Contribute to the needs of the saints, and seek to show hospitality. - Romans 12:13
I’ve written before about the long-standing Southern tradition of taking food to friends and neighbors when they’re having babies, are sick or homebound, or have lost a loved one. We will practically bend over backward to take a pie to a grieving family or a casserole to a new mama and daddy. It’s a lovely thing, how we care about feeding each other. It is such a basic human need, to be fed. “Here, let me feed you while you struggle,” we immediately say, at least by our actions. It’s a tradition I hope we continue always.
Now, Bro. Ron Wagner, the second pastor of the church I grew up in on St. Joe Beach, wasn’t from the South, but he was the kind of man who shared from his own bounty that way, too. I especially recall a very specific action he took to show my mother how much he and his precious wife Mrs. Shirley loved her.
My mother loved blueberries. I mean she really loved them, y’all. When she could get some, she would make blueberry muffins, blueberry cobbler, blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup, and she loved eating them straight out of hand, too. She was limited by whatever she could find in the grocery store, because due to her severe arthritis, she could not get out and pick berries herself. That’s where Bro. Ron and Mrs. Shirley stepped in. They knew how much mama loved those juicy berries, so when they picked their own, they always picked some for mama, too. Bro. Ron would show up at the screen door and say, “Here you go, Mrs. Ruth, we’ve got some blueberries for you!” And I know mama smiled her biggest smile in gratitude when he did that. She would always call me to tell me that Bro. Ron had stopped by to drop off those berries.
When mama died in 2003, Bro. Ron was no longer pastoring our church, though he had still been delivering berries and visiting with mama from time to time. So when Sherrin and I were sitting on the front porch on one of the days after the funeral, in the daze you feel after you lose someone so close, Bro. Ron and Mrs. Shirley came over and sat with us there on the porch. He talked and reminisced about things that mama had done at church that had made him laugh or cry, and Mrs. Shirley sat with us, her quiet, loving spirit a palpable, calming presence in that a difficult time. I have no clear recollection now of what we said to each other that day, but I will never forget that they were there, and that they loved us.
Bro. Ron meant a lot to our family over the years. He really loved the youth of our church, and he taught us to step outside our comfort zone to tell people about the love of God. He took us on trips to Ridgecrest in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and on a mission trip to Ohio, where he was from, to help a small church there that was in need of revival. While there, we sang, we visited people, we taught Vacation Bible School, we fished, and we found out that it wasn’t just Bro. Ron who called creeks “cricks.” Apparently that was an Ohio thing, so we teased him a bit less frequently about it after that.
Bro. Ron showed me the importance of stepping out on faith, believing the Word of God, and caring about the people around me with more than just lip service. He loved his family with his whole heart, and was devoted to his beautiful wife. I will always picture him as the big, burly man who walked into our church in the mid-1980s and took on what was left of our small congregation that had been through struggles and hurts, and showed us how to carry on and grow in the love of the Lord. He inspired me to read more, study more, and pray more. I will always love him and remember him for that.
Many of you reading this know Bro. Ron, and know that he died on Father’s Day. I can only imagine the homecoming he had that day! He will be sorely missed on this earth by all who knew him, but I will always remember him when I study the Word, when I hear an Ohio accent, and when I taste the sweet taste of blueberries.
In his memory, here are two of my favorite blueberry recipes for you to try. Please share them with someone you love this week!
4 to 5 cups total of fresh blueberries and raspberries (or all blueberries, if desired)
1/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup sugar
For the topping:
1 1/2 cups sugar (or 3/4 cup Truvia baking blend)
2 cups plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place berries in mixing bowl. Sprinkle flour and sugar over the betties, and gently toss to coat.
Place all the topping ingredients into a medium mixing bowl. Use a pastry blender to create a crumbly topping mixture.
Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Spread the fruit gently across the bottom of the dish.
Sprinkle the crumb topping over the fruit, covering evenly. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes, or until bubbly and the topping is golden brown.
Serve warm, preferably with vanilla ice cream or real whipped cream.
Steph’s Blueberry-Peach Coffee Cake
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or ¼ tsp almond extract, if you prefer, or a blend of both)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups blueberries, rinsed, picked over and drained (thaw and drain first if using frozen berries)
1 small- to medium-sized peach, halved, pitted, and cut into slices
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour (or spray with Baker’s Joy) a 9-inch round cake pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper. Alternatively, use a 9-inch spring form pan, and grease and flour the inside of pan.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of flour with baking powder and salt; set aside.
Using a mixer, beat the butter on medium high speed for 2 minutes. Then add the sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about a minute more.
Add the eggs one at a time and beat until well-blended. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, beating until smooth, but don’t over-beat. A minute should be adequate.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
Combine the berries and peaches with a teaspoon of flour and the lemon juice in a bowl. Spread the fruit mixture over the top of the cake in a single layer.
Bake on middle rack in oven at 350°F for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
Use a butter knife to slide around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Transfer the cake to a cake plate, berry side up.
You could sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar before serving, or drizzle with a powdered sugar glaze, or even with maple or blueberry syrup at breakfast.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com and at Facebook.com/whatsouthernfolkseat.