VARDAMAN • Melissa Edmondson’s earliest memories of cooking involve her sitting on her knees in a chair at a kitchen table in one of her grandmother’s homes.

“Both of my grandmothers were great cooks and I learned a lot from them,” Edmondson said. “The first meal I cooked for everyone was at Easter when I was 12 years old. I had chicken and dressing, creamed potatoes, English peas and candied sweet potatoes. I was in charge of the Easter meal from then on.”

Edmondson and her husband, Joe, own and operate Topashaw Farms in Vardaman, which specializes in the Beauregard variety of sweet potato. They also farm corn and soybeans and they raise cattle. The Edmondsons have three children and seven grandchildren.

“When the kids were growing up, I cooked lunch every day,” said Edmondson, 59. “I never knew who was going to be at my table. It could be farmhands, or it could be a tractor salesman or a chemical salesman. We ate leftovers for dinner.”

Now, she only cooks about twice a week. During the harvest season, the family works every weekend, but in the off season, she puts Sunday meals into the mix.

During the week, she might make blackened crappie and a salad for the evening meal or fresh cabbage with onions, turkey sausage and rutabagas and a pan of cornbread.

If she’s cooking on Sunday, the family can expect a pot roast, creamed potatoes, butterbeans, black-eyed peas, mustard greens, candies sweet potatoes, rolls, cornbread and a lemon icebox pie.

“And if I’m not cooking on the weekends, my boys like to cook fish or deer meat or grill steaks,” she said.

Every year, Edmondson competes in the cook-off during the Sweet Potato Festival in Vardaman. She usually enters five or six dishes and always comes away with some blue ribbons. One year, she won the top prize, the Mayor’s Cup.

“I try new recipes about once a month,” she said. “I look through cookbooks and magazines. I’m always looking to see what recipe I can adapt for sweet potatoes.”

Now that Edmondson’s kids are grown with families of their own, she finds enjoyment in cooking for others.

“I’m always doing for someone who is sick or in the hospital,” she said. “During the holidays, I like to cook and take meals to people. I like to make lots of desserts. Last year, I cooked for holidays, family, a class reunion and the sweet potato contest. I started cooking before the first of November and I didn’t stop until the middle of January.”

CHICKEN AND WILD RICE SOUP

2 small onions, chopped

2 cups shredded carrots

10 cups water

2 boxes Uncle Ben’s fast-cooking long grain and wild rice

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen broccoli spears, chopped

4 cups cooked, chopped chicken

1 pound processed cheese, cubed

2 cans cream of chicken soup

Saute onions and carrots in a lightly greased Dutch oven for 5 minutes. Add water, seasoning packets from the rice, broccoli and chicken. Bring to a boil and stir in rice. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add cheese and soup and cook, stirring constantly, until cheese melts. This freezes well.

SWISS STEAK

2 round steaks

Black pepper

1 large onion, sliced

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 to 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Place one steak in a large Crock-Pot. Sprinkle with black pepper. Top with a layer of onions, spread half of the soup over the onions and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon Worcestershire. Repeat layers. Cover and cook on low heat overnight.

MAMAW’S HAMBURGER HASH

1 1/2 to 2 pound ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

Salt and black pepper

Sage and cayenne pepper

Flour to thicken

Place ground beef and onion in a large boiler and cover with water. Add salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and boil until the water is cooked out. Add black pepper, sage and red pepper to taste. Add flour for thickening, if needed. Serve with vegetables or with crackers.

LEMON ICEBOX PIE

CRUST

1 box vanilla wafers, crushed

1 stick butter, melted

FILLING

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup lemon juice

3 egg yolks, beaten

MERINGUE

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

6 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the crust, save enough wafers to line the edges of a pie plate. Place remaining wafers in a ziptog bag and crush with a rolling pin. Pour crushed wafers into a bowl and pour in the melted butter (save enough melted butter to dip whole wafers in). Stir crushed wafers and melted butter until well mixed. Pour into a pie dish and press into the bottom. Dip whole wafers in reserved melted butter and place around the edges of the pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

For the filling, combine sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice in a bowl. Beat egg yolks in a small bowl; add 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk mixture to beaten yolks and mix well. Pour egg mixture over milk mixture and stir until well blended. Pour into prepared pie crust.

For the meringue, beat egg whites and cream tartar in a glass bowl until stiff peaks form. Add sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time. Add vanilla and mix well. Top filling with meringue and bake at 350 degrees until meringue is lightly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Note: This recipe contains raw eggs.

SOUTHWEST SWEET POTATO SALAD

5 cups peeled and cubed raw sweet potatoes

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 can whole kernel corn, drained

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro

1 to 2 teaspoons crushed garlic

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped hot pepper (Anaheim, banana or Hungarian wax)

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1/2 to 2/3 cup mayonnaise

Place potatoes in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cool water. Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, combine remaining ingredients, stirring in mayonnaise last. Stir in cold potato cubes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a few hours to bring out the flavors.

SWEET POTATO BREAKFAST QUICHE

1/2 to 1 pound breakfast sausage

1 cup chopped onion

3 cups grated raw sweet potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated Gouda cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

8 large eggs, beaten

1 cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Brown sausage, drain and set aside. Saute onions and sweet potatoes in oil just until they change color. Remove from heat.

Place sausage, onions and sweet potatoes and cheeses in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Beat eggs and half-and-half until smooth. Pour over cheeses and potatoes. Sprinkle with rosemary. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until the center is set. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

BISCUIT PUDDING

10 biscuits, cooked

4 cups milk

6 large eggs, well-beaten

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 sticks butter, melted

Crumble biscuits into a large baking dish. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over biscuits. Stir to mix. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until done. Remove from oven when center is still a little jiggly, or it will be too dry.

UTTERLY DEADLY SOUTHERN PECAN PIE

1/2 (14-ounce) package refrigerated pie crust

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1 stick butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Fit piecrust into a 10-inch cast iron skillet; sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Whisk eggs in a large bowl until foamy; whisk in brown sugar, butter, granulated sugar, chopped pecans, flour, milk and vanilla. Pour mixture into pie crust and top with pecan halves. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes; reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake 30 minutes more. Turn oven off and let pie sit in oven with door closed for 3 hours.

DO YOU KNOW A GOOD COOK? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can call Ginna at (662) 678-1581 or email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

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