, tables are put up outside. Sometimes the tables are nothing more than rough planks on saw horses, covered with tablecloths. The women arrange the food on the table, with meat dishes placed together, the vegetables, desserts, and so on. If you’ve never attended a Sevier County dinner on the ground, you’ve missed out on some of the greatest food in the world.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


The tradition of dinner on the grounds is still going strong in the mountains of western North Carolina. Last year marked the 126th year of dinner on the grounds during the annual Old Folks Day at Morning Star United Methodist Church in Haywood County.


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Dorothy McCarver
    September 17, 2016 at 7:51 am

    The term “foundered” was mentioned. The technical meaning refers to when horses overeat it causes lameness. We jokingly refer to our overeating as being “foundered”.

  • Reply
    Brenda Schlosser
    September 16, 2016 at 2:04 am

    When I was a small child living with my grandparents, each year we would travel from Oklahoma to Natural Dam, Arkansas. My Granny was born there and her brother and sister-in-law still lived in the old home place. We would go Memorial Day weekend and attend the decoration of graves and then have dinner on the grounds. My Granny’s Mother and Dad and other relatives were buried there. I always enjoyed playing with all the relatives kids and eating on the grass.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    September 15, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Up north we called them Pot Lucks, but I know down south many many churches have permanent picnic tables made of concrete set up on their grounds for just that purpose, so then all you need to do is lay a cloth on top of them and spread out the food. It’s very nice.
    And it’s always so interesting tasting everyone’s contributions, especially if they bring a dessert. ;o)
    Prayers everyone has a great weekend, and a safe one too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 15, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Ethelene – I know the meaning of the word “foundered” but have never personally experienced it. I love to many good foods to get foundered on one. I am more of a connoisseur. I eat slowly and enjoy every bite. I don’t like to go out to eat because when everyone else is through and ready to leave, I’m still savoring the salad. I feel uncomfortable eating while my cohorts are watching and twiddling their thumbs.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    September 15, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Did any of you ever get “foundered” at dinner on the Gtounds? Tipper that’s a word for your Appalachian vocabulary test! I think
    Instead of giving the definition, I will see who knows what “foundered” means!

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    September 15, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Dinner on the grounds has been a part of my life since I became a Christian about forty-five years ago. Most of the churches in my area have some form of it, and though the trend has been to move the dinners inside into the fellowship hall, there are still a lot held outside. I simply love them in spite of the less than ideal circumstances Ed described. Many times the women bring the dish they are famous for and this means some “really good eatin.” In one church I used to attend several women brought stack cakes. Sometimes the layers were so thin they could stack twelve or fifteen layers on one cake. One lady, in particular, cut her layers out using a fluted cake pan so the edges were ruffled. I remember one iconic decoration day many years ago in Caney Fork and the Inspirations sang after dinner. That was the home church of one of the members of that group. The graveyard looked so pretty all decorated, the yard freshly mowed, and tables loaded with good country cooking. Surely those were simpler times.
    Tipper it was such a great pleasure to meet you and your family at the dinner on the grounds. The sweet and beautiful faces of your two daughters were a special treat. Our families and our churches are two of life’s greatest blessings.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 15, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    When I was coming up I took the “dinner on the ground” literally. When we would go to an event where food was served, the older folks would get their plates and sit at makeshift tables to eat and socialize. The kids had to sit wherever we could find. Steps, stumps and window sills were popular but always populated first. The rest of us sat on the ground.
    Back then we used paper plates at such events. Not plastic, not plastic coated paper, not Styrofoam. Paper plates that tended to sog up at even a hint of moisture. So, you picked dry foods (anything you could pick up with a fork or your fingers if nobody was looking). Fried chicken, deviled eggs, biscuits and corn on the cob were good choices. No green beans, cream corn or chicken and dumplings lest your dinner will be on the ground before you are. And forget trying to stand up with a soggy plate in your hands. So, you sit it on the ground while you get up. Then before you can turn around to pick it up the ants are carrying it off.
    Oh, and I forgot! You didn’t fill your plate. You loaded it lightly. I don’t know about you but I found it extremely difficult to sit down on the ground with both my hands under a soggy paper plate. Nowdays it would be impossible!

  • Reply
    September 15, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    I attended many a ‘dinner on the grounds’ when I was a kid. I helped repair, along with others, the tables the day before if needed. Some of the best foods in the world were prepared for this event. One time Daddy took about 30 fried Trout some of my brothers and I had caught the evening before in the beautiful Nantahala. Those were a big hit.
    Thanks Cheryl for the casserole joke, I’m still laughing…Ken

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 15, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    I’ve attended a few of these dinners on the grounds. There is always fabulous food! These are people who know how to cook and how to eat.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    September 15, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Those were special times. We need to do it more or again. As a little boy it was a time to sample many good dishes. Peachtree Memorial Baptist still host meals, but they’re not like, “Dinner on the Grounds.” Tipper, “Thanks for the memories.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    September 15, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    As a child and teenager I went o many dinners on the grounds but there was actually tables outside covered by a roof.
    I enjoyed the eating and playing with all the other kids. I did not enjoy the revival that would begin that night and go all week long with morning and evening services. The singing part was ok but the preaching was not something I enjoyed.
    The older folks would single out one of us young people and make a bee line towards us at alter call and pose the most dreaded question. “Son, if you died tonight, would you go to Heaven or Hell?” I now understand their concern for my soul but as a kid it scared me.

