For 38 years the Smith Family Reunion has been gathering in Mississippi to honor the legacy of Shelby and Mamie Smith. Along with the siblings gathering, reminiscing about childhood experiences, planned activities, the annual Spades Tournament and most important of all, family meals at the farm. Although many of the activities doing the week are filled with fun and laughter, I remember the many meals cooked from the kitchen or grill.
Most people would balk at the idea of cooking for large families (50 plus persons). I still have images of huge stockpots boiling over and becoming chained to a hot stove and oven for countless hours on end, serving others then being one of the last in the dinner line. As I would watch the older sisters over the years, I would think, “There has to be a better way, this is exhausting!”
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be as frightening as many make it out to be. When it comes to cooking for large families, the planning phase is the most important. When feeding a large group of people, you absolutely must plan your meals. This goes far beyond the notion of spaghetti or fried chicken as the meals you are planning. You need to know how many servings you will need. While obviously you never know how hungry people will be or how much they will actually eat. When it comes to cooking for a large family it is a good idea to always plan for a few extra mouths in case some need a little more than you may think. Our family has a lot of growing teens and young adult men, which may require doubling their servings.
You need to know at least a general number of servings to prepare (60-65 persons) and adjust your recipe in order to accommodate those needs. Some people find it much simpler if they can double or triple recipes rather than scaling them to specific serving sizes. If this works best for you, then by all means incorporate this practice when cooking for crowds. One of the changes that we have made over the past couple of years is scale down the side dishes. For example, have multiple smaller side dishes to choose from instead of three large sides. This year, we had the large pans of potato salad, baked beans and macaroni and cheese, but made smaller servings of pasta salad, tossed salad, fruit salad, green beans, etc. This added variety and reduced waste, which ultimately made cleaning up easier.
Having the proper ingredients and the proper amounts of ingredients is more important in bulk recipes than for smaller recipes as there is less leeway when it comes to creating the proper consistency. It is also a good idea to have recipes that use similar ingredients. For example, if you make a pasta salad and use Italian Dressing, then the left over dressing could be used for the tossed salad. You should keep this in mind when making purchases for your cooking for a large family event.
Some people find the best route to take when it comes to cooking for crowds is to keep everything as close to their normal cooking routine as possible. This would mean that instead of cooking one really huge pan of lasagna for a triple sized crowd, they would instead cook three normal sized pans of lasagna.
This accomplishes two things, and is something you may wish to keep in mind despite the extra time spent in the kitchen. First of all, if something goes, wrong only one third of the meal is in shambles rather than the entire dinner. Second, you have a greater possibility of finding consistency issues before the baking begins if you are using measurements and cooking containers that you are familiar with and comfortable using. It is always best to discover errors and omissions sooner rather than later when it comes to cooking as very few ingredients can be properly added after the fact.
Most importantly you should remember when cooking for a crowd is that you might have just earned yourself a well-deserved night off afterwards. Cooking for a large group is time consuming and should be approached when well rested (if that is even possible) for the best results. There is something that is actually very satisfying about knowing that you have fed a crowd and fed them well.
One last thing…don’t forget the Miss G’s Seasoning. Cause Miss G’s makes every dish you cook taste great!!!