Easter breakfast is church, family tradition

Mar. 31, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

As part of a long-standing family tradition, the Garner family cooks a massive breakfast each Easter for anyone who comes to the sunrise service at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

The only catch is the Garner family are relative newcomers to this family tradition. The breakfast idea was first made into reality by Phil and Hazel Thomas back in 1976, said Doris Garner, whose family took over in 2010. The Thomas family kept it going strong for more than 30 years, although due to the declining health of some in the family, they stopped in 2008. The next year was a potluck, but the Garners thought the tradition should live on.

"When the Thomases said they didn't want to do it anymore, I thought I might want to do it," Doris said. "I mentioned it to my mother-in-law, and she said she had thought the same. So we did it."

So she and her mother-in-law Judy rounded up their husbands, Doris' two daughters and a handful of other relatives and got cooking.

Each year, about 75 people attend the church's 6:30 a.m. sunrise service and are clamoring for breakfast by 7. So the Garners get to the church Saturday afternoon and cook for several hours, then return at about 5 a.m. on Sunday to finish up what needs to be made fresh — biscuits and gravy, for example — and put the rest in the oven to warm back up. Doing it all in the morning is simply out of the question because of the menu: 10 pounds of bacon, 15 pounds of sausage links and patties, 15 dozen eggs, 80 biscuits, plus fruit, toast, gravy and more.

Betty Johnson, who was at the church Saturday for the Easter Egg hunt her granddaughters were participating in, said she's been a member of the church for years and loves going to the sunrise service — in no small part because of what comes after the service.

"The food is always great," Johnson said. "It's just a wonderful Southern breakfast that was started by the Thomas family and now the Garners are doing it. The church is terribly indebted to them for doing this."

And while Doris said she doesn't know about any debts — even though the food is free and her family pays for most of it out of pocket — she said there can be some pressure. That was especially true the first year, she said, but then-pastor Danny Redman counseled the cooks not to be worried if a few biscuits were still in the oven when the hungry crowd poured into the fellowship hall.

"He said, 'Look, they're all getting this for free. They can wait,'" she said.

Doris' daughters — who Doris said are going to have to get married and carry on the tradition — agreed that there can be some pressure, but that overall it's worth it.

"I think it's cool that we can keep the tradition going," Amanda Garner said. "... Getting up early's a chore, but the cooking is fun."

Laura Garner added that she hates the hot grease that flies off the bacon and sausage, so she sticks to cooking eggs. Amanda joked that her best kitchen skill is arranging the boxes of donuts they buy each year.

And what about Easter lunch and dinner in the Garner family?

"It's just hot dogs or whatever else can be made with basically no time or effort," Doris said. "(Making breakfast) sort of does wash you out a little. By lunchtime, you're just kind of blah."