Editor's Note: Home Cooking is an occasional feature about ordinary people and their favorite recipes. To suggest someone for a future "Home Cooking" report, email Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As one of 10 children growing up on a farm in Alabama, Kathleen Brown said there were always kids around and her parents welcomed all the neighborhood children as well.
"The young people of the neighborhood knew they were welcome at our house any time of day. On Saturday nights, they'd just show up. My daddy was a deputy sheriff, so the kids knew they had to behave. It was fun growing up in a big family," Brown recalled.
Decades later, family and friends are still gathering at Brown's house on Saturdays. The 86-year-old Chickamauga, Ga., resident cooks every Saturday for all her family.
"We usually have anywhere from eight to 21 people," she said. In addition to any or all of her three daughters, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, there are spouses, in-laws and grandchildren's friends who often drop by knowing what delicious dishes they'll find.
The four generations of Brown's family see their meals through from garden to table.
Brown has a 1-acre garden in her backyard where she grows two kinds of corn, tomatoes, yellow squash, green beans, okra, zucchini, peas and several kinds of peppers. She's maintained a garden for 50 years, she said.
When the garden's summer bounty is depleted, the family plants a fall garden with several kinds of greens, radishes, lettuce and white-top turnips.
Brown said her grandsons do all the tractor work, but her family said it's not uncommon for her to man a tiller working alongside them.
Since Nana's house is often filled with great-grandchildren she keeps while their parents are working, she lets the children help as well.
"I put the kids in the garden, let them drop seeds and dig weeds. Even though they may be 2 years old, they know how to handle a hoe," she said.
Brown cans and freezes all the garden's produce so the family has garden-grown vegetables long into the winter months.
"I have a huge freezer, and what we can is stored in a closet. They know when they want something, they can come by and take it out. It's a family affair," she said.
This energetic octogenarian said this summer she and her daughters cut, cooked and froze 80 dozen ears of corn, 18 dozen of which they froze whole on the cob.
"We had seven adults and two children cutting, cooking and bagging corn. When we take it out of the freezer, all we have to do is put it in the microwave and warm it," Brown said.
The women also harvested five bushels of green beans. From the tomatoes she picks, Brown makes her own homemade tomato juice and cream of tomato soup.
"Her fried okra is to die for," said Susie Fitch, whose husband is Brown's nephew. "Everything she makes is wonderful."
Brown said she began cooking at age 6, but it wasn't until she was married that she felt she became a good cook. She credits that change to tips her mother-in-law gave her.
"She was a wonderful cook. She never got in a hurry. She measured to the T for her cakes, and they always turned out good. She shared her recipes with me," said Brown.
Today, the Chickamauga cook shares some of them with readers.
Sour Cream Cake
1 cup butter
3 cups sugar, sifted
6 extra-large eggs
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon soda
1 cup sour cream
11/2 teaspoons vanilla
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition.
Sift the flour, then measure. Add soda to flour, and sift again.
Add sour cream to butter mixture, then vanilla and flour.
Pour batter into angel-food cake pan. Bake at 325 F for 90 minutes.
Mama's Pepper Relish
12 green peppers
12 red peppers
3 hot peppers
Chop all peppers and onions. Place in pan and cover with water. Let sit 20 minutes, drain, then add into the pan:
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon canning salt
2 cups vinegar
1 tablespoon mixed spices tied in a cheesecloth bag
Cook all in pan for 25 minutes. Remove cheesecloth bag with spices. Put relish in sterilized canning jars and seal.
Note: Kathleen Brown suggests serving this relish with beans or peas.
Wash and slice okra, place in a large bowl. If okra pods appear dry, sprinkle with water until moist. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well.
Add a handful of corn meal to okra, or just enough to coat okra. Stir. Add a handful of flour. Stir again.
Fry okra in hot canola oil until lightly brown, turn okra, then turn down stovetop heat to medium. Continue to turn okra occasionally until browned to desired taste.
To freeze: After frying okra, let it cool, then pack in freezer bags. Let bag thaw overnight before reheating. Place thawed okra in oven to heat about 15 minutes. Do not reheat in microwave.
2 quarts crushed tomatoes
1 quart corn
1 quart sliced okra
Other vegetables of choice, chopped
1 can chicken or beef broth
4 cups water
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons sugar
1 whole bay leaf
Herbs of choice
Place all ingredients in crockpot, slow-cooking on high overnight.
Kathleen Brown suggests browning either beef or chicken and adding to the recipe.
To freeze: Let soup cool, then pour into freezer bags. When thawed, if the mixture needs more liquid, add tomato juice to desired consistency.
Kathleen Brown shares some of the advice she learned from her grandmother and mother-in-law.
- Put a little sugar in your tomato soup to cut the acid.
- Instead of peeling tomato skins with a knife, dip tomatoes in boiling water, which loosens the skins so they'll pull away.
- Use jumbo eggs in pound cake, which makes the cake fluffy and high.
- When making cakes, sift flour, measure it and sift again. That puts more air in the batter.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...