If there’s anything we’ve learned in 2020 it’s that while we are fortunate to have the technology to gather together across the distance, there is indeed no substitute for human interaction. And if there is anything that we southerners value more than food it is gathering around food. But we’re not the only ones who apparently find solace in tradition; the 2020 trends showed that many people turned to baking and other kitchen experimentation to relieve the boredom and isolation of staying at home a lot more this year. There is, undeniably, comfort in food. I know that I find cheer in the act of making recipes this time of year that are traditions in my family.

At the root of a lot of traditional holiday meals, southern and otherwise, is the coming together of history and family. In my family, there are recipes for stuffing, potato rolls, and tipsy cake all passed down through many generations before me. There are Swedish tea rings and chocolate oatmeal drop cookies, sheet cakes, and split pea soup. And though this year we aren’t gathering like we normally do, we can experience the love and joy across the distance that comes with shared food traditions.

Though I’m sure I can now Google most of the recipes I mentioned, I prefer to instead follow the looping hand-writing on my grandmother’s recipe cards or the exact text of a sheet of paper run through a typewriter by my grandfather as he attempted to preserve my great-grandmother's recipes. The cards have stains and the sheets of paper have careworn fold-lines. But that is just proof of a well-loved recipe, just as wrinkles are proof of a well-lived life. The act of reading the card, of following the instructions, of making the recipe come to life, is like walking in the footprints of those who have gone before you.

I think it’s safe to say that there are recipes that we hold close to our hearts. There are dishes we designate for special occasions and for special people. Holiday dishes, family recipes, are not just meant to fill the bellies of the people at the table, but to remind us of all the people who no longer sit at that table with us. They remind us that there is room at the table, room for those who were once there and room for all those who are yet to come. As I make a tipsy cake every Thanksgiving I am reminded how much my grandfather could make everyone laugh with his jokes. As I make homemade gingersnaps I can hear classical Christmas music and see my grandmother’s hands showing my smaller ones how to roll the dough balls in the sugar.

It is years like 2020 that make us grateful for the ability to gather around the table (as we all will again soon) and for, more importantly, the people we gather around that table with. This year many of us long to sit around a holiday table with family. But we also miss other tables: conference table meals shared with work colleagues, and restaurant tables filled with friends, and polished, scarred bar tops resonating with the hum of a Friday night crowd.

So make that recipe you’ve been wanting to try. Or pull that recipe box out of the cabinet and make something that tastes just like memories. Start a new holiday tradition and order takeout from a favorite local establishment. There will be gathering again. In the meantime, JoCo’s restaurants, hotels, breweries, shops, and more are doing their best to serve you safely with holiday cheer. In addition, the recipe section of our website has southern holiday recipes as well as special Christmas recipes; feel free to try them out and add them to your own table, now and in the Christmases to come. 

It is my wish that this season find you and your household healthy and safe and hopeful for a time when we can throw open doors once more, when we can pull up a chair, when we can laugh and be merry in-person and not just virtually. Now and in the future, in all the ways allowed to us, our table is still set in Johnston County and there is always room for you.