A Camphouse Thanksgiving

Family, friends and football with the Campbells

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Luisa Porter

Over the river and through the wood may well be the way to grandfather’s house, so says a familiar 19th-century Thanksgiving poem — but it also leads to a camphouse tucked away in Clay County woodland, where the extended Campbell clan gathers each November.

These autumn conclaves are a long-standing Thanksgiving tradition, one that physically outgrew family homes and moved 12 years ago to the camphouse, a converted structure unrecognizable as the portable classroom it was in a former life. Julie Campbell Gray and her husband, Andy, and their 19-year-old daughter, Mary Campbell, are hosts here, where there is space for four-wheelers, tire swings, cornhole and tossing footballs. Where the great room can accommodate an immense buffet-style spread. Where tables beckon from beneath the trees and from the big screened porch, with speakers dispensing gridiron audio from the TV inside.

Of the 50 or so pilgrims celebrating Thanksgiving at the camphouse in 2015, many are from just up the road, in West Point. Others have traveled from places far-flung: New Mexico, Tennessee, Arkansas, even Rhode Island. They come, lured by promise of a table-groaning feast, yes, but more by the opportunity to connect. To catch up, chart growth, meet the new boyfriend or ask how college is going. To say, “Nice to see you,” “How’s your health?” and swap a little friendly Egg Bowl trash talk.

“We have such a huge family,” says Louise Campbell, Julie’s mother. (Louise answers to “Weezie” when family gets together.) “Everybody brings their best dish, and it just works out perfectly.”

A preview peek under the aluminum foil reveals succulent turkey and ham, plus all the traditional sides. Savory dressing, cranberry and green bean, sweet potato and broccoli casseroles fill the table, along with baked pineapple, butter beans, salads, breads and more tempting desserts than one can sample. Other specialties are showcased, too, like David Monteleone’s green chile casserole.

“I love to cook,” says Monteleone, who married into Campbell Thanksgivings when he walked down the aisle with Stacey Wood. An expat of several large cities, David had visited for holidays before but had never called a place as small as West Point home until he and Stacey relocated there four years ago with their two young daughters. They wanted to be closer to family. The change suits him fine.

“I love driving down the road and waving at people you know, or seeing them when you go out … people you know you could rely on in an emergency,” he says. Small towns, he adds, can kindle a sense of comfort, just like the family’s November fête.

Celebrants range from elementary school age to nonagenarians. They begin showing up around 11 a.m. Greetings ring out as more cars pull in and final preparations hit full swing. When “Aunt Boosie” arrives — she turned 90 in August — the generations are all represented. Marie Watson earned the affectionate nickname “because she was the caboose of my granddaddy’s generation,” explains Julie, who is her great-niece.

When all is ready, Boosie’s great-nephew, Art Shirley, summons the crowd with a mighty whistle, a talent passed down from Boosie’s late sister, Grace Cliett.

“Aunt Grace used to be our whistler, and she taught Art how to do it,” Julie says.

After thanks are offered, everyone fills their plates, finds a seat and resumes visiting, seamlessly weaving the eternal fabric of family.

“To me, that’s one of the biggest things,” says Critz Campbell of West Point. He is Louise’s son, Julie’s brother. “Whether you’re coming home or already home, it’s a tradition, a constant, a nice way to mark the year and reflect on where everybody is.”

It’s a special something that can inadvertently be taken for granted in the everyday bustle, acknowledges his sister. This is a chance to pause for real thanks-giving, to be grateful for such a large family and great friends, Julie says.

“And everybody takes their dirty dishes home,” her mother adds, “so we don’t even have to worry about that!”


SCALLOPED PINEAPPLE

½ stick butter
2 sticks butter, melted
2 cups bread pieces, torn (ends cut off)
1 large can pineapple chunks, drained
2 cups sugar
3 eggs

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Melt ½ stick of butter in a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Mix bread and pineapple together and place in the casserole dish with butter.
• Mix 2 cups of sugar, 3 eggs and remaining butter together and pour over pineapple/bread mixture. Bake for 45 minutes.

(Source: Julie Campbell Gray)


GREEN CHILE CORN CASSEROLE

2 eggs, beaten
1 (15-ounce) can cream-style corn
1 (15-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (8-ounce) package sour cream
¼ cup butter, melted
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
½ cup white onion, diced
1 (8.5-ounce) box dry corn muffin mix
4 ounces fire-roasted green chiles, drained. (Note: I use Santa Fe Seasons’ Fire Roasted Green Chile Salsa. Drain the chilies with a sieve to remove excess water. You may substitute one 4-ounce can diced green chilies, drained.)

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2-quart casserole dish. (Note: saved bacon drippings work great for this.)
• In large mixing bowl, combine cream-style corn, eggs, sour cream and melted butter until mixed thoroughly.
• Stir in whole kernel corn, cheese, onion, and green chilies. Stir in corn muffin mix until moistened.
• Spoon into greased casserole dish. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean and the top is golden. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

(Source: David Monteleone)


TIRAMISU TOFFEE TRIFLE PIE

1½ tablespoons instant coffee granules
¾ cup warm water
1 (10.75-ounce) frozen pound cake, thawed
1 (8-ounce) package Mascarpone or cream cheese, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup chocolate syrup
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed and divided
2 (¼-ounce) English toffee candy bars, coarsely chopped

• Stir together coffee and warm water until coffee is dissolved. Cool.
• Cut cake into 14 slices. Cut each slice in half diagonally. Place triangles in bottom and up sides of a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.
• Drizzle coffee mixture over cake. Beat cream cheese, sugar and chocolate syrup at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.
• Add 2½ cups whipped topping and beat until light and fluffy.
• Spread cheese mixture over cake.
• Add dollops of remaining whipped topping around edges of pie. Sprinkle with chopped candy.
• Chill 8 hours before serving.

(Source: Sheila Wood)