Among all of my many cookbooks is a small collection of books that is very special and dear to my heart. You see, from the time I was an infant right on up through high school, my mom's side of the family threw a huge Fourth of July shindig every year. That in and of itself probably doesn't sound that spectacular; many families throw huge Fourth of July parties. But these parties weren't merely day-long picnics with a culminating display of fireworks at night. They were three, sometimes four days of camping out on my great-aunt and great-uncle's lawn, whether it was in a camper or a tent. If you didn't have either one, well, there was always a free bed nearby, since my grandparents, uncle, some second cousins, and my (now departed) great-grandparents all lived within a stone's throw of each other. I mean that literally.
Anyway, each year there was a theme for the annual party - some of the most memorable for me were Halloween in July, Down on the Farm, and Native American Pow Wow. We incorporated the theme into everything for the weekend: the parade, the kids' and adults' games, the decorations, the food, and the talent show. Oh, yes, there was a talent show, and we have them all recorded on VHS (and I know for a fact that my sister digs them out from time to time just to watch them.) These videos capture the essence of our family circle, which is wide and encompasses relatives with such ties as "third cousin twice removed", as well as anyone we just happen to love enough to adopt into the family. It's truly amazing to watch these tapes, not only for the funny and embarrassing moments, but because there are many family members captured on film who are no longer with us. My great-grandparents, my great-aunt and great-uncle, my mom's cousin (who was like an aunt to me), and even a dear friend of mine from high school, they are all there on the TV screen, full of life and enjoying our crazy family traditions.
Okay, back to the cookbooks. Among all of these traditions, we also put out a yearly cookbook that tied into the theme of the weekend. At some point a few months before we all pulled up in our campers, my mom's cousin, or "Aunt Cindy", would ask everyone to submit recipes for the cookbook. It didn't matter if it wasn't gourmet, or new, or even very complicated (I'm pretty sure a recipe for toast is included somewhere). Everyone was encouraged to participate, and the more creative you got, the better. In the "Down on the Farm" cook book (1991), for example, there are recipes for Rhubarb Cobbler, something called "The Fruity Farmer", and my very own recipe for "Elysha's Chocolate Meadow Muffins". And in "The Magic Book of Potions" (Halloween in July, 1995), the creativity reached new heights, with Graveyard Mystery Cake, Ghoulish Malted Milk Cookies, and "Witches Brewski". These books not only include dozens of great (and some not-so-great) recipes, but drawings that us children did pertaining to that year's theme, as well as little nuggets of information about family members and traditions. Most of the books were created before computers were in every household, and are photocopied pages of type-written recipes (and some hand-written), that are stapled together with a single sheet of colored photocopier paper as the cover. I love them.
Now that I've dug them out, there are tons of recipes I want to try. A legendary family recipe is one that my great-grandpa used to make, called "Burn Your Guts Out". I think I'm going to put it on my weekly menu list for next week, and if all goes well, I'll take some photos and post it on the blog very soon. It's a perfect cold-weather dinner, similar to chili, but...well, different.
I'm happy to say that my second-cousin (or is it second-cousin once removed? I have no idea.) now lives on the land that my great-aunt and great-uncle used to live on (his grandparents), and he has revived the tradition. We had a good old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration this year at his place, and he built a brand new stage just for the talent show. The food was great, the weather was perfect, and memories were made and reminisced over. It's a tradition I had been missing, and I am so thrilled that my children will get to experience it just like I did. Now I might have to get to work re-creating the cookbook...