September 2009 Issue
Bash on the Bay
Years ago, Mary Sutphin made her Put-in-Bay home headquarters for an extended family reunion. Today, four generations still gather to celebrate the island tradition their aunt began.
When Mary Sutphin bought the Herbster House on South Bass Island more than 30 years ago, she couldn’t have predicted that, decades later, the small cottage would still hold such a big place in her family’s hearts.
Then again, the stories floating around about “Aunt Mary” on this sunny summer day on Put-in-Bay — her home for nearly 50 years —indicate that she always seemed to know exactly what she was doing.
“Aunt Mary started coming up here in the 1950s,” says Dan Leitch, Sutphin’s nephew. One of six kids, Sutphin never married or had children of her own, he says, but extended a “guarded open door policy” to her 28 nieces and nephews, inviting them to spend time with her at her island cottage just off the main drag in Put-in-Bay’s downtown area during the summer months.
“In the beginning, only the kids were allowed,” says Dan, who, with his brothers Jeff and Jim, took over ownership of the home when Sutphin passed away in 2004. “We slept in tents outside and showered outside — Aunt Mary didn’t let anyone in the house,” he laughs, recalling a time when a cousin tried sleeping on the screened-in porch attached to the back of the home. “She chased him out.”
As the family grew, Sutphin decided to formalize the annual gathering and include the rest of her family, organizing the first annual family reunion in 1983. Twenty-six years later, more than 70 family members spanning four generations continue to gather on the island to celebrate the tradition.
Despite its petite frame, the home is perfect for entertaining a large group. “Mary was a skilled carpenter,” says her sister, Jane Leitch, mapping out the additions Sutphin herself added to extend the kitchen and living space. Behind the cottage, a two-story garage houses a second-story apartment with a kitchen. The back porch spills out into a large yard with a clear view of Perry’s Monument and a nearby field, where the annual family baseball game takes place after lunch.
Golf carts headed to and from downtown whiz by, but given its proximity to the hustle and bustle — and its notorious party scene — the cottage maintains a sense of dignity and tranquility. During the year, it serves as a rental property, though the family is extremely selective about who gets the keys. “We try to weed out the party animals,” says Dan.
The reunion lunch is usually potluck style. In past years, the family has picked themes, some food related — one year was pasta — and some just for fun, like the ’70s theme. “Everyone came in soup can rollers and go-go boots,” says Carolyn Leitch, another niece. “Except Aunt Jane — she came pregnant,” she says, getting a laugh from the group before explaining that Jane’s last child was born during that era.
This year, morning storms forced the party inside the large garage, where a long workbench acts as the buffet. “My famous home recipe is the cold cuts,” jokes Jane, adding that she’s the family’s “famous non-cook.” As lunchtime nears, the table fills up with fried chicken, homemade vegetable dip, black bean salsa, bacon slaw and some beautiful
antipasto skewers that are gone almost before the plate hits the table.
The family serves something a little different each year. “I’m not allowed to have this at home, so I’m making the most of it,” jokes Ray Stoney, holding a piece of fried chicken and giving his wife — Sutphin’s sister, Alberta Stoney — a wink.
Island living is a way of life for this family. Alberta and Ray, as well as Mary’s nephew Hal Leitch and his wife Barb, own homes on South Bass. The Stoneys bought the house next to theirs years ago, turning their East Point home into a compound capable of hosting 33 of this year’s Bay Bash attendees.
The annual reunion is often a time to celebrate family milestones like weddings, anniversaries, graduations and new jobs. This year Sutphin’s brother Cal and his wife Sandy are celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary; after lunch, the family presents a chocolate cake to the couple.
But perhaps the most poignant celebration was the last reunion before Aunt Mary passed away. “She knew she was dying at that point,” explains Jane. “She got all dressed up, and normally she wouldn’t let anyone in the house, but that year, she let people in and we had a cocktail party,” she says.
“We basically had a living wake for her that last year,” says Dan, recalling the celebration of life and the family tradition that his aunt began. Sutphin died just two weeks later; per her wishes, the island is her final resting place.
Sutphin may be a memory, but her presence at the party is still felt, even by an outsider. And while her family remains diligent about keeping order and minding the rules — only a handful of them went inside that day — in true Aunt Mary form, she left a “Bay Bash” instruction manual, complete with checklists, sample invitations and reservations and “how to” guides for set-up and clean-up — just in case.
Antipasto Sausage SkewersRecipe courtesy of Barb Leitch
Makes about 24 skewersIngredients
- 12 ounces fully cooked Italian sausage, cut into one-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained, rinsed, cut into one-inch pieces
- 2/3 cup sundried tomatoes
- 1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained, and sliced
Cook sausage over medium heat until browned and cooked through. To assemble, thread basil onto wooden skewer and add one piece each of roasted red pepper, sundried tomato, artichoke and sausage.
Aunt Sally’s BrowniesRecipe courtesy of Sandy SutphinIngredients
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
- 2 cups sugar
- 2/3 cup sundried tomatoes
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 cups chocolate chips
- 1 cup Smucker’s caramel- flavored ice cream topping
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan over low to medium heat, melt together the chocolate and butter. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla, then gradually add flour. Mix in the melted chocolate and butter. Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour into a greased 9 x 13-inch pan and bake for 22 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
When just warm, drizzle caramel sauce over brownies and sprinkle with pecan pieces.
Marined Feta & Olive SkewersRecipe courtesy of Barb Leitc
Makes 12 skewers
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1-1/2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 teaspoon cracked pepper
- 2 ounces feta, cut into 12 one-inch cubes
- 12 fresh mint leaves
- 12 large green olives, pitted
- 12 1/2-inch-thick cucumber slices
Mix together the fennel seeds, orange zest, orange juice and pepper. Toss feta with marinade to coat and refrigerate for one hour. To assemble, thread one mint leaf, one olive, one slice cucumber and one piece feta cheese on each skewer.
Brown Sugar Brie with NutsRecipe courtesy of Ray and Donna Staney
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans
- 1 tablespoon bourbon or maple syrup
- 1 9-inch prepared pie crust
- 1 6-ounce round brie cheese
Caramel Nut Sauce
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrupdirections
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, 1/4 cup of the pecans and bourbon or maple syrup. Place the pie crust on a lightly floured surface. Spread pecan mixture in a 5-inch circle in the center of pastry. Place brie on top of pecans.
Wrap the pastry around brie, pinching to seal tightly and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 10 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream, butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Cover and boil for one minute. Uncover and continue to boil for 3–4 minutes without stirring. Mix in remaining chopped pecans. Cool, then spoon around warm brie.
Serve brie warm with assorted crackers and apple and pear slices.