As the holidays grow near, I am excited to continue the wonderful Heirloom Recipe Series that has become everything I could have ever imagined it would be. I just can’t get enough of hearing the back stories behind these special recipes, from some very special people – and this week is no exception!

Joining us today is Cynthia Wong, pastry chef at one of Atlanta’s own southern-staple restaurants, Empire State South. I fell in love with ESS even before I ever set foot into the fine establishment, simply because of my past experience with their sister restaurant Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia where I attended college. The atmosphere & ambiance is perfectly southern, with a fabulous bar and bocce ball on hand too – and the food is certainly top-notch.

With Thanksgiving week upon us, I am thankful today that Cynthia has shared a heartfelt and honest post below, sharing a special shrimp dish recipe with us all and reminding us that there are so many things to be thankful for. Many thanks Cynthia for taking the time to join the Heirloom Recipe Series!

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This recipe for shrimp dip belonged to my late father-in-law, Bob Harmon. Like my husband, who is his spitting image, Bob was a strapping man, a master of banter, talented cook, and lover of good wine and late nights. I’ve spent most of the last 13 holiday seasons with the large, loud, warm, accepting, incredibly funny Harmons, who now seem more like adopted family than in-laws. I have always been a bit shy, and was initially uneasy during Christmas visits to the Harmon family homestead. I had a hard time keeping up with the all-night, wine-soaked story telling and joke cracking that left me with hangover headache that would blister the paint off a car.

Their 10-foot long family dinner table is always set for Christmas supper with a succulent, mahogany-skinned behemoth of pork known as The Harmon Family Ham, yeast rolls and biscuits, a large jar of mustard, a heaping dish of Hellman’s mayonnaise, cranberry jelly, cornbread dressing, roast oysters, smoked beef tenderloin and horseradish sauce, sausage balls, green salad, collards, black eyed peas, and Bob’s shrimp dip. The food is left on the table after dinner, until every last bite is eaten– a practice that initially appalled me, but one that I have grown to love. Why put away the leftovers and go to bed? Would it not be better to put your feet up by the fire in the den, make another plate and tell another tale of family legend? Sleep is for later, when you are back at home and need to go to work.

I am estranged from my own family, who are as different from the Harmons as to almost seem alien. Two of the most terrible things I’ve come to learn as an adult are that some differences are truly irreconcilable, and that time does not really heal. But the best thing I’ve grown to understand is that contrary to the old saying, you can choose your family.

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Bob’s Shrimp Spread

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Be sure to connect with Cynthia by following Empire State South on Twitter and Facebook too!

Part of our Heirloom Recipe Series, featuring foodies, chefs, artisans, Southerners & fabulous folks willing to share their stories, recipes and photos in an effort to help preserve and share these family recipes for generations to come.