When I was kid growing up in Texas, summer meant a lot of things to me – a break from school, time to play with friends, trips to the community pool and warm nights playing hide and seek with the neighborhood kids. It also meant – Family Reunions. The threat of yet another get together with a bunch of old people who knew me, but I swear I’d never seen before, hung like a storm cloud over my summer plans. I dreaded the letters that came every year – handwritten missives informing us of the time and place of yet another reunion. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to commit a felony to prevent the postman from delivering one of those letters. We received no less than four every summer. Three came from my dad’s side – the Wall, Richardson and Combest families – all enormous families by today’s standards. The smaller, and the one requiring the most travel – all the way to East Texas - was my mother’s family, the Whites. Each and every one of the reunions was held in a park (there was no other place big enough for most of them), in the middle of summer. In Texas.
Many of you are experiencing one of the hottest and driest summers on record, and I can assure you, they were just as hot when I was a kid. To say I dreaded these get-togethers would be an understatement. A few things made them not so bad. One of those was my cousin (on my dad’s side) Cathy. She’s just a few months older than me, and the closest thing to a sister I have. Like me, she had to attend many of these functions too. Most of the time, we managed to disappear (that was when it was still safe to wander off in a public park) and reappear in time for lunch. We’d find a playground, or play with our Barbie dolls in the shade of a giant oak tree. Our favorite (or least hated) gathering was the Fourth of July gathering at the lake. There, we’d don our swimsuits and wade out into the murky water that was the swimming beach and hunt for mussels – with our toes. Yep, that’s what we called fun. Pathetic, wasn’t it? I can’t even imagine what my girls would say if I suggested they give that a try. We’d drag our wet, fishy smelling selves back to the picnic pavilion just as the ice cream freezers were about to give up their stash of homemade frozen custards. Bowls were passed around, and we tasted everyone’s contribution to the feast with unbridled enthusiasm – which brings me to the second reason the reunions were bearable…
The food. No matter where Cathy and I wandered to, when it came time for the relatives to pull the foil covers off the dishes they’d brought, we’d be some of the first in line, paper plates in hand. I might not have enjoyed listening to the ‘my how you’ve grown’ comments from the old folks, but those same old folks could cook! And they brought their best stuff to the reunions. Couldn’t have the folks making fun of their cooking skills on the hot drive home, so everyone pulled out all the stops.
It wasn’t long before one of my enterprising relatives decided it would be a good idea to document this culinary phenomenon, and surprise, surprise, the old folks agreed. Thus was born, The Reunion Cookbook. It’s one of those spiral bound things with hand-drawn cover art of a jalopy filled with a smiling family and a picnic basket. It’s chocked full of the best recipes you’ve ever tasted in your life, and it’s one of my prized possessions. The pages are stained and tattered from repeated use now, but to have this treasure is reason enough to have endured all those reunions.
So, in honor of summer memories, here’s one of my favorite recipes, straight from the Reunion Cookbook.
COOKSHACK PEACH COBBLER
1/2c. butter or margarine
2 c. sugar - divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. milk
1qt. fresh sweetened peaches – Peel and slice peaches. Bring to a boil with ½ to 1c. sugar. Cook until soft.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in 9 x 9 inch pan. Mix flour, 1 c. sugar, baking powder and milk. Pour mixture into pan with butter. Spoon sweetened fruit over the batter.
Bake 35 min.
Note – also very good with blackberries or apples, or both!