HARKNESS — The Harkness United Methodist Church’s signature Chicken & Biscuit Dinner is back with a twist.
The legendary harvest meal will be held Sunday, Oct. 16, from 3 pm to 5 pm
“We are delighted that we are able to present the meal this year after a two-year hiatus,” Allison Arnold, a member of the Harkness UMC, said.
“We just didn’t feel that it was safe to have 80-some odd people packed into a dining room for the past few years. and even this year with the rising in COVID numbers, we are choosing a safer option where we can still deliver the dinner to people, to our fans, without jeopardizing their health.
“Safety is the most important thing for us, obviously. So, it was a choice between not doing the dinner or doing it safely, and therefore it will be a takeout-only event, drive-through event. We’re going to have traffic control at the four corners in Harkness.”
The $10 meal includes chicken and gravy with a baking powder biscuit, mashed potatoes, squash, peas, coleslaw and cupcake.
“All the meals are going to be the same,” Arnold said.
“There’s one size only. That’s different from the past.”
The dinner is more than 100 years old.
“I think the last one that we had was our 113th,” she said.
“There has been a harvest dinner at the Harkness Church since 1852 roughly. In 1907, the church was located on its present site. It was actually moved from a different location, and for the first few years the ladies of the church held fundraising events and dinners in the church itself. They weren’t really comfortable with that setup. They felt we need to do our dinners in a different spot.”
In 1910, her great-grandmother, Nellie Arnold, was one of the women of the church society, who decided to erect a social hall.
“So, the building that is right next to the church has been there since 1910,” Arnold said.
“They have had a lot of dinners and social events in that building since then. We’re honored that we have many fans from all over the North Country and beyond that look forward to this dinner, and we were disappointed when we could not present the dinner. So, we’re happy that we can help people out again.”
There are some changes, and Arnold asks that people please be patient with the church.
“I’m hoping that things go smoothly,” she said.
“’You always hope for the best. Expect the worse. Life is a play. We’re unrehearsed. That’s a Mel Brooks quote. I’m hoping for the best, but we are planning for all potential possibilities.
“The last time we did this dinner, we sold roughly 240 meals in the dining room. People went in and ate in the dining room. Takeout meals, 440. So it’s like 65% was takeout, and that’s another reason why we decided we’re going to try this. If we’re serving almost 700 meals, we can’t have people parked all over the place and people waiting in the church like we used to.”
The drive-thru, takeout-only format requires drivers to remain in their cars and adhere to specific traffic directions.
“We’re asking people to pay attention to the signs and to the personnel that will be directing traffic,” she said.
“You wait in your car, you wait for your order, and then you’ll drive through. Enter on the Hallock Hill Road side, and exit on the Harkness Road side. We will have two lines of traffic, so we’re hoping to be able to keep things moving smoothly.
“We will have two serving lines getting meals ready in the Hall. We will have runners from AuSable Valley Central School. Excellent volunteers those students in the past; we’re expecting the same. We always have great results with those students.”
The annual dinner would not happen without an “outstanding core group of dedicated volunteers that work so hard to make this dinner happen and we couldn’t do it without them,” Arnold said.
“Also though, we have a much wider group of folks whom we only see once a year … they come from far and wide to work extremely hard in the kitchen and we couldn’t do it without them either. We are so grateful for every person who is able to help us.”
Pre-orders of meals are not an option.
“We wish we could,” Arnold said.
“We don’t have the personnel or facility this year. We’re hoping maybe next year because the whole process is new to us. If people are still lined up at 5 o’clock, we will continue to serve.
“It’s a different time than it used to be. It’s a little earlier. But when we used to serve at 4, we had people come in at 3, 3:30, just to make sure they got a good seat. Some people tend to eat earlier these days. It also gets people home before dark, so that’s another safety thing.”
The Harkness UMC has received generous donations from local businesses and other churches.
“Stewart’s has donated 12 gallons of milk for our amazing gravy,” she said.
“We make 35 gallons of gravy. Our gravy maker, Ann Felio makes 35 gallons of gravy. She’s amazing. Casella is donating a dumpster for us to be able to dispose of all of our trash, which saves us a ton of money going to the landfill and having somebody have to schlep it around. It just makes it much, much more convenient.
“St. Augustine’s actually gave us blocks of ice that they had frozen that they weren’t using. Twenty-seven blocks of ice that we’re going to use to cool our chicken. That saved us a lot of work because we usually have to make those blocks ourselves. That was a blessing.”
Arnold and her team are really excited to bring back the legacy meal.
“We won’t be able to visit with people the way we used to, the way we did, and we regret that and wish we could,” she said.
“Janet Duprey (former NYS Assemblywoman) always used to bring her daughter here, and then her daughter’s children to the meal. They would be one of those families that would stand in line.
“Ten years ago or so when Allie (Timmons) was in high school, she turned to her mom (Michelle) and said, ‘This is my favorite day of the whole year.’
“I’m hearing this story, and I went, ‘Huh, she’s a teenager, and she was serious about it. She she was absolutely sincere.’ I was so honored to hear that the next year I saw her waiting in the line, and I said, ‘I have to have my picture taken with you.’ So, we did a photo op with her in the line.”
Every October, for many, many generations, this dinner is a North Country tradition.
“They can enjoy the comfort food,” Arnold said.
“I don’t know if we will resume dining in. Who knows? It’s going to depend on how this year goes. There are new things we’re having to figure out, so our learning curve is pretty steep this year. We don’t know the best kind of takeout containers to get. I’m still searching for that option because there are so many different options.
“We kind of hate to use Styrofoam, but we have a lot of it left from previous years. We really would appreciate people’s patience and grace as we deliver this popular meal.
“We’ll do our best to give everybody a comfort food meal in a different format. And, we appreciate people’s patience with us as we relearn the whole system and deliver it in a different manner.”