Grammie Hooton’s Chocolate Pudding Cake Recipe


An easy way to feed a crowd

My Grandma Hooton was an amazing cook.  She was famous for her homemade cinnamon rolls, chicken noodle soup and cabbage rolls- among other things such as fudge and divinity.  Grammie, as we called her, would work in the  hay fields all day with the hay crew and then, while the rest of us were taking a break because we were so tired, she would be in  the kitchen cooking up a delicious chicken fried steak dinner with all the trimmings.


Sometimes Grammie would round off the meal with a yummy chocolate cake and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how perfect it was for large family gatherings.  The  cake is made in a large jelly roll pan and it serves 24 but it’s easy and fast to fix so you can  make two pans fairly simply.


Grammie’s Chocolate Pudding Cake

1 (5-oz) box cook and serve chocolate pudding mix (not instant)
3 cups milk (for the pudding)
1 box DRY chocolate cake mix
2 cups chocolate chips (semisweet or milk)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Make pudding to package directions then combine it with 1 package DRY chocolate cake mix. (DO NOT add the eggs and oil etc) Spread in a prepared 9 x 13 inch pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips and chopped nuts on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15  minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.) Cool completely before cutting.

I feel fortunate to have several of my Grandmother’s recipes and some day I’d like to make a “heritage” cookbook but for now I’ll just  share this delicious recipe at my next family reunion.

Hobo or Tin Foil Dinners With Variations

tin foil dinner blog

One of our favorite family reunion and campfire meals is Hobo dinners or Tinfoil dinners.

We love tin foil dinners so much we sometimes make them in our oven  at home.  Our favorite recipe for tin foil dinners is as follows:

Traditional Tin Foil Dinner Recipe

Place the following items on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray to prevent sticking.


1 hamburger patty per dinner- 1 pound ground beef will make 4 patties
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 potato, peeled and sliced thinly or diced 4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
Onion slices 
2 Tablespoons cream of chicken condensed soup

Place patty in the center of each piece of foil. Put vegetables on top of meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cream of chicken soup in two dollops on top of dinner and fold foil up tightly around the entire meal.

Cook on a grill on medium-high heat or in a campfire for 25-30 minutes, or until vegetables and meat are cooked through.  You can also cook dinners in the oven (350 degrees for an hour) by placing meals on a cookie sheet before baking. 

Be careful when opening the foil- it is very hot! 

Tin Foil Dinner Secrets to Success

Identify your foil dinner by writing your name or an identifying mark with permanent marker or by folding the foil in an unusual  way.

You may substitute the soup with a few sprinkles of Worcestershire sauce.

When cooking on a fire (when its easy to burn dinners) make an extra meal.  If a meal gets too crispy you’ll have an extra meal and no one goes hungry.

Add a tablespoon or two of water before sealing dinner up to steam your meal.

Turn packets half way through cooking process, using oven mitts or leather gloves.

Tin Foil Dinner Variations

On a family and friends camping trip one of our friends made their tin foil dinner with chicken and rice.  I thought that was a little odd but it got me thinking about variations to our basic recipe.

Tin Foil Dinner Seasoning Variations

Try one or more of the following in your dinner: garlic salt, season salt, lemon pepper, Italian seasoning, BBQ sauce, Ranch salad dressing (delicious on chicken) chili powder, or steak sauce.

Breakfast Tin Foil Dinner

Prepare one thin sausage patty made from lean country sausage, place on foil; add 3/4 to 1 cup frozen hash browns creating a nest in center of your potatoes; add one egg to the nest; wrap. Sprinkle with grated cheese just before serving.

Glazed Ham Tin Foil Dinner

Place one carrot thinly sliced on foil, salt and pepper to taste; place a slice of ham on top carrots, about 1/2-inch thick; place a ring of pineapple on ham; drizzle with 1 tablespoon honey, wrap.

Ranch Chicken Tin Foil Dinner

Combine 1 packet dry Ranch dressing mixed with 3/4 cup corn flake crumbs and 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Dip one boneless, skinless chicken breast in melted butter, Ranch dressing mix and place on foil.  Add potatoes and carrots.

This will make 4 to 6 chicken breasts.

