Orange Salad and Johnny Marzetti


Louise Buff Christie, my son Rhett’s great-grandmother, was a renowned cook. In fact, from the time of her husband’s death in 1948 until her own in 1972, she baked and sold goodies from her home kitchen for hostesses of almost every event in Denmark, South Carolina, to supplement her income. Her delicious cakes, pies, and party desserts were sought after by brides for weddings and receptions, by organizers of bazaars, and by many a sweet-toothed church potluck crowd.

After I became her granddaughter-in-law in 1963, definitely one who did not share the “renowned cook” status, Grannie Christie’s special treat for me was divinity fudge, a box full every Christmas. I loved it (and her lemon meringue pie, too). The only problem was that other family members near to me when I opened my fudge thought it was for them, too! Sharing her cooking was part of the pleasure, I guess.


Today, as I started preparing her recipe for Orange Congealed Salad, affectionately known in our family as Orange Goop, for our Abel House potluck tomorrow night, I felt her presence there beside me. I miss her, but readying for Abel House brought her back for a time.

And then I noticed the changes I and health concerns have made in her recipe. Gone are the old Jello that was mostly sugar and the high-fat mayonnaise. Dream Whip is not even any longer available. Now, the dish is just as scrumptious made with no-sugar Jello, Kraft Lite Mayo, and Kraft Lite Cool Whip. I still used the Philadelphia original cream cheese, I confess. I wonder what Grannie Christie would think about those changes.

Still getting ready, tomorrow, I will prepare the Johnny Marzetti as a second dish for the feast time at Abel House. No family tradition with that! In fact, I have never eaten this dish! Don requested it, saying that he used to go to a home church to which one of his favorite people always brought marzetti or “something like that.” Now, I have read every single Donna Leon book and eaten Italian food every chance I ever had in my lifetime, but I had never ever heard of a dish called marzetti.

A quick Google check turned up recipes for Johnny Mazetti or Marzetti or several other names with the story that the dish was concocted not in Italy but in a restaurant owned by Teresa Marzetti on Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio. The legend is that she named the hamburger-pasta casserole after her brother-in-law, Johnny. In one of those strange twists, Teresa Marzetti ran her restaurant until her death, also in 1972. By then, her Johnny Marzetti dish was well known and popular all over the Midwest—and apparently in Florida, too! The green olives in it that Don especially liked were added by someone in Panama.

As almost everyone who knows me knows: I am no cook! But preparing for the Abel House feast is bringing me great joy. I have reconnected with a woman who welcomed me into her family more than fifty years ago and met another family of great Italian cooks making what has become an American dish, and I have begun the preparation of my heart and mind for the fellowship and learning I will find anew Wednesday evening at Abel House. Just as I shared that divinity fudge and those countless Italian meals with people I love, I will share food, time, and God’s word with my new family. That is joy! And along with looking forward to the fellowship, I look forward to the positive changes I know the gathering at Abel House will make in us all.

Being in a Family of Families

A Church in Formation

I mull ideas because I am often confused. I need to spend time with them before I move either toward or away from them. When invited by Pastor Joel Hunter and Bible study leader Robert Johnson to join a family of families, my first question was Why? Why would I want to join more family? To discover the why, I had to mull other questions and what I know of families.

What is a family? The word family is from an old noun from the 1400s or so with its origin in Latin: Familia meant “servants in a household,” probably not the way anyone thinks of family today. That original meaning, though, fits well with the way it is used at Northland as we think of ourselves as servants to each other and to the Lord.

The Latin use of familia rarely had to do with the idea of parents and their children. The expansion of the word to include a head-of-household and everyone in the household, sometimes even temporary lodgers, too, came about a century later. Again, I can see the application to our church body with God as the Head and His Word as the governing document.

Not until another century had passed, however, did the word family come to mean parents and their children even if they did not dwell in a household together. Once that milestone was reached, the idea of family expanded again to include all the descendants of one progenitor, thus aunts, uncles, cousins, and any blood relation became part of a family. That idea may not quite fit with our idea of God as Creator Father rather than progenitor or biological father. But, as explained by Dr. Dan Lacich in The Provocative God: Radical Things God Has Said and Done, being made in God’s image means:

We are the most tangible expression of God that most people will ever see.

Making us (to my thinking) what others will see and think of God, just as we reflect our blood parents and family to the world.

Thus, by the mid-1600s, family had taken much of the meaning it has today. When I work on genealogy, I am astonished by the size of my biological family. I have found and confirmed almost 8,000 DNA/blood-related family members, and I have hardly begun to discover All My Parents (the name for my genealogical research). Why, then, do I need more family? As a child of God, how much vaster can my family become?

The Why would I want to join more family? question becomes even more relevant when I look at what I know of families. While waiting in line outside 4Rivers recently, Don and I were passed by a couple who looked to be in their prosperous 60s. They were meeting someone ahead in the line. They went to the inside queue only to return seconds later, clearly disappointed, to join us in the long line after discovering that the people they were meeting had already ordered and were near to cashing out.

We soon learned that the couple were grandparents visiting here for a grandson’s high school graduation. They had attended the ceremony at UCF and then wended their way through the usual noon Central Florida traffic all the way to 4Rivers in Winter Park, apparently falling a bit behind their family who knew the way well. I felt my brow furrow.

When I asked what the grandson plans to do next year, Grandmother replied that he will attend a small college up north. When I, an interested retired educator, inquired further at his going so far to such a small school, she said his brother was already there, and “I am the mother-in-law and have no say.” She did not need to say anything more for me to know immediately that the grandson is the son of her son. I, too, am the mother of sons. Enough said for Don and me to realize the family dynamics. More brow furrowing.

At least fifteen minutes later, the couple joined their son’s family who had almost finished eating the graduation celebration meal without them. I saw them all leave shortly, grandparents with carry-out bags in hand. Then, as now, I mulled the situation and asked, Why did the family not be sure to lead the grandparents out of the UCF chaos to the restaurant or even ride with them? Why did the family not wait to get in line until the grandparents were there?

Why did the grandparents bother to come to Central Florida to join that family at all?

The only logical answer to that last question is Family Love. I know how I feel about the rascals (what I call our three Winter-Springs-based grandchildren) even as I have experienced moments when they were (shocking to hear, I am sure) rude or unfeeling or unthinking. I know how I feel about their parents and our other children who also have been, at times, ill-mannered, impolite, discourteous, even dishonorable. Yes, I admit that also in our much-loved extended family, we have had disputes, dissension, discord, perhaps, to tell the truth, most often when something was going on that involved great expectations for agreement, accord, harmony, peace, something like a graduation ceremony. But I know how I feel about them all.

Why do I continue to want life only as it exists with my family when I experience that discord? Why do I continue to count on them when they have failed me in some way? Why do they continue to be with me after ill-mannered times? Why do they continue to count on me when I have failed them in some way? The answer is that family smooth those rough times with a balm of love and care.

Burt's Wax

Then, the explanation for love’s balm lies in our being made in the image of God. As Pastor Joel has pointed out from the Scriptures, God’s attributes include love and forgiveness. We count on Him to grant us grace, love, forgiveness when we have failed Him. In our families, whether biological or servant, as Christians we who were made in His image must follow the ways of the Father. To be like God means rejoicing in joining with others of God’s family in love, fellowship, support, encouragement, help, validation, and reminders of grace, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus Christ. That’s why I want to accept the invitation to be in the Abel House family.