Shelter Island pre-election ham dinner, a local tradition, set for Monday

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Credit: Steven Lilley/Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/sk8geek/

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church will host a pre-election ham dinner on Monday, Nov. 7, a Shelter Island tradition that dates back for decades.

But how exactly did this ritual come to be?

There was a push to encourage summer Islanders to vote here, but if they had closed their houses for the season and returned to vote, they would find few restaurants to provide them sustenance during their visit, according to Phyllis Wallace, long-time keeper of the records at the Shelter Island Historical Society.

While there had been a number of write-ups about partisan pre-election dinners and other events, St. Mary’s appears to be the first non-partisan group to enter the fray, offering a traditional pre-election night ham dinner.

Frequently, couples who summered here would split their vote, so perhaps the husband voted at the family’s year-round residence, while his wife voted on the Island. They would drive out, have dinner at the church and then the wife would vote early the next morning here before the couple returned to their main residence for the husband to vote, Ms. Wallace said.

“It was a smart move and a money maker,” she said.

But is the event truly an escape from politics?

Church member Jane Babinski is making no promises that the conversation will not get heated. But what she can assure is the chance to catch up with friends and neighbors in the same spirit that Islanders bring to the summer Fire Department Chicken Barbecue.

Anticipating about 85 people Monday night, church members begin working on Saturday to assure all is in order.

On Saturday, volunteers will begin peeling fresh apples contributed by Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue.

Following church services Sunday, volunteers begin peeling and slicing sweet potatoes that end up in huge pans with more butter than your doctor might recommend if you have high cholesterol.

Dot Ross steals off to begin making her special cole slaw and she shares that recipe with no one. What she will say is that she uses one red cabbage to every three or four green cabbages and Ms. Babinski lets on that the IGA graciously shreds the cabbage for the dinner.

Diners will consume between 20 to 25 pounds of that special cole slaw.

Five large boneless Boar’s Head hams will be baked and then topped with raisin sauce. Apple cider and tea and coffee will also be available.

Each table will be adorned with a pumpkin — about 15 in all, donated by Alfred Kilb Jr. — that locals Judy Brandenstein and Doris Schultz will be carving to serve as centerpieces.

Church advertising suggests diners don red, white and/or blue outfits and head for St. Mary’s Parish Hall Monday evening where there are seatings at 5 and 7 p.m. 

Be sure to make reservations in advance by calling the church at (631) 749-0770. The cost is $25 for adults and $10 for children.

Those who can’t get out for the evening can arrange to pick up their meals for takeout between 6 and 6:30 p.m.

St. Mary’s Parish Hall is located at 26 St. Mary’s Road, Shelter Island.