Family reunions enjoy good food

Malsam Family Reunion enjoys
We stayed in a motel in nearby South Haven, Michigan, a short 15-minute commute to the lake place of our hosts, Tom and Lavetta Kazda. The Kazdas and a sister lovingly prepared favorite family foods before the reunion: sauerkraut and dumplings, spiced beef, pork loin roast, baked pasta with meat sauce and dozens of homemade gingersnap, peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. Everyone loved the food. Perishables were stored in two refrigerators.

For two days, we ate complimentary breakfasts at our hotel and feasted on one big meal at midday. Between meals, we grabbed leftovers, which simplified food preparation and serving. On the last day, the Kazdas cooked a hearty brunch before everyone departed.

Reported by Margaret Malsam, Denver, Colorado.

Can you help?
We received this query from Kathy in Florida and wonder if you have any suggestions for her.

“I have a family reunion in Illinois coming up. Everyone who attends travels some distance. I’m looking for new food ideas that are easy to travel with and fix. I can’t count on an outdoor grill at this resort. Can you send me some ideas of food that can travel, be different and good and easy to fix?”

We responded that we had no recipes specifically that can travel other than sweets and desserts. We suggested she check into catering, carry-out and deli foods. Rather than not counting on an outdoor grill, check and tell them it’s important.

What are your ideas? Email to [email protected].

Family Reunions Yesterday

by Frances E. Hanson

In earlier days family members may have lived in the same state or county, but they were lucky to see other family members once a year. The choice of transportation was foot, horse and buggy, stagecoach or slow train ‘cross country. Twenty or thirty miles was considered a far piece and family gatherings were rare. Many families had loved ones who traveled the Oregon Trail West. Their return visits were cause for huge family celebrations.

Journals and pictures from the early 1880s reveal how such a family reunion was held on a Colorado farmstead “down in the Grove on Willow Creek.” The week-long event was so important that neighbors pitched in to ready the Grove and food.

A main cooking fireplace was built. Tent and wagon spaces were staked out so the family could put up tarp-flys and sleep beneath their wagons. The ladies area was built to the south, gents to the north. Lanterns were hung among the trees and a post installed for each camp’s lantern. Long tables with benches were fashioned from planks and saw horses, along with blocks of wood for chairs for older family members. Young people sat on brightly colored crazy quilts for their “dinner on the ground.” A small platform was constructed for musicians and a dance floor roped off with several lantern posts.

Rooms were prepared for the oldest family members. Horseshoe stakes were set. Burlap sacks were gathered for sack races. Down in the creek under a big cottonwood tree, a hole was boxed in for watermelons. A pasture area was readied for lawn tennis and baseball. Barrel hoops were rounded up for the youngsters to roll and a swing hung in a tall shade tree. A quilting frame was assembled and sat waiting beneath tall shade trees. The icehouse was checked to insure a supply to keep ice cream and drinks cold.

Late in the afternoon and long into the night wagons and buggies were heard arriving. Long before daylight, host family women with women of early arrivals began preparing the afternoon family dinner. Bread dough for dinner rolls, light bread and wheat bread were mixed. Tea cakes were baked. There would be jellied chicken, cold fried chicken, baked chicken, and chicken roasted over the campfire. In addition, the menu included cold baked hams, jellied tongue, pickled salmon, cold veal loaf, green boiled corn, new potatoes fried on a open fire, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumber in vinegar water, camp salad, French and Spanish pickles, tomato preserves, peach and pear sweet pickles, lemon and orange jelly, freshly churned butter, pickled beets and hard boiled eggs. And there were cakes: Minnehaha, Old Fashioned Loaf, Buckeye, Lemon and Sponge. Bowls of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries were set out to nibble on all day. Lemon and strawberry ice cream were cranked out by the gallon. Tall cool glasses of iced tea, iced coffee, lemonade, soda-beer, ginger beer and raspberry vinegar, made the day before, awaited guests.