Best Salad Ever!

best salad ever

My sister-in-law, Pam, brings the most delicious salads to our family reunions and parties but this salad, with pecans and pomegranate seeds, is my very favorite.  If you’re looking for a yummy salad to share at your next family gathering consider taking “The Best Salad Ever”!



1 bunch of lettuce greens
Pomegranate seeds or Craisins
1 Granny Smith apple or pear, thinly sliced
1 c. Feta cheese
1 c. chopped sugared pecans
Combine mixed greens in a large salad bowl with pomegranate seeds, feta, pears and  pecan halves.

 Vinaigrette Dressing:

2 T. sugar
1 ⁄3 c. orange juice
1 T. Good Seasons Italian dressing (dry packet)
2 T. red wine vinegar
½ c. olive oil or Canola oil
In a medium bowl, whisk vinegar with sugar, orange juice, dry salad dressing and vinegar. Whisk in olive oil or Canola oil gradually.  Store in refrigerator until ready to serve then pour over greens and enjoy.

Quench Thirsts At Your Next Reunion

quenching thirsts

Keeping your family hydrated during your family reunion is important and can be a challenge if you are having your reunion outdoors and if you will be encouraging playing sports and other physical activities. You can create a budget and fund for communal beverages, ask everyone to bring their own drinks or try one of ideas below.

Water Bottles For Family Reunions

Water bottles give you a great opportunity to personalize your water bottles by making labels that support your reunion theme or your family name. Most of our family reunion theme packages include water bottle labels you can easily print and use on your water bottles.


A package of sticker paper can easily be printed on then cut and apply to the water bottles.  Get a good quality sticker paper, some of the budget paper aren’t as sticky and may pull away from the water bottle. Sticker paper is great if you won’t keep water bottles in ice but if the water bottles will be stored where they will get wet you should select a sticker paper that is water resistant.  You can find water bottle sticker paper in the familyreunionhelper store.

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Water bottle labels compliment your reunion or party theme well and they can help save reunion funds and keep your reunion “green” if everyone writes their name on the bottle and reuses the same bottle during the reunion.

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Insulated cups from the Dollar Store


A fun idea our family discovered recently are insulated cups from the dollar store.  They cost a dollar (surprise) and come in a variety of colors.  If you need a lot of cups you will probably want to order them from the store’s online site.  They will ship for free to your local store where you can pick them up.  Although cups cost more than a water bottle they do make a great souvenir that your family can continue to use when the reunion is over. 

My daughter has a vinyl machine and she made a fun  logo that we put on all of our cups. They were a hit with the family and with so many cup colors family members were able to easily keep track of their own cups.



Water Coolers

water cooler

An  economical way to keep everyone hydrated is to use water coolers.  You can purchase a 5 gallon water cooler for around $25.00.  Buy several and keep one full of water and ice and one of punch or lemonade.  Drink coolers are also great for making homemade root beer. With coolers you can provide paper cups or can use them to refill water bottles or plastic drink  cups.


Last but not least, ask everyone to provide their own beverages for the reunion. Asking everyone to provide their own drinks gives some relief to the budget and assures that everyone has their favorite beverage on hand.

Secrets for Hosting a Successful Family Reunion

3 keys to a successful reunion

3 Keys to a Successful Family Reunion

Planning a family reunion can be a nightmare. But the good news is that you are not alone, we can do this together. I don’t know your specific situation but I can tell you that if you will follow these 3 important keys you will be on your way to having a successful family reunion. So let’s get to work- first key is…

Choose a permanent reunion date

This is the most important aspect of reunion planning- it’s not much of a reunion if no one can attend.

When we began planning the “Stewart” family reunion we were only working around about 20 people and it was fairly easy to find a date that was good for everyone, but now that we are more than 100 family members strong we would never be able to find a date that met everyone’s needs. Lucky for us, about 20 years ago we set Labor Day weekend as the permanent date for our family reunion.

We have found that holding the reunion at the same time every year helps family members plan their busy lives around that weekend. They always know when the Stewart reunion will be and although the location may change the date never does. Unbelievable but true- we usually have all but about 3 family members attend our reunion each year.

