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Aunt Zetta always brought her strawberry shortcake. Layers of fluffy clouds, freshly picked berries, and whipped cream that she’d made that morning. Aunt Lois was known for her pea dumplings

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Aunt Zetta always brought her strawberry shortcake. Layers of fluffy clouds, freshly picked berries, and whipped cream that she’d made that morning. Aunt Lois was known for her pea dumplings

Aunt Zetta always brought her strawberry shortcake. Layers of fluffy clouds, freshly picked berries, and whipped cream that she’d made that morning. Aunt Lois was known for her pea dumplings and strawberry sonker. And everyone knew that Aunt Alva would bring her sour cherry cobbler. For more than 70 years, the buffet tables at my family’s annual Snow Reunion sagged with these and dozens of other signature dishes.

Of course, everyone who attends their own family reunion knows that it’s the people, not the food, that make the tradition one that’s anticipated long before and appreciated long after the plates have been cleared. But food tells the history of a gathering as well as the history of a family.

The Snow family: the author, her son, her father, Aunt Zetta, and cousin Yvonne.

In 2006, (from left) the author and her son, Wade, shared time with her father, A.C. Snow; Aunt Zetta; and cousin Yvonne. Aunt Zetta died in 2010, but her legacy lives on in her recipes. Photography courtesy of Katherine Snow Smith

“I remember I’d open my eyes a little during the prayer and see Uncle Wendell inching his way toward the food,” my cousin Donna recalled recently. “He was always the first one in line. By the time the second ‘amen’ was said, he was filling up his plate.”

“A few people skipped the food table completely to get some of Aunt Zetta’s strawberry cake, because it was always the first dessert gone,” her sister Lynn adds. “Everybody loved her cheesy chicken, too.”

• • •

My father, A.C. Snow, the youngest of 16 Snow siblings, raved about not just the desserts but also menu items as simple as sliced tomatoes with no enhancements beyond a little salt. “There’s still dew on these tomatoes. I bet they were just picked this morning,” he’d say. “You can’t get anything like this in Raleigh.”

Daddy was one of the only members of the big extended family in Surry County to move farther east than Winston-Salem. That’s one reason why my sister Melinda and I loved the annual reunion, because we rarely got to see the throng of cousins we saw during this special Sunday in June. Our mother, who started attending the reunions in 1957, always made her pound cake early that morning so that we could be on the road from Raleigh by 9 a.m.

The responsibility of renting the recreation center passed from sibling to sibling by birth order, starting over every 16 years. When a sibling died, their children and grandchildren took turns in the lineup. The host family also brought the tablecloths, plates, cups, and gallons of sweet tea and lemonade.

Old family photo of the Snow family gathered around the dessert table

For many reunions, there were more desserts than main dishes on the buffet table. Photography courtesy of Katherine Snow Smith

In 2010, it was my parents’ third time around to host the reunion. Three months before the big day, in a moment when my creativity and sentimentality outweighed my reasoning and my technological abilities, I offered to create a family cookbook to hand out at the reunion.

I sent emails to all the relatives asking them to send their favorite family recipes. With all but three of the original siblings gone, I asked descendants to send me their mothers’ or grandmothers’ signature recipes as well as their own. The earlier generations didn’t include many men who cooked, but I did receive Uncle Lonnie’s recipe for dried apples and his son Harold’s recipes for country ham and pea dumplings. I also requested old photos of the original siblings as well as current photos of the descending families.

My father, a longtime journalist for The Raleigh Times and The News & Observer, wrote a preface to the recipe book with a few paragraphs on each sibling and the story of how his parents met: “Once upon a Sunday morning more than 100 years ago, Mrs. Nan Holder said to her oldest daughter Ida Victoria as she was dressing for church: ‘Honey, if you bring Byrd Winfield Snow home for lunch I’ll knit you a new dress.’ ”

Snow owned a sizable farm and the country store, and was one of the most eligible bachelors in Surry County. Ida brought him home, and my grandparents married on July 18, 1897.

• • •

I went to Kinko’s to make a master copy of my father’s vignettes, along with the recipes, photos, and memories that other relatives shared. The good people behind the counter made multiple copies and bound the pages with a plastic spiral. Voilà, we had a family cookbook.

Among the “Memories” pages, my older cousin, whom we called “Aunt Jo,” wrote about her father, C.R. Snow, one of the oldest of the siblings. “He would so look forward to visiting with extended family. He also enjoyed looking at the crops as we drove to and from the reunion,” she wrote. “I also remember Aunt Zetta’s mouthwatering strawberry shortcake. There was never a crumb left.”

Well, except for one year. Aunt Jo recalled the same story my father told me: Zetta’s husband, Leo, came into the recreation center proudly carrying the cake, as if it were the crown at a royal coronation, and somehow dropped it square on the floor. “It made you laugh on one side, seeing everybody’s reaction, and then you wanted to cry on the other side, for Leo,” Aunt Jo recalls.

We last gathered for the Snow Reunion in 2019. Though we had no idea that the pandemic would cancel the event in 2020, there was a sense that the long-standing tradition was waning.

At the time, my father was the only one of the original 16 still living. A growing number of the descendants of Byrd and Ida were close within their own families, but not as connected to the larger extended family. Someone suggested we talk about the future of the annual reunion. Were the great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren going to keep up the tradition?

The host family had to pick up the key to the Yadkinville recreation center on Friday before 5 p.m. That meant spending a whole weekend in the area to prepare and clean up the venue the following Sunday.

Someone suggested that we start gathering at The Depot Restaurant in Dobson. Nobody had to rent anything and there was no cleanup. Others worried that there would be less camaraderie and mingling there. We took a vote, and The Depot won. But then Covid hit, and we haven’t held the reunion since.

After my father died in 2022, Aunt Jo offered a suggestion: meet one final time at Snow Hill Baptist Church in Dobson, where Byrd and Ida are buried. “We can have lunch at the fellowship hall, and everyone can bring their family’s special foods,” she tells me. “Your daddy has passed, and he was the last of the siblings. It was their generation and that generation’s children who kept the reunion going. I’d like to have just one more reunion to honor them and our grandparents.”

My cousin Lynn is going to reserve the fellowship hall, and, even though we never had alcohol at the reunion, we plan to stay at Hampton Inn & Suites at Shelton Vineyards the night before and toast our prolific family with a bottle of wine.

Aunt Zetta’s daughters, Yvonne and Charlene, will make her strawberry shortcake. And I’ll be inching my way toward it during the prayer.

Make the Recipes

Sweet potato sonker

Grandma Snow’s Sweet Potato Sonker


Cheesy chicken casserole

Aunt Zetta’s Cheesy Chicken


Slice of strawberry cake

Aunt Zetta’s Strawberry Cake

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This story was published on Feb 22, 2024

Katherine Snow Smith

Katherine Snow Smith is a journalist earning her master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her latest book is Stepping on the Blender & Other Times Life Gets Messy.