Baskets were packed for the trip to the Grove. First in were the oil cloths to cover tables. A coarse white flannel bag held extra serving ware and cooking spoons, forks, and sauce dishes. Coffee tied into small bags were tucked inside the tea-pot with “tea papers’; tin boxes of salt, pepper and sugar. A tin of butter was placed in a small bucket and covered with ice, then wrapped in a blanket. The tin water bucket held a bottle of coffee cream and fruit. Remaining baskets were packed with food and one-by-one loaded into wagons for the trip to the Grove where they were placed in order of serving on the long tables.

By noon, the Grove had become a sea of wide-brimmed ribbon and flower bedecked hats and sun bonnets, moving around in calico basque gowns. Long sleeves protected from the sun and insects. The men wore chambray shirts, bibs, denims and alpaca shirts. Little boys ran around in knee britches and straw boaters. Children were rubbed with kerosene to ward off mosquitoes.

The family dinner was laid and a group of nearly 100 did their best to empty the dishes set before them. The afternoon was spent playing games, quilting, hymn singing and story telling. Toward sunset the remaining food was set before those who lingered. Some left to do evening chores but would return for dancing and fiddle playing.

Hanson Family Reunion meal is enjoyed in the Grove. At the close of these family reunions someone photographed the family together. Here they remain, over 100 years later, together in the Grove – standing and sitting around the long tables with happy smiles for the generations to come.

About the author
Frances E. Hanson, the fifth generation of writers in her family, writes a weekly newspaper column for the Casper (WY) Journal. Other writing credits include feature articles, plays, newsletters, articles, books, and research work. She has compiled family genealogies, ghost-written three books and is author of three books including An American Treasury of Heirloom Fruitcakes and Puddings, Vol. I, Para Publishing.

Knapp/Napp family is nourished

August 2001, 250 descendants of Conrad and Maria Napp gathered at the Beetown Hall in Grant County, Wisconsin. At high noon it was time for lunch. Lines formed and Sister Maria Hill offered grace. Thanks to the planning and coordination of cousin Beth McCullick, a resplendent German-American buffet was laid out by caterers from the Red Top Supper Club in Hazel Green, Wisconsin. On the menu were beef rouladen, broiled fish, bratwurst in sauerkraut, German potato salad, green beans and spaetzle, rye bread and rolls, plus hot dogs for the less adventurous appetites among the younger set. In addition to the catered meal, many family members contributed pot-lucked salads and desserts. Several large tubs set under shade trees offered self-serve beverages on ice.

Following lunch the buffet tables were cleared to make way for desserts. A wide assortment of pot-lucked goodies surrounded the centerpiece, a beautiful three-tiered cake inscribed with “Happy 180th Anniversary, Conrad & Maria Napp.”

Reunion hindsight offers some ideas for future gatherings: If you’re serving a buffet meal, call people into line in some sort of order. (Those who don’t have a prayer of getting food for 15 or 20 minutes might as well stay comfortably chatting somewhere rather than standing in line.) One good idea would be to say “Everyone over 60 and under 12, line up for lunch!” Naturally, mom or dad should go through the line to assist youngsters who need help choosing and carrying. In our case — if we’d thought of it in advance — we could have called the group to lunch according to generation, as this was noted on their nametags.

Reported by Mary Thiele Fobian, Pacific Grove, California

Feeding the reunion masses

by Denise Heinze

Rule number one in planning a successful family reunion is that everybody must eat. Sounds simple enough, but it is often the biggest challenge in pulling off the annual famfest. Talk great accommodations in a charming locale at an affordable price all you want. But, as food goes, so goes the reunion.

Believe me. I found out the hard way. I organized my first family reunion, a three-day white-water rafting trip in the Great Smoky Mountains. I made provisions for everything, except – you guessed it – the food. After rafting nearly all day on the river, we came back to our rustic log cabins famished, and with absolutely no idea what we were going to eat. There were no restaurants for twenty rugged mountain miles, no electricity or water in the cabins; heck there was nothing to fix. Lucky for me, my sister-in-law was able to scrape dinner together from the supplies in her well-stocked camper.

