Della Lutes and the Peculiar Institution of the Box Social
I just read The Country Kitchen by Della T. Lutes thanks to the recommendation of the intrepid Bonnie Slotnick, to whom all praises are due. Lutes’s food-centered memoir of growing up on a frontier farm in the years following the Civil war has some details in common with the Little House books by Lutes’s contemporary, the extraordinary Laura Ingalls Wilder (fried apples ‘n’ onions turns up in both, as does salt-rising bread). There are also many differences, the first being that while Lutes’s book is in the first person (the main characters are “my mother” and “my father” rather than “Pa” and “Ma”), Lutes herself is barely present. Young Delly, like her readers, is a silent observer of the battles between Miry, her skilled, sensible, ingenious mother, and her father, Lije, whose discernment and fierce devotion to flavor drive the book and make him the hero, infuriating, unfair, and plum out of his mind as he may be.
In one episode, Delly and her folks attend a box social at their church. This is a party in which a girl prepares a box lunch or supper for two, and then the fellas bid for the chance to eat the meal in the company of the gal who made it, the money collected in the auction benefiting the church. I was familiar with the concept of a box social only from the play
In general, however, the women took great pains with their boxes. There was excitement at the thought of a chance partner. The girls did n’t like it so well because they wanted to choose whom they ‘d eat with. But with the older women almost anyone would be—well, different.
Lutes, Della T. The Country Kitchen. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1936.