May 23, 2019

Writing a Family Cookbook including Decoration Day and Memorial Day Events

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

I must admit: I’m part of the generation that has no real reference to the Southern tradition of Decoration Day. It often coincides the same weekend as Memorial Day. Maybe it’s because my family never had an organized family reunion.

I have friends who share tales of Decoration Days spent in their family cemeteries around the South. It’s a tradition that has always fascinated me. If you’re not familiar with this event, let me enlighten you. It’s a tradition that started before the Civil War, think of it as the origin of “family reunions.” 

Whether near or far family members come home and gather at the cemetery of their relatives to honor them by cleaning the cemetery, straightening tombstones, clearing brush and debris then decorating the graves with flowers. Prayers are said for the dearly departed. Music may occur offering up Taps, gospel hymns, folk songs or family favorites. The “dinner on the grounds” is quite literally that. It’s a family reunion of both dead and living relatives because you’re eating a potluck dinner atop the graves of your ancestors. This is an all day event. It’s not something you come late to and certainly not something you leave early from, else you want to be talked about.

Morbid? Maybe but it’s definitely fascinating. The potluck, of course, will include each family represented by a favorite and maybe “secret” recipe. 

Now, my way to make a family recipe book. You could just put recipes in a 3 ring binder and then copy. We are not affiliated with Shutterfly, but I personally have used their services and have always been pleased. Shutterfly, like some other photo services, makes it easy to capture family stories, recipes and photos all in one book that you create and write. I plan on making my own cookbook for my adult children. I will be sharing some of my Mom’s memories of her childhood experiences with Decoration/Memorial Day in rural Arkansas, as well as some of her recipes. I’ll be incorporating pictures along with stories, as well as the recipes.

What about you? Do you participate or have memories of Decoration Day? Have you made a family cookbook?

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