Thursday, July 31, 2008

Genea-Blogger's Picnic

Lemuel, Lee and Alfred Austin, Jr. at the Austin Family Reunion, Loch Sheldrake, New York, Summer 1992. Photograph. Digital image. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, Illinois. 2008.

This post serves double-duty (I like when I can kill two blog posting birds with one stone!): Bill West over at West In New England proposed that there by a Genea-Blogger's Picnic which I think is a great idea. And with that Miriam over at AnceStories 2: Stories of Me for My Descendants added a few more journaling prompts to assist in completing the post. So here goes.

What food does your family serve at picnics?

First off, where I grew up in upstate New York, we don't call the gatherings picnics per se - usually everyone uses the term "cookout." It was a given that when dining al fresco with family, it involved the grilling of some sort of meat - harkening back to our cave-dwelling ancestors. We just didn't have to club women over the head to show up or cook the meal. Thank goodness for progress.

Our typical fare was as follows with some dishes that I still make today:

Sausage and peppers
Hamburgers (or "Hamburg" as my grandmother would call it)
Frankfurters (again the German influence, we didn't say "Hot Dogs")
London Broil
Deviled Eggs (my Aunt Pudgie made the best!)
Macaroni Salad (ours always had tuna fish in it)
Potato Salad
Cole Slaw
Various chips, pretzels, cheese thingies, etc.
Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, relish
Ice cream

Are there traditional foods or family recipes?

My mother loved to make London Broil and now that I am here in Chicago it doesn't seem as popular. Instead, I tend to grill boneless leg of lamb and slice it thin like London Broil.

I make cole slaw, both a sweet and a sour version, which was always store-bought when I grew up.

Is there one particular relative's specialty you wish you could taste again or one perfect picnic day you wish you could go back and relive?

It would be either my Aunt Pudgie's Deviled Eggs - always served on a Tupperware container made especially for devlied eggs or my Aunt April's baked beans with lots of bacon and mustard.

You could expand to write about family reunions, past and present, and what kinds of foods were/are brought to them.

I think the first reunion that I remember was really my great-grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary in 1975. John Ralph Austin and Therese McGinnes were married on May 30, 1915 in New York City and 60 years later we gathered everyone (all three children, all 12 grandchildren, and all 40 plus great-grandchildren) for a big celebration.

The other reunion I remember most, was in 1992 at the Fireman's Park in Loch Sheldrake, New York. I believe that all 11 of my mother's siblings were there as well as all their children. My Aunt Pat produced a handmade booklet listing everyone's family group information which has helped me complete research on many of my living relatives.

You could add what dish everyone loved to eat, and which one people were sneaking off to scrap into the garbage so they wouldn't hurt the cook's feelings!

The baked beans that Aunt April made were just the best. I know that she used canned beans as a starter and that's not a bad thing - I hate cooking raw beans! But it was her method of using bacon, mustard and brown sugar - I've never really had any other beans like them. My current recipe is more in the Southwest tradition and is very complicated: it involves making homemade barbecue spice, then barbecue sauce, then the beans.

Is there a picnic basket, old ice chest, a BBQ grill or camp stove, a special dish (physical, not recipe) or picnic cloth that's been handed down in the family and used for decades at picnics, potlucks, or reunions?

We never really used picnic baskets or anything of value when having a cookout. Usually we covered picnic tables with plastic tablecloths or bought rolls of plastic that catering companies would use to cover tables. Utensils were plastic as were the cups. We had way too many little ones around hence the disposable stuff.

Is there a favorite campground, park, home, or meeting place where picnics or reunions regularly occurred?

Usually my mother's house in Liberty, New York was the location for celebrations. I think it started when I moved to California and only visited about once a year. Rather than take me around to relatives on some sort of "tour" it was easier for everyone to come over and have a cookout.

What about unwelcome guests like ants, mosquitoes, and yellow jackets? Raccoons, anyone?

Insect life was a given especially since I grew up in a rural area. We had raccoons at night but we always secured our garbage cans with locks.

What favorite picnic or reunion photos do you have, especially ancestral?

Unfortunately I don't have very many photos - I have those from the 60th wedding anniversary and the one above showing my three uncles watching a family softball game at the 1992 reunion.

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