'Table' set for more than food

You can order “Come to the Table” at your local bookseller or at

The English writer and poet J.R.R.Tolkein once wrote: “If more of us valued food and song and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

No doubt Tolkein would be pleased with “Come to the Table,” and the refined culture it represents. The newly released book depicts food and life richly lived, with its creator — Augusta resident Benita Long — sending a strong message: Mealtime is more than taking in calories. As the book suggests, a good meal should not, first and foremost, be eaten alone — and it can even evoke biblical and literary images. “I wanted something colorful and bright and bold,” Long said in a recent phone interview from her home in Augusta where she is a member of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church. “Come to the Table: Food, Fellowship and a Celebration of God’s Love” (Thomas Nelson Publishers) is nothing if not colorful. It could just as easily dress a coffee table as be stored on a shelf. It contains close-up shots of grapefruit and avocado salad; beef tenderloin; tilapia with baby spinach; and a host of other photos and their accompanying recipes make one’s mouth water. But there are also photos of church steeples and leafy backyard gardens and an oldfashioned stove made of iron. “Throughout the centuries, food has been offered not merely as sustenance, but for blessing, pleasure, and refreshment,” reads the introduction in the book jacket. Most of the recipes and featured foods make “Come to the Table” seem distinctly Southern. One photo shows three children eating watermelon on a porch swing. And there are hints of Thanksgiving, celebrated in 27 days. Yet, Long said it should appeal beyond this region, and beyond the distinctly American holiday. “Come to the Table” came out in September. It was a four-year effort. In addition to Long, five others worked on the book: Susan Wilson, former president and co-owner of Design Images in Augusta; Ann Mitchell, a former co-owner of the Augusta business Catering to You and creator of the famous “Tea Time at the Masters” cookbook; graphic designer and creative director Leah Moore of Atlanta; photographer Sammy Anderson of North Augusta, S.C., across the Savannah River from Augusta; and Steve Wingfield of Virginia, who has a global ministry called the Evangelistic Association. The book has a Columbus connection: An 1800s home that was once a church parsonage, near Long’s house, was photographed for one of the pages. The home had belonged to the grandmother of Catherine Zimmerman Bickerstaff of Columbus. This is Long’s first book. “Most people try to get their first book published when they’re younger than I am,” joked Long, who’s 60. Her friend Steve Wingfield came to Augusta to play golf about four years ago and she floated her idea to him. (Wingfield has three books published by Thomas Nelson.) “I had gone to a Christian bookstore and there was nothing visually beautiful. There was nothing that celebrates Christian living with joy,” Long said. “It was all, how to live, what to do. “I asked Steve, ‘Where are the people with joy and gladness?’” Wingfield put his friend in touch with Thomas Nelson, and the company took to the idea for this book immediately, Long said. Long’s favorite quote contained in the book is from Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century British Reformed Baptist: “Your joy thus shall become God’s missionary.” There are also Bible verses that allude to creation and working with one’s hands. Other famous thinkers quoted in the book include Rudyard Kipling, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Francis Bacon. The initial printing of 40,000 books has nearly sold out, Long said, with more on the way. Book signings and speaking events have pushed sales along. Because who doesn’t appreciate a good meal at a beautiful table surrounded by loved ones? “It’s a metaphor for faith; we do better when we live in community,” Long said.