Plan a Reunion Date BEFORE You End Your Family Reunion

If you can’t choose a permanent date, plan your next reunion date before you end the reunion you are currently attending. Planning in advance will increase the odds that more people will be able to attend the reunion, which translates into more fun for everyone. If you book early, you can most likely get better rates and/or reserve your preferred hotel or retreat site, flights and other travel arrangements. Most campgrounds and parks can be booked a year in advance.

Last of all, stick to your decision. Changing dates in the middle of planning can create a huge amount of anxiety and additional work.

Key #2- Delegate Responsibilities!

People always wonder why we have such good attendance at our reunions and I tell them, “Because everyone has a job!” There is always someway that everyone can contribute to your reunion no matter what their age or their ability. You can assign a couple of pre-teen girls to do a story time or games for the younger children at your reunion, ask a 5 year old to bring a can of olives or assign someone that loves music to lead a sing- a- long.

It’s impossible to organize a reunion by yourself, I know, because I’ve tried it. Not only that, but it is good to have the input of different family members’ points of views. Family members that have a responsibility feel greater ownership in the reunion.

Make Assignments According to Abilities

Delegate tasks according to those with special talents, skills and connections. Our Uncle Ben owns a restaurant whose specialty is turkey steaks and quite often we have turkey steaks at our reunions or family parties. We have great Dutch oven cooks in our family and of course, we give them the opportunity to practice their skills. Use the resources that you have.

There are certain jobs at our reunions that have become tradition- for instance cousin R.D. and Uncle Richard always make the homemade root beer, Aunt Lynn is always in charge of Bunko and Uncle Steven always makes his Dutch oven potatoes.

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So how do you put all these people and their great ideas together? Let me tell you how we do it. There are six original children in the Stewart family; we call them the “Big 6”. We schedule a planning meeting and ask that there be a representative from each Big 6 family at the meeting. These people become your liaison from each branch of the family.

At the meeting we discuss our plans and make assignments, that way every family has a representative and if they have concerns they can be addressed at that meeting and each families’ fun ideas can be implemented. We ask for volunteers to be in charge of each major aspect of the reunion – food, family history, invitations, photography, games and activities, finances and facilities. The chairman of the committee, that’s me, takes the ideas and suggestions home and makes a master plan or schedule which is emailed to the committee members for their approval.

Reunion Committee

A reunion committee is essential to planning a smooth, successful family reunion. Be sure your chairman (if you’re reading this than the chairman is probably YOU) is creative, energetic and willing to put in the time and effort required to organize a reunion.

Planning a family reunion is a too big a job for one person, so make a checklist, get some help, put your entire family to work and let everyone share in the satisfaction of a job well done!

Choose a Theme For Your Family Reunion!

A theme gives your family get-together an added twist that can build excitement. Choosing a theme for a family reunion is a great way to interest people and make them more likely to attend your reunion. Who wouldn’t want to attend a “Caveman” reunion where they can feed on “Brontosaurus” Burgers?


Or Conjure up a Wild West atmosphere for your next family reunion or party by using the decorating ideas, wild and wooly western games, activities and recipes available at You’re sure to have a rootin’ tootin’ good time!


If your family has ever dreamed of sailing the seven seas in search of excitement and adventure plan a pirate reunion where you feast on barbequed parrots, search for treasure and walk the plank.


A theme also makes it more fun to plan when it comes to being imaginative with food, games, activities, invitations and just about every other aspect of the reunion.

If you have a wedding anniversary or a significant birthday coming up in your family you could choose to celebrate around those special events. If your grandparents were married in the 50?s, plan a fifties reunion complete with poodle skirts and sodas. If Aunt Addie will be turning 70, celebrate with her by having a seventies party- make tie-dyed shirts and decorate with peace and flower power signs.

When You Were My Age

Just because it is a family reunion doesn?t mean the theme has to be centered on the family itself. Plenty of other party themes are perfect for a reunion. Plan a western, caveman, boot camp or other similar theme.

A few years ago my sister-in-law suggested that we have a caveman reunion and I was pretty nervous about it- caveman? How do we do a caveman reunion? But we all shared ideas at our planning meeting and guess what- our caveman reunion turned out to be one of our best family reunions ever.

