An aroma of 32 briskets and 25 chickens seeped out the back of Mumphord’s Place Restaurant Saturday afternoon and diffused down adjacent streets.
Rodney Westbrook sat in the kitchen just past noon, chatting with his second cousin, Ricky Mumphord, who owns the Victoria barbecue joint with his brother, Keith.
The 46-year-old Sugar Land resident said he has only missed one family reunion in his lifetime and has helped cook for most of them – a skill he picked up from watching his dad and uncles.
“It is just tradition passed down,” he said. “They don’t ever measure stuff; it is all about feel and taste.”
Westbrook was among 10 men gathered at the back of the restaurant on Saturday, talking and humming to soft tunes as they cooked for about 125-150 relatives who came to town for the 115th Mumphord family reunion.
The Mumphords did not plan for their reunion to coincide with Father’s Day this year, but nonetheless the overlap is fitting for a family that places so much value on each other.
The family migrated from West Virginia to South Texas in 1865. The men in charge of the reunion have changed with the passing of generations, but the ability to cook has been handed down like a family heirloom since their first reunion was held in 1904.
“It seems like food brings us together,” said JoAnne Williams-Hosey, 70, who sat on the front porch of the restaurant and visited with her relatives. “We’re together all the time; we always find a reason to get together, but food is always involved.”
The men tend to cook by memory, not recipe. Instructions involve a pinch of this and a dash of that until whatever’s on the menu tastes good.
Mumphord said his uncle taught him and his brother, Keith, how to make the cowboy stew that boiled in a giant cast-iron pot out back during the afternoon.
“The last reunion, we made the stew because he was a little sick. He looked at us and said, ‘I don’t have to tell y’all anything anymore about barbecuing or cooking the cowboy stew,’” he said. “When he tells you that, that’s a nice feeling.”
Mumphord also learned to cook from the men who came before him: his uncles, dad and grandfather. And those traditions will continue to be passed down to the younger generations.
Like many of his relatives, Westbrook said he has taught his four children some skills in the kitchen.
“My daughter is in Indiana, and she got to be a real good cook, and then my daughter Morgan, she likes to barbecue,” he said. “Whenever I am out there on the pit, she is right there with me.”
But many lessons go beyond the stove or pit, such as the ones Cedric Fikes, 45, taught his 17-year-old daughter, DeAmber Fikes, who graduated from high school in Houston this year.
“I learned how to control my life from him – to stay in school and to be successful,” she said. “A father is the most important thing in a girl’s life. When you can’t count on nobody else, you can really count on your father.”
Mumphord’s 15-year-old daughter, Shandi “Ricquel,” said her dad taught her everything. Celebrating Father’s Day is like saying ‘thank you,’ she said.
“They’re always going to be a part of your life,” she said. “Even if you’re one of those that have father issues, you have a father figure and they are always going to be there to support you.”