Charity pancake supper yields sweet rewards

Pancake Supper from 2015

Pancake Supper from 2015

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Each year, members of the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church Men’s Club roll up their sleeves and take over the Darlington High School cafeteria kitchen to prepare thousands of pancakes and sausage patties for a hungry public. Though this annual Shrove Tuesday dinner event provides an easy and tasty supper for diners, it also generates much-needed donations for charitable organizations and allows the St. Matthew’s crew to enjoy competitive fellowship over who can turn out the most hotcakes.

“It’s a tradition to have a pancake supper on Shrove Tuesday, the evening before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the penitential season we call Lent,” says Joe Ervin of St. Matthew’s Men’s Club. He explains that traditional Catholic observances include cooking up big Tuesday meals that use most all of the oil and fat in the home in preparation for fasting during Lent, when the devout meditate on the suffering of Jesus for 40 days.

The St. Matthew’s pancake supper began in 1950, and was originally a church-only event. However, it proved so popular that the church soon opened up the doors and welcomed the community to purchase dinner plates. Part of the draw was the yummy pancake recipe, a top-secret formula concocted by Ervin’s maternal grandfather Joe Shuman – a chemical engineer and “hearty eater” who moved here to work at the Darlington Veneer Mill.

“He liked to cook and he liked to eat,” Ervin recalls. “He brought that recipe with him, and it was secret for years. It was not written down and nobody knew it, but eventually he shared it with the Kiwanis Club. (Shuman) basically figured out the perfect pancake recipe and scaled it up so we could use 25-pound bags of flour, six dozen eggs… and we’ve used the same recipe since 1950.”

While the pancakes are an undeniable draw, they’re only half of the platter. The sausage patties, using pork locally sourced from the Darlington Packing Company, provide the savory counterpoint in this breakfast-at-night duet. St. Matthew’s member and volunteer cook Billy Early says that positions on the sausage cooking team are so jealously guarded that one should bequeath them to a friend in their will.

“Somebody practically has to pass away for a slot to open up on the sausage team,” Early jokes.

“Chip Dennis, Lem Benjamin, and Donnie Wentler are the czars of that department and they don’t let anybody into their little realm,” Ervin agrees. “I do think that the quality of the sausage makes a better meal.”

Cook teams and serving volunteers (for those who choose to eat at the cafeteria) arrive mid-afternoon and set up their stations, but as time passes and patrons crowd the cafeteria doorway, some of the men’s club elder statesmen – teasingly dubbed “the silverbacks” by their juniors – begin barking commands to pick up the pace.

“We try to have at least 300 boxes ready at five o’clock for people to carry out,” Ervin says, noting that some folks wisely buy ten boxes and freeze the contents for convenient meals later on. “They microwave very well, so it makes a good future meal.”

St. Matthew’s Men’s Club members are responsible for selling tickets in advance, and they normally do quite a good job.

“We raised about $7,500 last year,” says Charles Howard of St. Matthew’s. “It’s been an annual thing for so long, but it remains very successful.”

Compounding the good feeling from a good meal and good fellowship for cooks and diners alike, all funds raised from the Shrove Tuesday pancake feast are given to Darlington charities.

“All of the money goes back into the community. By our rules, it cannot go back into church programs,” says Ervin.

This year, proceeds will benefit local charities like The Lord Cares Food Bank and the Darlington County Free Medical Clinic.

Serving at the Darlington High School Cafeteria runs from 5 pm until 8 pm, and tickets are $6 per plate. Advance tickets are available from any St. Matthew’s Men’s Club member or by contacting the church office at 843-393-4112.

Author: Duane Childers

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