Fall Suppers of the Northern Plains: Director’s Essay
The first ones commence the weekend after Labor Day. Activity peaks the first week of October, then diminishes as November comes and Thanksgiving approaches. The fall supper tradition is a mainstay of the cultural calendar on the northern plains.
Community organizations, mostly churches, put on fall suppers on designated days. They serve the same foods in the same places every year, and the people in charge assume customary roles in making them happen. Neighbors and distant kin assemble to be fed—commonly with turkey and dressing (or kraut), sometimes with roast beef or pork, perhaps with some other local or ethnic specialty, like homemade sausage. They wait patiently in line, renew conversations and acquaintances, and go away satisfied.
The logistics of putting on a fall supper are matters of folklore; people pass them along within the group. Every fall supper tradition, too, flows from the culture that hosts it, expressing local, ethnic, and community values in tangible and tasty fashion.
Fall suppers are vital rituals that bolster regional culture in three ways.
1. Fall suppers generate revenue, thereby assisting with the upkeep of churches and other facilities and organizations. In a region with more infrastructure than population, functions like these are important.
2. The events reinforce and perpetuate community identity. In putting on fall suppers, people have roles to fill, designated positions and responsibilities. Cooperation in the accomplishment of tasks brings people together and strengthens their sense of place.
3. Fall suppers validate the community again and again by serving a reunion function. People travel home from great distances, families and friends reunite, in order to serve one another.
“Fall Suppers of the Northern Plains” is a documentation and outreach project of the Center for Heritage Renewal, North Dakota State University. Its purposes are to
1. Gather and publish directory information about fall suppers.
2. Document the history and culture of fall supper rituals.
3. Promote public appreciation of fall suppers as a distinctive feature in the heritage of the northern plains.
Center staff gather and publish directory information, while student researchers do the documentation of history and culture. Students in HIST 431, The North American Plains, attend fall suppers, gather documentation in the field, and conduct library research to establish context. Center staff then process their reports into this website presenting the fall supper tradition to the public.
Tom Isern, Professor of History & University Distinguished Professor
Director, Center for