Few traditions are as culturally transcendent as sharing a meal with family. There are a lot of books out there about how to eat and what to eat and the right way to eat, but they all agree on one thing: the profound importance of sharing a meal amongst friends or family. Breaking bread together strengthens relationships, fosters conversation and promotes good will and bonding. It’s no coincidence that a lot of our biggest get togethers are focused around eating. Humans have been doing the same thing for a LONG time, way before late November meant a chemical-laden overgrown turkey and gelatinous cranberry sauce. It’s more important than that.
On the second stop of my Postcards from America tour (first stop was Portland), we come to the woods of New Hampshire, where I spent the last weekend with 35+ of my family members and relatives.
We were a bit off the grid—outhouse and no electricity where we were staying, no cell reception—which was better because it was just family, far fewer distractions. And despite recent tragedies, health issues, emotional troubles, and more, the family was able to come together with joy to celebrate one of my aunt’s 50th birthdays.
Trekking out from CA to join the New Englanders left me feeling slightly foreign—especially when trying to go for a six-mile run with my mom and having to deal with these things you call “humidity” and “deer flies.” I went out intending to run 12 and after 3 I thought I might pass out from having sweat out all my water and then some!
My artistic, zany, and creative family members guarantee that each weekend gathering is filled with everything from sweet music to fireworks to gorgeous decorations, and of course… games. Apples to Apples, bananagrams…
And then there was the food.
Cooking for DOZENS of people with different dietary preferences—everything from NO VEGETABLES to vegetarian to gluten free—is difficult, but it was done in stride.
In addition to being a celebration of life, the weekend was a communal feast.
One of my cousins is a chef at a restaurant and whipped up several delicious salads in what seemed like just a moment.
Green bean salad…
Some sort of soybean/cranberry/cream cheese combo…
One of the dishes that was far from the prettiest but definitely one of the most unique was my aunt Steph’s tomato cobbler. She clipped the recipe from some magazine, unfortunately I’m not sure which, but I am going to post the variation here. Essentially it was a mix of tomatoes, asiago cheese, and dough—soggy pizza perhaps, but something about it was delicious and I’m glad to come away from this weekend with not only happy memories of my loved ones but also a new dish to try.
New Hampshire Tomato Cobbler Recipe
FOR THE FILLING
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 3 pounds cherry tomatoes
- 3T all-purpose flour
- ¾ t crushed red-pepper flakes
- Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
FOR THE BISCUIT TOPPING
- · 2 cups all-purpose flour
- · 2 t baking powder
- · Coarse salt
- · 1 stick cold unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
- · 1 cup Asiago cheese (the original called for gruyere I believe, but she used asiago and it was awesome)
- · 1 ½ cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing
1. Make the filling: heat oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium heat. Cook onions, stirring occasionally until caramelized—about 25 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Let cool.
2. Toss onion mixture, tomatoes, flour, and red pepper flakes with 1 ½ t salt and some pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 275. Make the biscuit topping: whisk together flour, baking powder, and 1 t salt in a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small clumps form. Stir in cheese, then add cream, stirring with a fork to combine until dough forms (dough will be slightly sticky).
4. Spread tomato mixture into a greased baking dish. Drop spoonfuls of the flour mixture on top of the tomatoes, spreading it evenly with a knife but leaving some gaps to let steam out.
5. Put in oven, bake until tops are browned and biscuit mixture is cooked through, 45-60 minutes.
6. Once removed from oven, brush with butter and sprinkle sea salt and chopped fresh basil on top for garnish.
I had a great time getting back to nature and back in touch with family members. Connecting over a conversation, a piece of cake, a cup of coffee. And I’ll carry that with me back on the road.
What kind of “food traditions” does your family have?