Writing about my love of traditions, routines, and habits, is not a new topic for me. I love exploring the ways traditions shape everyday life.
We recently spent five days in Michigan with Brad’s family, and since then I have been reflecting on some of the summertime traditions we enjoy each time the Brummeler clan gathers. From eating Grandma B’s meatloaf, to swimming across the lake, to eating ice cream at the local shop, special foods and activities shape our time together. Our family isn’t unique in having a set of traditions that we enjoy when we are together. Many families plan the same activities year after year because “we always do this” or making the same foods for family gatherings.
The first tradition occurred before we even arrived at the cottage. Brad stopped at the local ice cream store to order his first dish of lemon chiffon ice cream. This ice cream store makes quite a few flavors of homemade ice cream and the lemon chiffon is one of them. As he ordered, the man recognized Brad from last summer and told him, “Your dad said you would be here.” Nothing beats small town friendliness and knowing your customers! Most evenings during our summer visit finds at least some of us making the three mile drive to the ice cream store.
I can’t remember the first time I had Grandma B’s meatloaf—I know it was early in my married life. Meatloaf falls into the category of comfort food for me and this recipe meets all the requirements for comfort food—a good amount of fat, a melding of sweet and sour flavors, and filling. For the longest time, we didn’t eat Grandma B’s meatloaf at family gatherings because butchers did not want to cross-contaminate their grinders with the different meats. This recipe requires ground pork, beef, and ham. (I grew up with meatloaf that only used ground beef and never realized you could add different ground meats to the mixture.) Not only do you have the different flavors of meat, but also you have the flavors of the yummy sauce that is poured onto the meatloaf towards the end of its baking time. It’s a combination of brown sugar, vinegar, and water—hence the sweet and sour taste. This recipe also feeds a crowd, which definitely fits the bill when all the Brummelers are gathered. So for the past few years, whenever we gather together for Christmas or a summertime visit, meatloaf is the main course and that makes me very happy. As my sister-in-law aptly said, “meatloaf is sentimental for us.”
Another summertime tradition amongst the cousins and the “younger” set of adults is to swim across the lake (Clifford Lake—not Lake Michigan!). There is some debate on the distance, but the majority of the Brummelers agree it is a half-mile swim. We all have our various paces and strokes that we use to swim across (mine is a slow and steady pace) along with the assurance of the pontoon boat riding alongside us in case we need a life jacket or a lift. The rules for the swim are simple: touch the seawall on our side of the lake and touch the seawall on the other side of the lake. I used to swim both ways, but for the last two years swimming one way has been enough. I fulfilled this tradition last week with two of my nephews and Brad. Once again, I enjoyed a sense of accomplishment as I touched the seawall with my heart pounding in my chest and my legs weak from exertion.
Perhaps one of the main reasons I appreciate these traditions is for the anchor they provide—especially when family dynamics can be difficult. Paul’s words in Galatians 6:2 to “carry each other’s burdens” challenge me (and the rest of us) to look past the inevitable irritations and differences in personalities and to bear inconveniences because this “fulfills the law of Christ.” None of us choose our families like we do our friends. So when we come together as family, we bring our love for one another as well as our failures, our quirks, our joys, and our disappointments. Traditions guide our time together even when relationships are strained or circumstances are less than ideal. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to suggest that adding some traditions to your next family gathering will improve all relationships and turn the time into a Hallmark moment. However, I do think that traditions provide consistency, which can be a helpful starting point.
Since food is such an important part of family gatherings, I offer you Grandma B’s meatloaf for your next family gathering. This recipe makes enough to feed 10-12 people (we triple it for Brummeler family gatherings). Remember, you need to find a butcher who will grind the various meats.
Grandma B’s Meatloaf (sorry for the funky formatting)
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground ham
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 can pet milk (canned milk)
½ c. ketchup
4 tablespoons onion, chopped
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ c. soft breadcrumbs
Mix above ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Pour off fat (using a turkey baster works well) and pour sauce over meat (see below).
Sauce for pouring over meatloaf:
1 c. brown sugar
¼ c. cider vinegar
¼ c. water
Boil above ingredients for 6 minutes.
After you pour sauce over meat, bake for 1 more hour. Put extra juices and bits of meat in a gravy boat or sauce dish to pour over the meat and any other sides you have on your plate. Enjoy!