If you look through cookbooks published before 1960, you're likely to find a section called "Sunday Suppers." They feature menus for the weekly family-style meals that were a mainstay in many American homes — simple meals to start the week with family and friends.
Now, the concept seems to be making a comeback. While today's menus may be more gastronomically sophisticated — although who doesn't occasionally long for meatloaf or spaghetti and meatballs? — the practice seems to be returning to home and restaurant kitchens.
On the first Sunday of each month, a Philadelphia restaurant appropriately called Supper features an early evening meal to start the week. On the West Coast, Suzanne Goin, chef and owner of Lucques restaurant in Los Angeles, serves Sunday family-style dinners at her restaurant, hoping to recreate the relaxed family gatherings of her childhood.
"We wanted the restaurant to be part of the community — a meeting place where friends could gather, relax, escape, celebrate and, of course, eat," she writes in her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques. "From the beginning, I decided that Sundays would be special."
You can find Sunday supper clubs — and even Sunday supper blogs. You'll also find that lots of folks are resurrecting the tradition in their homes. Palates may have changed since weekly suppers of baked beans and frankfurters, Jell-O molds and salads with Thousand Island dressing. The takeaway experience, however, is likely the same.
A Sunday supper is the opposite of a formal dinner party. Typical menus include easy-to-prepare comfort foods, and no muss, no fuss is the operative approach. It's a way to start the week with good conversation with kith and kin in a relaxed setting. No first courses, no French tortes.
The food should be abundant, simple and preferably prepared ahead. We're talking chicken soup, chili, pizza, lasagna, stew, pot roast. Desserts are homey and seasonal — apple crisps in the fall, strawberry shortcake in the spring.
"We all understand the importance of gathering with friends and family," Pam Anderson writes in Perfect Recipes for Having People Over. Fear, she says, keeps many people from doing it, though. "Fear that we don't have the time or skill to pull off a meal that will be good enough. That's why it's important to stop entertaining and just have people over." As in: "Why don't you come over for dinner. Bring the kids."
This style of dining has the added appeal of nostalgia because, for a while, Sunday suppers all but disappeared. At least in big cities, brunch became the featured Sunday meal — the fancier the better. We became food snobs, and the Sunday supper was a casualty.
But in recent years, American eaters have begun going back to their roots. Eating locally, seasonally and sustainably became more important than eating fancily. The demand for American farmhouse cheeses became as great as that for the finest French Tomme de Savoie. Sunday supper was the next natural step back to the rediscovery of life's simple pleasures.
In a world that's fast and complicated, simple is good, especially on Sunday.
Here is a simple menu to get your family started: