The Family Table: In Praise of Family Dinners

Readers share their treasured recipes
By The Family Table
The Family Table
The Family Table
November 5, 2021 Updated: November 5, 2021

Submitted by Patricia Clemens, Port Angeles, Washington

A few weeks ago, a grandson was visiting from several hundred miles away. At an evening meal with uncles, aunts, and cousins, his father said, “Now one of your wishes for this trip has come true: You got to have a family dinner.”

It reminded me of the time when we were celebrating our 40th anniversary with our four children, a son-in-law, and (at that time) two grandsons. One of the grandsons (about 7 at the time) asked several times if we could have “family dinner” again.

Now I remember how important multi-generational meals were to me when I was a child. Not only was the food outstanding, but the conversations about past events, lessons learned in life, and even disagreements and disputes were such good learning experiences for me. Sharing ideas and conversations was wonderful. All 10 of my aunts and uncles seemed to experience the past in different ways. They also had lots to laugh about, and showed that even after disagreements (many were quite heated), they could still love and enjoy each other immensely.

I firmly believe that breaking bread together, at the same table or in close proximity to one another, could solve a lot of problems. It certainly appears to help folks enjoy and respect one another.

Now that I am 80, I rarely have opportunity to cook for our family. Thankfully, I have a son-in-law who makes outstanding breakfasts and spaghetti dinners. His wife (our daughter) makes wonderful salads, including tabouli. Our eldest son makes BBQ ribs that can’t be beat, and his wife makes the yummy sides. The middle son can catch and also cook seafood that is the best. His wife studies Italian cooking in Italy, and if she invites you for one of her meals, don’t miss it! The youngest son is likely to serve something off the grill that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Minestrone is a family favorite. (Irina Hendrix/Shutterstock)

At times, I still put on a pot of soup: Minestrone seems to be a family favorite. Potato rolls go well with it. A meal like this works well in our maritime climate, and also accommodates those who arrive at different times.

Minestrone Soup

  • 1 1/2 pound ground beef, browned
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 3 to 4 cups chopped potatoes
  • 3 cups chopped carrots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 16-ounce can chopped stewed tomatoes
  • 1 cup tomato sauce or juice
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon Bon Appetit Seasoning Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup barley

Combine all ingredients except the barley in a pot and simmer for 3 1/2 hours. Add the barley during the last 1/2 hour of simmering.

Fluffy potato rolls, made with leftover mashed potatoes, go nicely with soup. (vm2002/Shutterstock)

Potato Puff Balls

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 cup slightly warm milk
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 6 to 7 cups flour
  • Melted butter and parmesan cheese, for dipping

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Add the warm milk to the yeast.

Cream together the shortening, sugar, and salt. Blend in the eggs and mashed potatoes. Add the yeast mixture to this and stir well.

Add the flour incrementally until you have a medium-stiff dough. Knead and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down gently, then let rise again.

Shape the dough into buns and place them on a greased cookie sheet. Let rise again.

Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F. Dip the tops of the rolls in butter and parmesan cheese.


Do you have a treasured family recipe that holds a special place in your family history, heritage, or traditions? We would be honored if you would share it with us.

Along with the recipe, tell us its story—who gave it to you, its journey through the generations, and the personal meanings and memories it carries. Is it a special-occasion dish, or an everyday family favorite? Does it connect you to your cultural heritage, or to a certain loved one?

How have you kept the recipe alive, and why is it important to you to do so?

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