October 2022

Posted by Connor McCauley on


October Newsletter

The Annual Dessert Social

Being over a hundred years old, the Harrell Ranch is not a newcomer to the Texas Panhandle. We steam from a long line of ranching heritage and traditions in the region. From cowboy hats to boots, windmills, horseback riding, and yes, of course, calf fries, we love tradition. We continue to find traditional importance in a world that is changing faster than ever. Tradition is so crucial to who we are and what we stand for. 

Being from the north, I always thought of the south as having a "southern hospitality" tradition. I don't feel that northerners lack hospitality as much as the stereotype makes us believe. Still, I have found a certain resolve that does ring the "southern hospitality" saying true. The sense of community gathering is a vital virtue here. It's not as simple as that it should just happen when the moment occurs but that it is more of an obligation to be upheld. People should gather whenever possible and share good food and conversation.

Harrell Ranch has partaken in the tradition of "southern hospitality" for as long as there was a standing structure on the ranch. This would steam from those ever-so-important meal gatherings. A large ranch back in the early 1900s would have potentially a hundred employees. Cowboys, farmers, windmill engineers, and others needed for work would live on the ranch or close by. To work they would cover thousands of acres and hundreds of cattle by horseback. These men, hard at work, would often come home hungry to hungry families. That's where their strong wives came in; working consistently to put something decent on the table. These meal gatherings are quite natural in the old world of ranching. Families would take a load off together and educate the next generation to do the same thing. It became a sense of duty not only to keep the ranch going but to form solid social connections amongst ranching communities. This "meal gathering" is such a successful formula that it would spread even further than individual ranches to networks of ranches themselves.

As we travel into the future, we start seeing less need for these large meal gatherings. As technology advanced, the ranches began to shrink in their need for hired hands. Where several dozen helping hands were working before, we now only need a few. As a result, there were fewer of these large gatherings. It became so that even one family could, for the most part, sustain all the work of a ranch. Even one person could cook meals using the oven, stovetop, and in desperate situations, the microwave. Wives (or men) can add dishes to the dishwasher and call it a night. The labor required was streamlined by new technology. However, the rancher never forgot about his neighbors. As much as technology has advanced, there are always points where ranchers need to scratch each other's backs. Thus the sense of needing to gather was never put to rest.

During significant cattle workings, ranchers will band together to accomplish immense tasks. I remember my first weekend living on the ranch. There was a knock at the door at about five in the morning. Time for breakfast and my first meal gathering. About six cowboys steaming from three different ranches were all in the kitchen to indulge in eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy. For us it is not simply good enough for these cowboys to show up, but they also need to be fed. Into the house for food they go; dirty boots, jackets, groggy morning attitudes, and all. Bossman Sam and boss woman, Mary didn't even think twice about it. This is the nature of southern hospitality.

Southern hospitality and tradition itself does not stop at the simple cattle working for Harrell Ranch. No, sometimes it is necessary to invite just about everyone we know. This is a community gathering and a way for us to share ties with the people around us. It is a way for us to give back to the amazing people of the Texas Panhandle. For us, this is the Annual Dessert Social, and this is no simple picnic in the park.

The Annual Dessert Social has its roots all the way back in the 1940s. Only then it was not called the Dessert Social but the ice cream social. This was the invention of my wife's great grandparents Newton and Helen. They took it upon themselves to have a large gathering to keep people coming together. Yes, there were plenty of other opportunities for people to gather, from church to holidays and other picnics. In fact Newton and Helen also had a New Years Dance at their house. However, the ice cream social was their way of giving back to their beloved community. This was their little slice of southern hospitality. Still, I believe it was never their intention to start a multigenerational tradition that continues to this day.

Today, the Ice Cream Social is no longer just Ice Cream but the Annual Dessert Social. Why just eat salsa when you can have the whole enchilada?

Ok, maybe a Mexican food analogy was not the best fit for this sugary topic. Regardless, in 1999 boss woman Mary, aka mom or moo-moo, made the decision to turn the long decadal tradition of ice cream into something much more. More people, more tradition, and of course, more sugary treats.

