A Reason to Gather

Photography by Jordan Weiland • Hair & Makeup by Mary Galletta • Styled by 2 Sisters Events & Design

From my early childhood, through my school years, and even now in my parents’ home and in my own home, one constant always holds true: family dinner is essential. I grew up with a dinnertable reflex; every evening around 6:00 p.m. or so, my body would automatically lurch toward the kitchen table. A meal shared each day between everyone living under one roof was not a hard and fast rule; it just was the way it was. Eating supper together with my parents and my big brother was my sanctuary, a time and place of great security. No matter how difficult the day may have gone for any of us, we still got to have that small portion of our waking hours to eat good home cooking and share time with the faces we adored. If something great had happened, rest assured the dinner table was where the news would be broken. It was around the dinner table during suppertime with my immediate and extended family where my wife and I announced we were expecting our first and only son. And, it will again be a place and time to meet for other similarly joyous revelations between loved ones in the future. We resolutely believe that eating a meal together regularly as a family, no matter the dynamic, can greatly improve our quality of life and that of those we share it with. There is a steadfast guarantee that if you devote yourself to making time for family meals, even if it’s just one day a week, you will hear newly told stories, learn new things, and share a deeper bond for one another, all while (hopefully) eating really scrumptious fare. Many Lakelanders have come to claim Publix as their own on behalf of their city. But, thinking that Publix began in Lakeland is a common misnomer. The first store was actually opened in our neighboring Winter Haven. Mr. George wasn’t even a Florida native. But then again, neither are a lot of Lakelanders. Mr. George developed a love for this community so much that it ended up becoming home to his empire and the roots of his personal family tree. It has been said, Sharing a meal is the salt of a community. It seasons relationships and is a vehicle to preserve the community’s values and memory.

I find no greater source of community than that of my family, as did Mr. George. He was part of a large family, typical of the 1950s and 1960s. Sharing meals together around the dinner table was also typical of the times. In Mr. George’s home, this meant all children would be present at the dinner table like clockwork, to be seated at 6:00 p.m. sharp. The family enjoyed simple meals, such as fried chicken with mashed potatoes, pork chops with gravy, hamburgers or hotdogs, liver and onions, etc. Vegetables were a must, as was “fish and grits” on Friday. It should be noted that Mr. George did love to splurge with a lobster once a year, on his birthday; however, this habit only began when he was well into his 70s. Of course, all items were purchased at the neighborhood Publix. For our Tasteful tribute to Mr. George, his family, and to those who still foster a sense of community around the dinner table, we crafted a meal we think he would have loved. Main Course: We would be hard-pressed to find a household in Lakeland that hasn’t enjoyed the delicious convenience of a Publix friedchicken dinner. With this as inspiration, we brined, hand battered, then fried fresh chicken. Sides: Mr. George was a true Southerner, so we paired the chicken with classic mashed potatoes and other Southern vegetable-based dishes, like collard greens and cornbread, to go along with his meal. The splurge: We incorporated a butter-poached lobster tail into a spicy Southern gumbo. Reflecting on what else I personally enjoy at Publix lent a hand when deciding on a simple and fitting dessert. As a child, I would sit in the cart while my mother shopped for our weekly groceries at the old Searstown Publix store (as I can recall, it was the store with the bountiful cornucopia mosaic on the front facade.) She always took me to the bakery to choose a cookie, as long as I was well-behaved. I always picked the sugar cookie with the chocolate dot in the middle. The technical term in Spanish is tortica de moron; and Publix still sells them at select stores. We hope you will use these recipes as an excuse to gather with those you love, to share a meal, and to love being part of this community.

See the recipes from this Taste Feature