I donned a pair of a character shoes for my high school’s production of “Oklahoma!” and fell in love with the idea of box socials. During the second act when most cast members were focused on the words to the upcoming verse of “The Farmer and the Cowman” or concentrating on their next square dance move, I was merely half-focused on the hoedown at hand. I simply couldn’t stop day dreaming about the meal I would have actually packed for the box social. Sure, my visions of cold fried chicken and crisp icebox pickles put me at significant risk of missing my next do-si-do, but as a burgeoning cook I just couldn’t help myself.
Historically, box socials, like the one that drives the plot forward in “Oklahoma!,” were commonly used as a means to raise money for good causes in the 1900s. Women would cook and pack up their best kitchen creations in boxes tied with ribbons to be auctioned off as a means to raise funds for churches, schools and families in need. Gentleman bidders would select a meal without knowing who was responsible for making it and pay handsomely for the most popular offerings. As an added bonus the maker of the meal joined her winning bidder for lunch.
Over time the humble fundraising method gave way to powerful gala events and capital improvement campaigns, but the sweet allure of a good old-fashioned box social is enjoying a steady comeback thanks in part to organizations like Oak Park’s Prevail.
A nonprofit organization focused on offering emergency intervention in times of financial crisis, Prevail hosts a grassroots concert fundraiser called Songs of Hope and Struggle every year. The 3rd annual event April 23 will highlight the jazz sounds of Chicago musician Don Stiernberg and a quartet of creative boxed dinner options.
Prevail planners give concert-goers a choice between four gourmet sandwich options, including a riff on my Throwback Meatloaf Marvel as well as a roasted chicken banh mi and a robust vegetarian offering. All the scratch-made sandwiches will be tucked into neat boxes as a nod to box social events of days gone by.
The iconic meatloaf sandwich celebrates the casual and relaxed vibe of the Prevail benefit concert perfectly; Songs of Hope and Struggle is an honest celebration of community, music and food benefitting a worthy local cause. Check it out!
3rd Annual Songs of Hope and Struggle
A benefit concert for Prevail, featuring the Don Stiernberg Trio with a special apperance by Ella Gill, at 7 p.m. April 23 at FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. $30 adults; $20 students. Cash bar and casual fare. For tickets, see Prevail.givezooks.com or call (708) 386-1946.
Throwback Meatloaf Marvel
(Makes 8-12 sandwiches.) Make the meatloaf the day before you plan to serve the sandwiches; slicing a cold meat loaf is a breeze.
For the Meat Loaf:
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 sweet onion, roughly chopped
1 cup dried bread crumbs, finely crushed crackers or finely crushed croutons
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Splash of milk
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2-1 3/4 pounds ground chuck
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the celery, red pepper and onion into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse to coarsely chop the vegetables and transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment. Add all the remaining ingredients except the beef and BBQ sauce to the bowl with the vegetable mixture and process on medium speed until well combined. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the meat until just combined.
Divide the meat mixture in half. With wet hands shape each portion into a 2-inch by 12-inch loaf on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Smooth the surface of the loaves with wet hands to eliminate any cracks or gaps. Bake the meat loaf for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 375. Brush the loaves with the BBQ sauce and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Cool the cooked meat loaf completely and refrigerate overnight.
For the Basil Mayo:
1 cup light mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon basil pesto
1 Tablespoon sliced scallions
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Homemade Onion Straws:
1 onion, very thinly sliced and separated into rings
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons of your favorite seasoning blend (I like a BBQ blend or even Italian herbs)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Oil for frying
Combine the cider vinegar and the milk. Soak the onion rings in the mixture for 20 minutes. Mix the flour, seasoning blend and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the soaked onions in batches to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Shake off the excess flour and fry in batches until golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels and serve.
French rolls, lightly toasted
Spinach and arugula leaves
Sharp cheddar cheese, sliced
Roma tomatoes, sliced
Sweet pickle slices
Spread the bread with the basil mayo and some greens. Layer the sandwich with two slices of the cold meat loaf, a slice of cheese, three tomato slices and three sweet pickle slices. Wrap the sandwiches in parchment and tie with twine before placing in a box for easy transport. Garnish with the onion straws just before serving.