Each dessert is now handcrafted by each individual guest invited to essentially a sugary potluck. We see just about everything under the sun make an appearance, brownies, cake, pies, strudels, cookies, moose, crumbles, tarts, pastries, chocolate this, chocolate that, candy, whoopie pies (as we call them in the north but apparently not in the south), jello, fruit desserts, cobblers, marshmello, pudding, and just about anything else you can imagine. Each dessert is labeled with the dish's title and who made it. Then laid out buffet style for a soon-to-be sugar rush followed by a crash that will make the noblest of men melt down like a child ready for their midday nap.

Hold on, though; it is not quite time to dig in yet. First, we have to get to the ranch. The invitation's direction is a brief synopsis of the difference between the male and female minds. We see how to get to the ranch on the back of the invitation. (Note: I'm not about to write exactly what the invitation says. Sorry we don't feel the need to let the internet know the exact location of the ranch.) First, we see Sam's idea of proper instructions. Turn left at airport road; once you cross farm to market road, head east 25 miles; the ranch is on the right side of the road near county road x. Next to that, we see Mary's directions which I will not burden you with, dear reader, as you probably have an obligation within the next month. To put it this way, even Tolkien, in his works of literature, does not go into such description of surrounding landscapes as Mary does.

You're finally here, whether you arrive at the ranch late because of a lack of directions or because you had to observe a few hundred lines of instructions with landmarks guiding you. After passing through our gate, you will be met with bermashade signs (similar to the ones people put in their front yards during election season). Each of these signs is several hundred yards apart and has one word written on each side. So, for instance, this year arriving you could read Danger.. Ahead!.. Warning.. Sugar.. Over-.. Load.. Likely.. Watch.. Out.. Dia-.. Betics!.. Enjoy!.. And on your way out, you can read Thanks.. 4.. Coming!.. Hope.. You.. Don't.. Go.. Into.. A.. Sugar.. Coma!.. Bye!..

After already being harassed for your medical conditions (we are JOKING. We love you and respect you), you arrive at the holy grail of dessert eating. About a hundred people in total all gathered at our picnic grounds. First, there is a lot of talking, then a prayer before the meal, then… Nope, not time to eat yet. Before that, there is one more task to be done. In her cunning ways, Mary decides, "hey, these little children have it a little too easy." So, in her ways, Mary calls all children under twelve forth to do none other than the chicken dance. That's right, you must dance for your meal if you're under twelve!

Now, it is time to dig into the desserts. Everyone with good cheers gathers and fills their plates. Even the children don't mind touching foods for this meal as they pile the delicious sweets higher and higher on the plate. After everyone is loaded up, we all go take a seat in varying circles. Old friends sit with each other, families unite, and strangers meet each other for the first time. It is what makes Mary the most excited; people gathering. This is where southern hospitality comes into play, and the tradition fulfills itself as worthy. There are always amazing connections made at this meal gathering. Still, one, in particular, has had a real effect on the community of Amarillo.

The four churches of downtown Amarillo are Polk Street Methodist, First Baptist, First Presipertarian, and Central Church of Christ. These are in beautiful historic buildings, all very close to one another. Unfortunately, due to denominational differences, each churchgoer only gets to enjoy one of the buildings. That all changed after one of our dessert socials when the Methodist Church and Presipertarian Church pastors sat down in an engaging conversation. After much discussion, they decided that the four churches of Amarillo should put aside differences and gather once a year in one of the historical buildings. Thus yet another tradition was born.

After all is said and done, the folks pack up their lawn chairs and head home. As the sun sets, we clean up and head home ourselves to reminisce about another year in the bag. It's all about good times, people gathering, conversations, a laugh, a smile on a child's face, and looking forward to doing it all again next year. This is the definition of southern hospitality; this is why we keep things like this alive. Without our community, who really are we?

Who can we rely on and share the joy of tradition with? Have we learned anything if we can't look to the support systems established in the past, like large meal gatherings? These events are the things that warm our hearts, put joy in our veins, and keep us going. We thank God for the ability to do these things with the people we love. This is the Annual Dessert Social!

Prayer Requests

You can feel free to disregard this part of the newsletter, but we always need prayers. Please do not think we are asking you to only pray for us but rather just add these things to the things you already pray for. We really appreciate and believe in this.

  • For Fall Harvest to go well
  • Praise for the great business we have been receiving!

Thank You so much, and don’t hesitate to let us know if we can pray for you.

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