The scenic little Baldwin County town of Magnolia Springs has won a reputation for its charm. Its water mail route (one of the last in the United States) has been featured on “Good Morning America, ” while its tiny Fourth of July parade has garnered press coverage as far away as China. Since its founding in the 19th century as a health resort, the community has seen massive change, yet for the past 118 years, the Magnolia Springs Community Hall, above, has been a constant, serving as everything from a school to a church. And for more than 50 of those years, the stately white building has been home to a lively Saturday night potluck supper. The Magnolia Springs Community Association hosts the popular get-togethers once a month from October to May and occasionally during the summer.
The association’s president, Virginia Stone, says attendance is contingent on football. “We have anywhere from 30 people up to capacity, which is around 100.” In keeping with the town’s easy-going vibe, the menus aren’t planned. “Every couple brings a dish of whatever they want. If we know we’re going to have a large crowd, we try to arrange for extra, or we might go across the street to Jesse’s Restaurant and pick up some meat.” What’s the most popular dish? That’s easy. “Onion pie. We always have to have that.” Each potluck features a program, which may include guest speakers (in tonight’s case, it’s firefighter Jamie Hinton) discussing everything from historic preservation to catching alligators — anything but politics.
People come to the potluck for fellowship as much as food. Eddie Sue Winter, a resident of Magnolia Springs for 15 years, has been a potluck regular for 13. She says her favorite thing about the gathering is “the ability to meet my neighbors and get to know people in the community.” Lynne Parker, whose lemon sponge cake vanished quickly from the dessert table, and husband Jim have been participants since 1999. She doesn’t plan her dish ahead of time: “I just look in the cupboard and see what’s there.”
The quirky potluck fits perfectly into the spirit of Magnolia Springs, which values its history. The hall itself was constructed on property given to the community by resident Otis Lyman, who wrote down his intention on the back of a deed to St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel, next door. Today the Community Hall is the heart of the Magnolia Springs Historic District, which also includes Jesse’s Restaurant, located across the street in a building which began life as Moore Brothers’ store.
Just as Magnolia Springs has occasionally found itself in the public eye, the potluck has won a measure of fame through a cookbook. The Community Association hopes that the publicity will translate into donations to preserve the hall, which is showing its age. “We need to repair the cupola, get new windows, and bring the kitchen and bathrooms, which weren’t part of the original building, up to code. Everything will have to be done in compliance with historic preservation guidelines, ” Stone says.
For the residents of Magnolia Springs, the Community Hall’s importance goes beyond the historic building itself; it’s a symbol of the affection felt for this picture-perfect small town and its hospitable traditions. “I moved to Magnolia Springs 15 years ago as a stranger, and now it feels like I have a giant family, ” Winter says. “A friend of mine was visiting for the first time and he said, ‘This is the cutest itty-bitty town with the nicest people.’”
Molly’s Sweet Vidalia Pie
This dish is a staple at the potluck. It comes from Jesse’s Restaurant located across the street from the Community Hall.
4 medium Vidalia (or other) onions, chopped into large pieces
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs, well-beaten
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
1 unbaked 9-inch-deep pie shell
Parmesan cheese, to cover top of pie
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Sautee onion rings in butter until translucent.
3. Combine eggs, sour cream and seasonings. Add onion to egg mixture and pour into pie shell. Top with Parmesan cheese and bake for 20 minutes. Serves 6.