The Sun City Center New England Club
HAM & BEAN DINNER - A HISTORY
By Dan Patch February 2017
The year was 1992 and the New England Club of Kings Point invited our Club to a catered New England Dinner in their Veterans Auditorium. The menu included baked beans -I can't remember what else. The following year our Club invited the Kings Point Club to a covered dish supper in Community Hall- probably about 300+ people came bringing about 200 dishes of food of all kinds. We had set up 10 tables in a side room (making 5 long tables) and distributed the food with a variety on each of the long tables. Table numbers were called and people went to the buffet tables, instead of going around one of, the long tables to get their food, people went around all five of the tables (probably looking for the dish that they brought). It was a catastrophe. It took well over an hour before the last person went through the line, and the hot food which we had managed to keep most of the hot dishes hot in the oven, had turned cold.
At our next board meeting at the home of the President, Lester Parkhurst, while discussing what we could do for our next big dinner, Lester suggested that we as a board could cater it ourselves. Having managed the dining room and helping a new dietician in the kitchen at a boys camp in Vermont one summer, feeding about 250 campers and staff 3 meals a day, I agreed. Thus was born our first Ham and Bean Dinner, which was pretty much the same as it is today.
When I was a child in our family our Saturday night meal was frequently baked beans and on planning the menu for our New England Dinner I found out that this was quite common for New Englanders. Sometimes we had hot dogs and very rarely ham with the beans but mostly baked beans and sometimes brown bread. You know brown bread is a "steamed" bread. Chase and Sanborn coffee came in one pound cans in those years, and my mother used to make brown bread in those cans steaming them in a canner in the jar rack. Brown bread is only available at Publix- with only a few cans on the shelf next to the baked beans, we have to special order it by the case. Other members of the Board suggested other items for the menu that they considered New England. Potato salad was one and apple pie with yellow sharp cheddar cheese was another. You couldn't buy cheddar cheese in Florida that was not colored by pimento and for our first few New England Dinners we had to order it and have it shipped from Cabot in Vermont. It came in a 10 pound block. Now you can find yellow cheddar in 2 pound blocks at most grocery stores.
One of the most unique things about our ham and bean dinner is how it is served. In Sun City Center dinners are buffet style or are plated and served, but ours is, as far as I know, the only one served "family" style, where the food comes to the table in bowls or on platters and is passed around just like some of you would do with family at the your dinner table.