Andrea Klinker shares her family’s tradition of potlucks, swapping food recipes, and sneaking snacks before dinner.
We are a family of eaters. We show our love for one another by sharing recipes, casserole dishes, and bites from each other’s plates. Delicious, homemade meals settle in our stomachs on Sunday afternoons while we complain about how hard it is to lose weight. On an early spring day, we open the windows. I nap, they chat, and it is one of my favorite feelings in the world.
Family reunions (plural), which happen multiple times a year within the branches of our brood, are a true feast. On Labor Day weekend, we line up 10 picnic tables with savory tradition and sweet embraces. We eat it all: Mamaw’s peach stack cake, Beth’s cookies, Shelly’s seven-layer salad. Leftovers are for quitters. Between the egg toss that stretches the length of a football field and rounds of putt-putt, you can always make room for a second dinner.
The women in my family are master chefs and natural leaders. Recently, it struck me that my mom, my aunts, and my mamaw, all the incredibly strong and independent women in my life, taught me to be the same way. If you want something done, do it yourself. They shouldn’t be surprised that I moved away. They raised me to chase my dreams and take care of myself, and my dreams happen to be lofty. I call my family when I can, and when I remember; I should remember more often. We always exchange recipes. Sure, we catch up on life, what we are watching on TV, and when we can finally start planting flowers outside. But recipes are our love language. I learned to make burgers out of sweet potatoes, I say, and Mom made cookies out of avocado. I can cook anything, even when the pantry looks bare. They taught me cleverness, creativity, and working with what you have. They feed me, in almost every sense of the word, whenever I come home and in a way that no one else can.
Of all our foodly traditions, the “help’s on the way” snack is my favorite. It’s a terrible habit that I hope I never unlearn. Big occasions always have snacks prior to the meal. Honestly, they’re just appetizers, but to me, they’re more meaningful than that. A cheese ball, guacamole, veggie trays, and spanakopitas are some of the first foods we share with each other on special days. I am reprimanded when I don’t make cheesy bacon dip to snack on before Thanksgiving dinner, our mightiest dinner of the year. I love being the cheesy bacon-dip maker; I’ve memorized the recipe. My papaw, who tends to go overboard with food he loves no matter how many times we try to convince him not to, will occasionally fix an entire plate of snacks—a meal all on its own. He sneaks them into the living room, as skilled as a six-foot, two-inch cowboy of a man can sneak.
“Papaw, you don’t need all of that! We’re eating soon,” says anyone who sees him.
“Ahhh, it’s just a ‘help’s on the way’ snack,” Papaw says.
It’s a little something for when you are so hungry you can’t stand it. It lets your body know a meal is coming. It’s something to tide you over—something to laugh about, something we all say now.
We giggle and follow suit, sneaking snacks, even though no one really cares that you’re snacking. Crowded around the kitchen counter, it’s just one more bite as you greet more family arriving with more food. We are shooed away by whoever is making the actual meal, so they have room to open the oven door or stir a pot. The real meal won’t be ready for another 20 minutes, but I am already full and incredibly satisfied.