Every Mother’s Day, my family gathers in a park in Long Beach and has a raucous celebration of mothers, family, and food. It started over 20 years ago when my godmother and her sister used to go out to a local park early and stake out spots for us. I would go with them sometimes, and I think that they used it as much as an excuse to hang out and chat as a way to save us a spot. Both of them passed away years ago, but it is a great tradition that we continue. It’s now the day that the largest contingent of our family gets together — our version of an annual family reunion.
My mom’s side of the family is all of Mexican descent and rather large, so the picnic usually has an attendance of at least 50 people — most of whom are related to me in one way or another. The family tree can get a little confusing, and we all laugh as we try and remember if people are actually related to us or if they have just been friends of the family for so long that we think they’re related.
My grandmother, who just turned 88 two weeks ago, is the matriarch of the family and so she plays a special role in the day — greeting everyone as they come, kissing the new babies, and generally holding court as everyone comes by to talk to her.
What started as a fairly casual food tradition has more fanfare in recent years. The general “rule”, if you could call it that, for the picnic is that everyone brings lunch for their own families. But mom likes to bring enough food for grandma to be able to offer food to anyone who wants it, so while most families would bring food for 4 or 6 people, we end up feeding around 25 people.
Mom has an additional rule of trying not to repeat a picnic meal too often. In the past, we have served barbecued beef sandwiches, chili, and fried chicken. This year, we finally decided on carne asada burritos after several days of discussions. We then built the rest of the menu.
The Season’s First Cherries
I decided to put out a large bowl of cherries for the family to munch on throughout the day. I had been eating cherries during my whole week in Los Angeles — they are one of my favorite seasonal fruits. The farmers’ market cherry vendors in Southern California seem to be a couple weeks ahead of our Northern California crop resulting in fully sweet and delicious cherries right now. “First cherries of the season, make a wish,” said my grandmother as she took a handful of them. They have always been a popular snack in our family and I have childhood memories of eating many plump, nearly black cherries at my grandmother’s house in the height of the season.
As condiments for the burritos, mom prepared pickled carrots, green onion with cilantro, radishes, guacamole, salsa and marinated peppers. She reads blogs on a regular basis and printed out Anita’s recipe for ” ‘Just like North Woods Inn’s’ Red Cabbage Slaw” and made it as a side salad. I personally think it went perfectly inside our burritos and gave a nice crunch in contrast to the soft carne asada meat.
Tamari marinated barbecued asparagus
As a vegetable, we prepared a family favorite: Tamari marinated barbecued asparagus. Making this asparagus simply involves marinating it in a ziploc bag with tamari and a small amount of oil for as much time as you can — anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 day — and then putting it on the grill for a couple of minutes. It’s a dish that often changes the minds of avowed asparagus-haters, and those of us who love asparagus eat it prepared this way like it’s candy.
I made a dish that is loosely based on Texas caviar — a black-eyed pea salad that is common in the South. I’d never made it before, and most of the recipes I could find online involved canned black-eyed peas, canned corn, and a bottled Italian dressing. I wanted to make it a little more homemade and seasonal so put together a salad with black-eyed peas (cooked from dried in a pressure cooker), red onion, green onion, parsley, celery, and small yellow chile peppers for spice.
I then made a vinaigrette using one part lemon juice to two parts oil, salt and pepper, and garlic. I kept combining the ingredients until I was happy with the result, making sure to let the vinaigrette and other ingredients meld together for a few minutes between each tasting and adjustment. I apologize for not having a formal recipe for you, but I think this is something that is easily done to taste. Make sure to leave the black-eyed peas on the slightly hard side so that they stay in whole bean form in the salad and do not turn to mush through the mixing process.
Jake and Lucy
It’s amazing to have a tradition like this with such a large family. The yearly picnic marks a way to keep track of everyone — new babies being born, spouses and significant others coming and going, the poignant abasence of those who have passed away, and children growing at astonishing rates. By the end of the day, we were exhausted yet content. Another Mother’s Day picnic passed, and a new one to look forward to next year.