From one-day gatherings to weekend jubilees, reunions bring families together to celebrate life, love, and fabulous food.

You see them at train stations and airports all summer, decked out in brightly colored T-shirts emblazoned with family names. A scan of faces reveals resemblance; these are among thousands of Americans who celebrate kinship at family reunions. Certainly, the increased turbulence of the new century has made us more appreciative of family ties.

From small gatherings in church basements to full-blown extravaganzas, these events reunite families across the nation. No group celebrates this communion with more exuberance, however, than African Americans. Enslavement, northward migration of rural African Americans, and the hectic pace of living in the 21st century have all separated these relatives. Whatever their size, reunions are opportunities for folks to gather around a family album to celebrate the blood that links them, and the bonds that are theirs alone.

Food is undeniably a big part of any reunion, and all of these celebrations include the traditional cooking of the African-American South―barbecue, collard greens, fried chicken, fried catfish, and potato salad―proudly set alongside heavily laden dessert tables. Together with a family crest, a video, and a photo album spanning several generations, the Williams-Tate family of Alabama and Louisiana has even created a family cookbook, featuring the best pies, casseroles, and other dishes of each reunion.

To make sure we are still sitting there in the front row of reunion photos even when we're 90, we acknowledge that we need to lighten some traditional fare. With that in mind, here are tasty and unusual alternatives to place on the reunion table alongside the classics. They may even start some new traditions, and find their way into your family's reunion cookbook.