Called on again this past summer to do another reunion gig, I was not going to make the same mistake twice. This time, my seven siblings and their families were going to dine like the rich and famous, with a minimum of expense and effort.

Here’s how I did it.

My family voted in May to reunite at a North Carolina beach, any beach, in July, peak season. People book these places a year in advance and pay up the wazoo for a week’s stay. So I had two options: 1) tell my dreamy family they were nuts, or 2) pray for a miracle. Thanks to a flat economy, I got the miracle – two reasonably priced beach houses within throwing distance of each other at quaint Oak Island, off the North Carolina coast. Better yet, both houses came with fully equipped kitchens. Though hotel rooms would have cost roughly the same, we would have had to eat our meals out, an expensive and distasteful prospect.

Instead, we had the kitchens. All we needed now was food and chefs. The food was easy. My brother and sister-in-law had hosted the two previous family reunions and sensibly suggested we buy the groceries all at once, then divide costs per family member. But they ended up planning all the meals and doing most of the cooking. Obviously, that wasn’t much fun for them. So, how would we organize a week’s worth of meals, cook them, and then serve seventeen people without it all falling on one or two people’s shoulders?

I had a major bout with the obvious: we would take turns. I asked two of my sisters to buy breakfast and lunch groceries, stuff everybody would eat: milk, cereal, bread, lunch meat and canned soup. We would all chip in and prepare those meals on our own. But for dinners, each of us would sign up to cook one night and be responsible for buying the food, cooking and serving it. I figured that way, we would get appetizing, nutritious meals and a variety, since our tastes are as diverse as our personalities. In addition, no one person would be stuck in the kitchen the whole time. One large meal and – voila! – freedom from KP duty for the rest of the week.

They not only loved the idea, they one-upped me. One sister suggested we cook in teams, then have a prize for the best-prepared meal. So, in keeping with our competitive nature, we turned food preparation into a fun, exciting contest. But we weren’t finished. After a sister told her daughter about the idea, she suggested all the children be responsible for desserts, then have the adults vote on the best one! That way, the entire family would be involved.

If you think this was much ado about food, keep in mind my family sometimes simply forgets to eat. That’s why it took us many years to get that part of the reunion properly organized. Rather than worrying about our empty stomachs, we’d just as soon be boogie boarding at the beach or visiting the WWII battleship or gazing at sharks in the huge aquarium or playing our annual softball game.

And yet, when all was said and done, the best part, hands down, was the evening meal. Each night we gathered for cocktails, conversation and great anticipation of a home-cooked meal. We were not disappointed.

Seasoned beef and turkey tacos with rice pilaf and a fresh fruit medley.

Shrimp and chicken shish kabobs marinated in a honey mustard sauce, then grilled to perfection.

Italian spaghetti prepared as it is in the old country, with chuck roast simmering in the sauce until it is so tender it melts in your mouth.

An all-American meal of hot dogs, hamburgers and beer-soaked brats, garnished with flags and served on a table decorated in red, white and blue.

And, oh my, don’t let me forget the desserts. Two nieces went all out, gathering enticing recipes from the internet, organizing their cousins – boys and girls alike – then whipping up a chocolate cake with raspberries, Mississippi Mud Pie, and the best of all, a superbly executed chocolate mousse.

After it was all over, nobody cared who won, because we all did. What we learned is that food does matter. Carefully preparing and serving a delicious and healthy meal is an act of love, incomparable in its unique ability to provide comfort and sanctuary. Which is the very reason we make such an effort to come together at all.

About the author
Denise Heinze, one of eight children, grew up in rural Mt. Clemens, Michigan. In the early 1980s, she moved to North Carolina, where her parents had lived as newlyweds and started their large family. Denise organized a reunion in the state where it all began, a tradition that endures. She lives in Durham and teaches English at North Carolina State University.