Whatever theme you choose, design your decorations, food, activities and games around that theme. Your caveman theme might feature Brontosaurus burgers and a dinosaur egg hunt or a pirate theme might include Barbecued Parrot and a treasure hunt.

Planning a family reunion requires serious effort and thoughtful strategic planning but if will follow these 3 important keys you will be well on your way to a memorable and successful family reunion. And who knows- maybe they?ll want you to be in charge next year too.

Aunt MO

Ghost Cake With Flaming Eyes

ghost cake

When I was a young mother I attended a workshop that included some fun holiday cooking ideas.  The most memorable idea I came away from the workshop with was this ghost cake with flaming eyes.

The best thing about this ghost cake is that you get maximum effect for minimum effort, so, if you are a busy mom or grandma, you can whip this cake up very quickly but the “wow” factor is huge!

To make the eyes flaming you place a lemon extract-doused sugar cube inside of a clean eggshell for each eye and then you light the cubes on fire. When presenting the cake turn out the lights before bringing in the cake.


Ghost Cake Recipe


1 (18.25-ounce) box yellow cake mix, mix according to package directions
1 (7.2-ounce) package fluffy white frosting mix or make your own 7 minute frosting. (No Cook 7 Minute Frosting Recipe)
2 sugar cubes & 1 teaspoon lemon extract
Licorice string, chocolate chips, m & m’s- whatever you want to make a mouth


Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.

Prepare the cake mix as directed on package. (When you break the eggs, crack each in the middle and pour out the egg. Then save the 2 best shell halves. Wash these halves and turn upside down to dry.) After mixing, pour the batter into the pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. When cooled, you can remove the cake from  the pan and put on a sturdy piece of cardboard or a tray so that you can trim your cake to look more ghost- like.  I just left my cake in the baking pan and felt like it looked ghost- like enough without the extra work to decorate it.

Frost the cake. Place the 2 egg shell halves round sides down on cake for eyes. Place 1 sugar cube in each shell half. Make a mouth of licorice string.

Just before serving, pour 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract over each sugar cube. Light the eyes and amaze family and friends!

Eats Are On The Way

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If you’ve hosted a party, shower or other gathering you know how difficult it can be to pull yourself away from the festivities in order to prepare the refreshments.  This simple game is the perfect solution! 

Just give your guests a copy of the game below and a pencil.  Tell them to solve the puzzle by answering the questions correctly.  As they get to work on the puzzle you sneak into the kitchen to prepare the refreshments.

The simple solution to the puzzle is, “eats are on the way”.  It doesn’t take much time to solve but it does distract for a few minutes and when they read the answer to the puzzle they’ll be content to wait until you return with the  “eats”.


Cookies to Feed a Crowd


My husband has a favorite cookie recipe that he remembers from his youth.  These cookies are great for family reunions because they make about 120 large cookies and they keep really well- oh, and they have chocolate chips in them.

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It’s been awhile since we made them and my husband got the urge to mix up a batch last week.  Unfortunately we couldn’t find the recipe.  I searched online thinking- no big deal you can find any recipe on the web- wrong.  This recipe is not there!  (Well, now it is.)  Eventually we found the recipe and my husband made this huge batch of delicious cookies.

I’m including the recipe in this blog just in case you want to whip a batch of cookies for your family reunion or gathering.  I’m not sure how many generations of Stewarts have made this cookies but there are some oddities with  the recipe that I will  try and clarify.  Actually, there are no instructions for mixing these cookies- I just use the traditional- cream sugar and shortening and eggs etc. method.  Here’s how we do it:

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Sour Cream Cookies


1 pound brown sugar (1/2 of a 2 pound bag)
1 1/2 cups shortening
2 cups sour cream
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 heaping tsp. soda
1 heaping tsp. baking powder  
6 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts
1 large bag coconut
1 jumbo (2 regular bags) sized package chocolate chips

HEAT oven to 350°F.

BEAT shortening and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add sour cream, eggs and vanilla; beat until well blended. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda; mix well. Stir in chocolate chips, coconut and nuts.

DROP tablespoonfuls of dough into 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon and roll until lightly coated.  Put dough, 2 inches apart, onto greased baking sheets.

BAKE 12 to 15 min.- do not over bake.

