Our holiday longing for home

“There is something about the holidays,” says Chapel Hill minister Bob Dunham, “that stirs memories and longing for home.

“Even if they are better in memory than they were in reality.”

He explained that student homesickness is not just about freshmen. Longing for home affects everybody. There is an aching for family now separated and for particular places.

Dunham told how minister and author Frederick Buechner remembered when another minister asked in a sermon, “Are you going home for Christmas?” The question brought tears to Buechner’s eyes.

Such memories more often than not take me back to family meals when I was growing up. I start to smell my grandmother’s Sally Lunn rolls, taste my mom’s tomato aspic, and remember the fried chicken, ham, or shepherd’s pie. There was always talk about the sermon or politics or special family challenges. Sometimes there would be gentle teasing of each other.

These kinds of memories also stir Raleigh writer Bridgette Lacy, author of “Sunday Dinner,” a “Savor the South” cookbook from UNC Press.

In her introduction to the book, she remembers summertime Sunday dinners at her grandparents’ house, sitting down with “parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and cousins to a meal of fried chicken, potato salad, green beans, and yeast rolls. On cold winter afternoons, Sunday dinner meant generous portions of perfectly seasoned pot roast with mashed potatoes and carrots.”

“Sunday dinner,” she writes, “was the artistic expression of my grandfather’s love of family, and it was a masterpiece.”

These are the kind of memories that fuel our longing for home.

But, writes Lacy, “Today, there are fewer large family clans. Children have moved far away from parents and grandparents. Uncles and cousins no longer live within walking distance. Many of us who grew up eating Sunday dinner surrounded by family now eat dinner alone. For others, Sunday dinner has become an afternoon at the local all-you-can-eat buffet, eating among tables of strangers.”

Lacy lives alone, far away from surviving family. So, how does she celebrate Sunday dinner today?

Some Sundays she gets in her car and drives three hours to Lynchburg, Va., to be with a few relatives. Other times she “re-creates” her Sunday dinner family. She turned her African American Classics Book Club into a monthly pot-luck get-together with the host providing “standard Sunday dinner staples.”

Also she encourages singles to invite others to make together or bring parts of a meal to share. “It’s a chance to connect with others and nourish the body and soul. The Sunday meal should remind us of our personal relationships with food and the people we love.”

Lacy helps by sharing about 50 simple recipes from her family and friends, including Grandma’s Fried Chicken, Mama’s Meaty Crab Cakes, Papa’s Picnic Ham with Jack Daniels and Cloves, Short Ribs, and Pork Chops with Onion Gravy.

There are side dishes and vegetables like Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese, Esther’s Summer Potato Salad, Scalloped Potatoes, Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Topping, Savory Stuffed Crookneck Squash. Butternut Squash with Sage, Collard Greens, Green Beans with Fingerling Potatoes, Sweet and Spicy Corn Cakes, Corn Pudding, and Classic Buttery Mashed Potatoes.

She gives directions for salads, including Sweet and Crunchy Broccoli Salad, Roasted Pears, Cucumber Tomato Salad, Salmon Salad–Stuffed Tomatoes, Gala Apple Chicken Salad, and a variety of breads and desserts including Papa’s Nilla Wafer Brown Pound Cake, Peach Cobbler, Easy Blackberry Cobbler, and many more.

“Nilla Wafer Brown” describes the desired color of the crust of the pound cake. No actual vanilla wafers are required.

Of course, Lacy’s homage to old-time Sunday dinners feeds our longing for family and the meals we shared together. But she includes a wonderful antidote, especially good at holiday time: Gather your friends together and feed each other like family.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

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