Cooks of the Ozarks

Jewell Tilley was born in 1915. He learned to cook at age 15. His worst experiences was when he cooked food that tasted awful. He said, "Sometimes it was so bad the dogs wouldn't eat it!" When asked about canning, he replied, "Get it hot and seal it up!" One of Jewell's favorite recipes was Baked Opossum.

To cook an opossum, you place a sweet potato in the belly of the animal, along with a few strips of bacon.

Jewell's favorite food came from the General Store a few miles from his house. It was a peanut roll. His mother would buy one for all of the children to share. Back then, this oversized candy bar could be purchased for a nickel.

Thelma McCracken grew up in the Peel area by the lake in the Ozark region. Thelma's favorite food was sweets. As a child, she loved dessert foods. She said her first turkey was the hardest thing she ever cooked. She said she had cooked the whole turkey before she realized that she had forgotten to remove the intestines. Her biggest cooking disaster was her cornbread. She said that every time she cooked cornbread, it looked like a cake. She said back then your ingredients were home grown. She still enjoys her favorite foods: cakes, cookies, and desserts. Thelma learned to cook at the age of seventeen. She had to learn to cook because her mother had died. This left Thelma caring for the rest of her family, including her father. She laughed as she remembered that she could barely boil water without burning it. She also remembered how much she loved her mother's molasses cookies. She also remembered her great-grandmother, Mabel (McCracken) Flippin, who always changed her recipes in some way. She said she would always add something like a pinch of this or a handful of that.

Margie Pauline Duffy grew up in the north central part of Arkansas in Marion County and has lived there ever since. She grew up loving fried potatoes -- even though it was hard to get some with seven brothers. Margie enjoyed making candy and made a lot of it. She found it hard to make pies at first, and she burnt a lot of food. Margie grew up on a farm and especially remembers growing corn and cotton. Margie hated coming in after school and picking cotton.

The food her family made the most of was biscuits. She said she would start out with a big bowl with flour in the bottom. She would then add the ingredients: shortening, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and milk. She would then work it all into dough and knead it. Then the dough would be rolled out on a board and finally make into biscuits. Margie said her family would make biscuits three times a day, once for every meal. Margie said the second biggest thing they made was cornbread.

Most everything Margie ate was straight off the farm. She ate a lot of eggs and ham. She said she had a hog killin' grandfather. They would fatten as many as sixteen hogs a year to eat. They would cure the ham in the smoke house out back of the home. The only things Margie remembers buying was coffee, sugar, and maybe dried beans.

Margie also recalled a special occasion, a wedding. There was usually a three layer, white cake with white icing and little white candies. Another special occasion was the church socials she attended at Cedar Grove Methodist Church. They would have a dinner on the grounds outside. They would put two benches together to make a table to put all of the wonderful food on. There was potato salad with eggs on top, pies and cakes, ham and vegetables, and salads in the summer.

Margie attended George's Creek School. The school house had two rooms with eight grades all together. Each grade would sit in their own rale and would be called up for their lesson together. There were only three in Margie's class, herself, her life-long friend Cybill, and a boy who she thought was dumb. She remembers him coming to school smelling like a skunk and usually with dirty shoes from checking the cows. They drank water at school by pumping it straight out of the well. Most of the children carried their lunch in a syrup bucket because they could seal it up. Margie normally took biscuits and sausage in her bucket. She remembers some having really good fried pie, which was just sugar, butter, and cocoa mixed up in a dough and fried. Margie remembers having a spelling "Bee" every Friday at school and decorating a tree for Christmas. There was a Christmas program, and they would eat apples, oranges, and candy at it. Margie remembers playing softball and the boys loving baseball. Basketball had just started and was not very popular yet.

It was the Depression years and so there was not much money. The good workers had food though. Margie's grandfather had bee hives that he would rob every year and bring in big bowls of honey. He would also go bee hunting in the woods.

They used a lot of sorghum. Just one family in the community would usually make it. The family would sell it to the other families. Margie remembers making popcorn balls with it.

No one canned until the 1900's because there were no pressure steamers. To store food, they would bury cabbage under the hay. They would dry fruit and pumpkins and would pick nuts.

Margie's grandmother told her that in the early 1900's no one ate tomatoes because they thought they were poisonous. When they learned that they weren't, they started canning tomatoes in 1909. Her mom once made the mistake of canning tomatoes with the skin on them.

To make jelly you first have to go out and pick your blackberries off of the bushes. Then you take them home and wash them very good. Then you take the berries and put them in a pot and boil them. Then you take the seeds out. Then you add sugar and melt it down. Then you pour it off into your jars and you have your jam. To get jelly, you have to strain all of the juices and excess seeds out and put it in your jars the same way.

Her jams and jellies are the best that have ever been made. She gives them out to everyone every time she makes them. She would rather make a lot and give them all out than keep them for herself. She has always made jellies all of her life and she will keep making them until she can't lift the jars any more.

Lillian Dewey grew up in Cotter, Arkansas. She began cooking at an early age. With eleven people in her family, it was very important that she helped out in the kitchen because she was the oldest and it was her job. She said she remembers making a cake from scratch and messing up. She said she accidently put the wrong ingredients in. Lillian made everything from beans to meatloaf, eggs, ketchup, and oatmeal. She liked to make green beans and new potatoes with sausage. She said her favorite thing to make was tomato dumplings, they were also her favorite to eat.

Nola Huffman was born April 4, 1929 in Oakland, AR. She was raised in and around Flippin.

For birthdays and weddings there was a family gathering with cake and ice cream.

Doris Phillips was originally from Cotter. Her favorite food while growing up was coconut cake. It was made with two layers of cake and lots of coconut. Doris started cooking on her own when she was 18 years old. She had just been married. Doris said that the hardest thing she had to cook was turkey. She said that it was hard to get just perfect between moist and dry. She said her biggest cooking disaster was biscuits. "It was biscuits," she replied, "Left out the baking powder -- my company still at it," said Doris.