About twelve years ago, the last of my father’s brothers died, and the impetus for the annual early November family reunion was buried with them. It was always held near Jay, Florida, a wide spot in the road close to the Alabama border, at my Uncle Gordon’s house.
Those of you who think Florida is either South Beach or Mickey Mouse would be quite surprised to wend your way from Pensacola’s back door through Cottage Hill, down the Quintette Road, to Berrydale and onto the long country roads of Santa Rosa County, surrounded on both sides by stunningly beautiful cotton fields ready to harvest.
The Jones side of the family is a loving bunch, country to the core. I’m the only one of the cousins who graduated from college, but they seem to like me anyway.
Family reunions, at least the old style, are primarily about food. I took my first husband to a reunion of my Mississippi relatives once. His people were from Champagne-Urbana, Illinois, and all of my aunts clutching him to their ample bosoms, smelling of lavender and talcum powder, was just about enough to make that boy swoon. They were very sweet and welcoming to this formal, bookish young man. They waved him over to the picnic tables laden with bowls and platters of food.
“Go right ahead, now, honey,” they cooed, “and help your plate.”
I’ll never forget the look on his face. He motioned for me to come over; we stepped out of the line of fire for a moment. “What am I supposed to help it do?” he whispered, brow sincerely furrowed. The poor guy was buttoned up way too tight, and seemed to have no fun at all, anywhere.
I always took a fruit compote casserole to the Jones family reunions. It went well with the inevitable ham and turkey, was easy to fix, and — most importantly — it had a Secret Ingredient. The ancient, bird-like aunts, teetotalers all, loved this casserole. There was never any left to take home. In fact, the empty dish looked suspiciously like it might have been licked when no one was looking.
I think about this dish in early November, and remember the old gals fondly. A couple of neighbors are coming up the hill for supper tonight and I just finished assembling the compote to go along with the rest of dinner. The photo will tip you off to the Secret Ingredient. It elevates this otherwise plebeian recipe.
1 dozen dried almond macaroons, crumbles (vanilla wafers and almond extract may be used)
1 can pineapple slices, drained
1 can plums, well drained
1 can apricot halves, drained
1 can pear halves, drained
1 can bing cherries, drained
1 can peach halves, drained
1/4 cup reserved liquid (not plum)
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup Kirsch cherry liqueur
Cover bottom of 9 x 13 buttered dish with crumbs. Alternate layers of fruit, sugar, crumbs, almonds, and Kirsch. Dribble melted butter over top. pour reserved liquid over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Source: Recipe by Mrs. Charlotte Swartwood, Reston, Virginia — from the VIP Holiday Cook Book, Vol.IV,
1981, American Cancer Society benefit project