Behind the scenes with Chattanooga’s Jane Henegar, Fare Exchange columnist and Lydia Award honoree

Fare Exchange columnist Jane Henegar talks about food, fellowship, awards

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Fare Exchange columnist and Lydia Award honoree Jane Henegar says the story of food in a home isn't just what happens in the kitchen, but what happens around the table. Her dining table is at its best, she says, "when our children and grands come home to it — none of them live in town."
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Fare Exchange columnist and Lydia Award honoree Jane Henegar says the story of food in a home isn't just what happens in the kitchen, but what happens around the table. Her dining table is at its best, she says, "when our children and grands come home to it — none of them live in town."

Retired from her day job for nearly 12 years, Jane Henegar is at a loss to explain why she has been chosen to receive an award from the Scenic City Women's Network, whose mission is to further the faith of working women.

It's less a mystery to anyone who knows her.

(READ MORE: The gold and dust of Jane Henegar)

Regular readers of the Chattanooga Times Free Press may recognize her name, which has been attached to the Fare Exchange weekly food column since the city's two daily newspapers merged in 1999, though her full tenure stretches back a couple more decades.

(READ MORE: How the Chattanooga Times Free Press was built to last)

In announcing the award, the organization cited the 30 years Henegar taught Bible at Girls Preparatory School, where she is credited as a gifted teacher who led thought-provoking explorations of the New Testament, Hebrew Scriptures and global issues, making her "a powerful influence in hundreds of young lives."

Her deep Christian faith is reflected in "Praying Life," a 2012 book of prayers she prayed publicly and privately over the years that was compiled by colleague Sara Gahan and illustrated by GPS students. During her career, she received excellence in teaching awards from GPS and the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools.

Yet Henegar says she was flummoxed when Sally Worland, a friend who chairs the selection committee, approached Henegar and her husband, Henry, at church and shared the news of the Lydia Award. She told them it was the organization's highest honor and would be presented at the annual Praise! Breakfast on April 18. Henegar understood how Demi-Leigh Tebow — former Miss Universe, wife of Tim Tebow — would be a big draw as the event's headliner, but she was less sure why anyone would deem her worthy of praise.

"She said, 'You've been chosen,' and I said, 'I don't think I really want to do that,'" Henegar recalls. "Henry said, 'She wasn't asking you.'

"I hate to think about getting attention,"Henegar says. "It doesn't seem quite right. But I'll be gracious about it."

Founded in 1994, the Scenic City Women's Network is a nonprofit organization whose resources are designed to encourage, equip and energize Christian working women. The award is named for a biblical entrepreneur whose influence as the Apostle Paul's first European convert shaped the lives of future generations of believers. Recipients are chosen for their lifetime of mature Christian faith, enthusiasm for life, positively impacting lives and being an encourager to other Christian working women.

Worland says Henegar "certainly portrays these attributes in a humble, kind and caring way."

Henegar says she was finally swayed by the power of one of those words. "Encourager," she says." I like that."

The Times Free Press recently went behind the scenes of Fare Exchange with Henegar, who moderates, by mail and email, the back-and-forth conversations among readers seeking help finding or preparing a recipe and the readers who can offer advice. Here are five takeaways from the conversation.

— She once had an alias. She took over Fare Exchange at the retirement of her Chattanooga Times predecessor, Isabelle Howe, who bylined the column as Cynthia Parker.

"Isabelle was a cousin of Henry's," Henegar says. "We had a lot of meals together. She knew I loved to cook, and she knew I loved to write."

For a while, Henegar was simultaneously teaching, running a catering business (Moveable Feasts, with her friend Lydia Reynolds) and writing food stories and a family column for the newspaper.

When the Times merged with the Chattanooga News-Free Press, Henegar was told she could continue with the column but would need to use her real name. She says the fact that only the name had changed didn't immediately register with readers.

"One time somebody said, 'You write a lot like Cynthia Parker.' I said, 'Yes, very similar.'"

— Even in the digital age, Fare Exchange has surprising staying power. Modern cooks have multiple options for tracking down recipes. A Google search will turn up hundreds, if not thousands, of variations, and younger generations, especially, turn to social media for inspiration.

"You can always find Instagram pictures and testimonials about 'this is the best thing ever served,'" Henegar says, but local cooks tend to trust recipes and advice from the people they know — or feel they know.

If you go

— What: Scenic City Women's Network's Praise! Breakfast featuring Demi-Leigh Tebow

— When: 7-9 a.m. Thursday, April 18 (reservations due by Wednesday, April 10)

— Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza

— Admission: $45

— RSVP: 423-698-6262, scwn.org

"I do think that's what Fare Exchange is now: It is a gathering of our people," she says. "These are home folks. People who live the same way, see the same things, do the same things. That's comforting."

Some of her correspondents have offered recipes (and more) for decades.

"A lot of the communication is personal and helpful and kind," Henegar says. "I do think a lot of people who go to the trouble of sending in a recipe do care about other people and are willing to sit down from the work they're doing, their own cooking, and send something in great detail to help someone else.

"A big part of my life with these people has been getting to know them and being grateful for the kind of people they are. It's wonderful camaraderie around a virtual kitchen table. That's been a lovely part of it."

Three of her main sources are her daughter and two daughters-in-law.

"They are all really good cooks in their own right," she says. "I love the way they cook — they don't copy me for sure. That's another way family traditions are made. They don't just go down, they go up (the line). Family recipes don't have to be a grandmother's. They can be a granddaughter's or a daughter-in-law's."

— Henegar sees parallels between her jobs as Bible teacher and food columnist.

"Meals are definitely sacred things," she says. "Clearly that's all over the Bible — not a meal like Holy Communion but serving each other, being served. All that, I think, is sacred stuff. To me, meals aren't just satisfying your physical hunger. They're a lot more than that."

She also cherishes the tradition of food as an expression of condolence or love.

"Like every other person in the South, I love the idea of taking food to people," she says. "A meal is an edible prayer. When something hard happens and you don't know what to say, you can certainly take food. That's a kind of prayer to me: 'I've got you on my mind. I've got you on my heart.'"

— Some correspondence is more memorable than others. An Alabama cook once delivered a package of homemade tea cakes to the Times after her grandson in Chattanooga saw a request. He asked her to send her storied recipe, but she wanted to make sure it was worthy of inclusion in the newspaper.

Henegar's favorite letter, though, came as an email titled with a proposal: "New hairdo?"

The writer said she had looked at Henegar's newspaper photo and decided she needed to "do something new" with her hair. "What I really think is out of date is the sides," the writer concluded.

Henegar's reply: "Thank you so much. It's always good to get suggestions."

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

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