A 60 year old tradition!
During the 1941 Kansas Legislative Session in the state capitol of Topeka, Representative Will Christian from rural Grant County had been bragging that he could prepare an entire dinner using only food grown and produced in Grant County. By the 1940’s commercial irrigation was widespread in Southwest Kansas, making it possible for Representative Christian to make this claim.
During the Fall of 1941, Representative Christian hosted a dinner in Grant County for twelve of his fellow legislators and the Lieutenant Governor. Representative Christian’s wife, Nora, prepared this home products dinner in their ranch home in rural Grant County, and served the party in their dining room. The dinner became an annual event for the Christians until Representative Christian’s retirement from the Kansas
In 1962, the Grant County Chamber and several local citizens revived the dinner, naming it the Grant County Home Products Dinner. The Dinner was still a showcase of locally grown products, but it evolved into a dinner to which the public and elected politicians were invited. In September 1963 the first “modern” Dinner was served. Today the dinner serves approximately 1,200 to 1,500 people every year.
Over the course of the fifty-plus years the Dinner has been served, the menu has remained essentially unchanged. Barbeque beef is the main course, served with scalloped potatoes, baked pinto beans, candied sweet squash, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, whole wheat rolls, strawberry jam, cheese, watermelon, ice cream and milo doughnuts. Every year it takes approximately 700 pounds of beef to supply the main course, along with 4000 cherry tomatoes, a pickup load of sweet corn, 1500 milo doughnuts, 100 pounds of pinto beans, 400 pounds of potatoes, 1500 whole wheat rolls, 50 squash, 40 pounds of strawberries, and 50 watermelons.
The Grant County Chamber is still very involved with the Dinner, and has an eight person Home Products Dinner committee that coordinates the dinner. The committee is a four year commitment, allowing committee members to learn the process of putting together the Dinner in steps. By the time the food is served, the committee will have coordinated approximately 700 volunteers and 50 clubs to help with everything from
picking and shucking sweet corn to setting up chairs and tables.
The Home Products Dinner is served every year on the third Tuesday of September. Planning for the Dinner begins the November of the preceding year. Over the course of eleven months, the committee picks entertainment for the Dinner, chooses a theme and complimenting artwork, coordinates with local farmers to grow the products needed for the dinner, and begins to solicit other donations such as plasticware, cups, and coloring supplies for the young children in attendance. Depending on the maturation of the sweet corn crop, the first work day for the committee and the community volunteers is corn day, usually during late July or early August. On that day, the sweet corn is picked from the field, shucked, cut off the cob, cooked, and put in the freezer for storage until the Dinner in September. Over the following two months the committee coordinates the gathering of potatoes during harvest, as well as pinto beans, and the collection of wheat flour for the rolls and milo flour for the doughnuts from local farmers.
During the week before the Dinner, the committee swings into full action, picking tomatoes, squash and watermelons. The committee then distributes the products to local clubs and schools to be prepared for the Dinner. Additionally, the committee is responsible for the cooking of the barbeque beef the night before the dinner.
In addition to the food, the committee is responsible for setting up the local Civic Center for the dinner. With help from community groups and companies, tables and chairs for 1500 people are set up, and the Civic Center is decorated. Following the Dinner, the committee coordinates the clean-up of the Civic Center and the kitchen, and the return of decorative items.
A commemorative button featuring that year’s artwork is the admittance ticket. The button can be purchased at several local businesses for $10.00. The money raised supports scholarships for local Grant County youth who have graduated from high school and are attending college. Over the past fifteen years, over $130,000.00 has been awarded to local high school seniors.