Verdie Dickens is an Itawamba County native whose love of cooking started in childhood.

Dickens grew up in the Ozark community where she met her husband, James. A few years after their marriage in 1965, the couple moved to their current home in Ryan’s Well.

Dickens recalls her childhood as being very family based. She remembers being five years old and standing on a chair to watch her grandmother cook for family gatherings and special holidays.

“My father didn’t cook, and neither does my husband now. I had to learn from watching and helping when I was a little girl.”

Dickens was raised on a farm in Ozark, so she spent most of her childhood gathering vegetables and other foods for her mother to cook and can. Because her mother worked in a garment factory, Dickens often helped prepare dinner for the rest of her family.

“My mother needed help in the kitchen,” Dickens said, “I was expected to help her, so I learned most of my skills from her.”

Dickens describes her cooking style as simple. She learned easy homestyle recipes that are good for the belly and for the soul. She credits her mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law as extremely big influences on her culinary style.

“My husband’s mother taught me a lot,” Dickens said, chuckling, “She was very patient with a new bride.”

Dickens raised her three children in the same family-friendly environment as she was raised and has been blessed with 10 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. Food always brings the family together.

“You can call them, tell them to come eat, and they’ll be here,” Dickens said, laughing.

After she retired, Dickens turned her love of cooking into a way to support her community by using an old family recipe for fried pies to start a fundraiser to help renovate the old Ryan’s Well schoolhouse, now aptly named the Ryan’s Well Rural Community Development Council.

“People just really loved the fried pies. They were a hit at every festival or event where we sold them,” Dickens said, beaming, “Sheriff Dickinson named us the fried pie coalition.”

She began selling the pies at the Fulton Barbecue Festival and Mantachie Fest and used these opportunities to tell people about Ryan’s Well and their RCDC. The money raised went toward renovation and upkeep until this year, when she sadly had to put the fundraiser on pause due to COVID-19. After things return to normal, Dickens plans to continue to make and sell her pies at these festivals to help her community thrive.

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