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Cooking With Pie Irons


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No, we’re not talking about the loved ones that will be attending your family reunion- we’re talking about Pie Irons! Pie Irons are known by many different names, Pudgie Pies, Pioneer Pies, Fire Pies, Toasties and Jaffles, but each name is referring to ingredient-filled "pockets" of bread toasted over a campfire. Cooking with pie irons is a long time tradition at our family reunions.

The Basics of  Cooking With Pie Irons

Camp cooking doesn’t have to be just hot dogs and roasted marshmallows. Our family reunions wouldn’t be complete without a delicious raspberry pie cooked over the campfire and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. With a pie iron, you can cook anything from a simple grilled-cheese and ham sandwich to a delicious berry pie for dessert.

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In its most basic function, a pie iron is a way to cook grilled cheese sandwiches and fruit pies over an open fire. This is done by placing the food inside the pie iron and then locking the two sides closed with a metal hook. Metal rods with wood handles extend from the castings so the user can easily maneuver the pie iron over a campfire. A few minute over the heat, usually 4 to 6 minutes, and you will have perfectly toasted sandwich or pie.

Pie Irons are available in both cast iron & aluminum. Our family prefers cast iron. They come in several different shapes; round, square, oblong and double. For our family reunions, we only use square irons. Aunt Lynn doesn’t think she’s had breakfast unless she has had a piece of toast so we’ve even used our pie irons for toast.

To make the most simple of pies, just take two slices of bread (buttered on the outsides), fill with jam, cheese, meat or pie filling- you don’t need much, then place inside the pie iron and lock it closed. Hold it over your campfire for a few minutes on each side and you’ll soon be eating a grilled cheese sandwich or a scrumptious apple pie.

At our family reunions, we like to make fruit pies in the evening while we are sitting around the campfire visiting, singing or playing games. About ten years ago, at a family reunion, cousin Mindy suggested that we sprinkle our freshly baked pies with sugar and cinnamon when we dump it out of the pie iron. Yummy! Some of our favorite flavors of fruit pies are lemon and raspberry.

Pie Iron Fruit Pies



 Step 1

Build a campfire. Pie Iron pies do best over a hot bed of coals. Try to start your campfire an hour early to let it burn down.

 Step 2

Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place one slice, butter side down, in one half of the pie iron.

 Step 3

Put a spoonful of pie filling in the center of the bread slice. Keep the filling away from the edges, as it may leak while the pie is cooking.

 Step 4

Place the second slice of bread, buttered side up, on top of the pie filling.

 Step 5

Place the second half of the pie iron on the bottom half, squeezing the bread and filling together. Latch the two halves of the iron together, to keep it from opening up while the pie is cooking.

 Step 6

Place the pie iron over the campfire, and let it cook for several minutes (4-6 minutes). Turn the pie over, and check for doneness. The pie is done when both sides are golden brown and toasted.

 Step 7

Put the pie on a plate. If you have crispy edges you may want to carefully trim them. Be careful, as the filling is HOT! Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and enjoy!

The Family That Eats Together Stays Together


Or Forcing Your Family to Mingle

One difficult part of a family reunion or party can be getting your family to mingle during meal time.  We usually have each family group sitting together- the Maddox family, the Wynnes and the Stewarts all sitting in their own little group.  It’s not that we don’t like each other or don’t get along-we just gravitate to our  own family group.

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Here’s a fun way to mix things up.  Put a pieces of colored tape or ribbon on each chair or seating space (if you’re dealing with picnic benches)  When everyone has begun eating announce that everyone sitting on a yellow space must switch places with another yellow.  A few minutes later have pinks switch and so on.

DO NOT make it too complicated!  If you have green switch with pink and yellow with red, nothing will happen- everyone will remain in their original seat.  If you’re family is compliant and seems to enjoy the mixing up you could try switching two colors at a time but for the most part it’s best  to focus on one color at a time.  You don’t have to mix people up all in one meal- keep the colors on during your entire reunion and only do a couple of swaps per meal.

Towards the end of the meal you can announce “Rainbow Mixup” and everyone has to switch places.

HINT:  Choose a meal that doesn’t have a lot of plates and silverware etc. to be moved.