Canadian Living editor-in-chief Jes Watson shares how the food always comes first when her family reunites.
Our crew is like most Canadian families. We're tight-knit, but sprinkled across a wide expanse of geography, scattered through cities, towns, provinces and a few distant countries. We're lucky to live in the time we do, when communication has never been easier, and we stay in touch with regular phone or FaceTime calls, emails and social media. But there's nothing quite like when we're all in the same room together, 30 or so familiar faces, the same features (in our case, twinkling eyes and proud sets of buckteeth) echoing through the generations.
Despite the distance between us and the time we've spent apart, when we do meet up, it's like nothing has changed. Conversations seem to pick up where they left off, as if the months or years separating visits were nothing more than a short pause. Seeing my relatives again feels as comfortable as slipping into a favourite pair of well-worn jeans, or picking up a beloved book I've read a hundred times. No matter where we are, or who is hosting, it's like coming home.
The Watsons try to make get-togethers an annual occurrence, with a generous relation offering to host at a different location each year. Because we're polite folk who don't want to descend like a herd of hungry elephants on a poor aunt, uncle or cousin, the agreed-upon tradition is to make the feast potluck. We're each assigned a course to bring (appetizers, main or dessert), and we spend hours doting on hot stoves and ovens, prepping veggies and icing cakes. When we arrive, each of us ports our wares in casserole dishes and Tupperware from the car to doorstep like precious cargo.
It's no accident that even before the hugs and the small talk, the dish each person provided is the primary topic of conversation; the first question out of everyone's mouths is "What did you bring?" And because we've been having our reunions for as long as I can remember some of the recipes that appear are like family members in and of themselves. My cousin Dawn makes the cheesiest, ooey-gooiest lasagna that I can't ever resist having seconds of, and when I see it there on the dining table, I feel waves of nostalgia and familiarity (not to mention hunger). Some recipes are re-created in honour of relatives who have passed away or can't be there: My late Aunt Barb's trifle is a bittersweet, but mostly sweet, way of remembering her. Of course, we welcome new recipes, too, much like new babies; my 10-year-old niece wowed us last year when she made a batch of perfectly chewy yet crispy cookies from scratch.
Maybe it's not that the recipes are like relatives in their own right, but that the food we bring is an extension of who we are. Our secret recipes and special ingredients, year after year, become entwined with our personalities. They're a way for each of us to show our love for our family, and for them, in return, to show their love for us. When I look forward to our next reunions, I always vividly imagine the food that's going to be there, and each of the people I adore who'll bring them.
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