  • Reply
    September 15, 2016 at 11:28 am

    My childhood church had Homecoming in September, always the third Sunday. Preaching and special music in the morning, dinner on the grounds, and special music and preaching in the afternoon. Neighboring churches were invited to our homecoming and we went to theirs. If it rained, we ate inside. In later years, when the fellowship was enlarged, dinner was held inside. But, oh, those dinners on the grounds!

  • Reply
    September 15, 2016 at 11:17 am

    One church near where I once lived in Georgia had granite tables. Any church there always had a huge bowl of creamed Vidalia onions. It was usually empty by the time twenty people went by. A lot of the churches where I grew up in Tennessee changed the name from Decoration to Home Coming and most of them now have a fellowship hall where they eat.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    September 15, 2016 at 11:11 am

    “Meetin’ all day and dinner on the grounds!” So many happy memories from my childhood. Now, the church I attend, a couple of times a year has a dinner in the parish hall after church, and it is wonderful but not quite as wonderful!

  • Reply
    anita griffith
    September 15, 2016 at 10:30 am

    The biggest one every year is our association meetings.Sister churches come together for 3 days of worship, fellowship,singing and you always hear some hell’s fire and damnation preaching.After every meeting,we have dinner on the ground,

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    September 15, 2016 at 9:47 am

    I used to love going to the dinners on the ground when I was a kid. We occasionally have a pot luck dinner at our church, but it is indoors. There is always too much good food whenever a church body gathers for meals!

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    September 15, 2016 at 9:42 am

    I still remember a cherry pie with a woven crust at a dinner on the grounds I attended with my grandparents as a small child. It looked so delicious but was such a disappointment!! That was unusual as the church food is usually the best anywhere. Some of our churches also have dinner after the funeral of church members and this is always a comfort to the survivors.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    September 15, 2016 at 8:33 am

    That reminds me of a joke… at show and tell, each child in the fifth grade class was encouraged to bring an item associated with their faith tradition to share. Mary, a Catholic got up and explained how she used her rosary. Isaac, a Jewish boy demonstrated the yarmulke that he wore to synagogue. Tim, the Unitarian Universalist brought his chalice. Susie marched to the front of the class with something covered by a kitchen towel. Proudly she whipped off the towel to show her treasure, “I’m a Baptist and this my casserole dish!”

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    September 15, 2016 at 8:31 am

    All day preaching and dinner on the grounds. Heard a lot but never attended one. I do remember tent meetings. They replaced arbor meetings. Was a big deal when I was young. That food was good.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    September 15, 2016 at 8:18 am

    My memory of dinner on the ground was always a part of decoration day at my grandparents cemetery in Madison County. The old wooden tables were made of old barn like planks. Some were ingeniously attached to trees with a 2 x 4 then attached at another close tree with planks placed as level as possible. As you might think some tables were shorter, some longer with a saw horse between to support the tables. Mostly in the shaded woods toward the side of the church, the eatin’ tables provided a relief from the visitation and placement of flowers in the hot early summer sun, that was a few steps across the road. The area also was a short piece from the outhouse that was located toward the back of the church. A fairly late, compared to the age of the church, was a installed spigot from the basement to the outside and provided water for washing dirty hands, buckets etc.
    There is a wonderful something, a different taste and flavor about fried chicken, green beans, tater salad and jars of cold sweet tea in iced gallon jars that no inside church dinner can even come close to in comparison.
    Thanks Tipper,
    One of my favorite things to look for is those small white churches and for the “dinner on the ground” area; the old grey plank tables, rickety sawhorse legs and if there is a tin covering for one or more tables… sometimes these are visible from the highway!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 15, 2016 at 8:12 am

    I never heard it as ‘ dinner on the grounds’. It was always said as ‘dinner on the ground’ even though there were always tables. There was a good cross-section of local favorite dishes, especially home grown vegetables. There were numerous green bean dishes, banana pudding, Kool Aid, fried chicken (not store bought), corn on the cob, cornbread …. I’m making myself hungry.
    I have thought a time or two that if I were traveling and found a church dinner i’d be tempted to drop in and eat and leave a donation. I think I would be welcome but I am just not forward enough to actually do it unless they had a sign out ‘travelers welcome’.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    September 15, 2016 at 8:07 am

    Tipper–I never experienced it until I was grown and working out of the mountains, but another version of dinner on the grounds is the meal (or sometimes two meals, dinner and supper) associated with dove hunts. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a bunch of these shoots, and when a good buddy described them as “Christmas in September,” he had it exactly right.
    Most places in the mountains there aren’t enough doves for a real popcorn popper of a shoot, and while I shot the occasional one as a boy, I never was part of a real hunt until I was grown. The food is an integral part of the whole thing, and if there are two meals grilled dove breasts or dove bog (a pilau) are often part of the supper.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    September 15, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Thank you for sorting that out for everyone! I know a dozen or more folks (I’m not one of them) that think the phrase means a ‘blanket picnic’.
    “All-day singin’ and dinner on the grounds”….

  • Leave a Reply