Thomas Wells

Ruth Dawson of Tishomingo makes her Butternut Cake from scratch and takes it to friends and family in the community.

Ruth Dawson prefers garden vegetables to peanut butter and crackers.

By Ginna Parsons

Staff writer

TISHOMINGO -Ruth Dawson suspects her good health may be a reflection of her fine cooking. The 82-year-old still prepares three meals a day for herself - a late breakfast, a big lunch and a light supper.

"I cook every day for me. I think that's why my health has been as good as it is," said the 82-year-old. "I don't eat crackers and peanut butter, like some older people do. I eat a balanced diet. Our bodies need it."

One day last week, Dawson set her table at lunch with greens, rutabagas, a chicken breast, slaw, a baked sweet potato and cornbread. Many of the foods she puts on her plate come from her year-round garden. In different seasons, Dawson plants tomatoes, okra, greens, onions, cabbage, corn, peas, squash, peppers and cucumbers.

"I've always had a garden," she said, "and I have the finest tomatoes in the country."

Dawson knows a thing or two about gardens because she grew up on a farm during the Depression.

"Daddy worked three jobs and walked 10 miles to work every day and back," she said. "Being the second oldest, I baby-sat more than I cooked. But my mother was a great cook. She'd come home from church and take a piece of bread and make a clucking sound and lure a fryer to her. She'd have it dressed and on the table in no time. They don't taste like that anymore."

Teaching days over

For 40 years, Dawson was a schoolteacher. Her first job was in a one-teacher school at Cripple Deer near Tishomingo. She taught K-8 for a year there before moving on to Boggs Chapel School, where she was the only teacher for seven years.

At one point, before moving to Tishomingo and teaching junior high English for 20-something years, she taught at Graceland School in Whitehaven, just outside Memphis.

"Elvis Presley's stepbrothers went there and he would sometimes come and play on the playground with them," she said.

Even when she was teaching school, Dawson still managed to fix big meals for her husband, Chester, who died in 2003, and her children, Angela and Kim.

"I still cook Sunday dinner nearly every Sunday for them and I never know how many are coming," she said. "I can always go to my freezer and add to the meal if I need to."

One of her family's favorites - and a favorite at Tishomingo Baptist Church, where she worships - is her Butternut Cake.

"They're easy to make, even if I do make them from scratch," she said. "I've given the recipe to people who say they make it, but they use a butter cake mix as the base, and they say it turns out really well."

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 fax them to 662-842-2233 or e-mail them to ginna.parsons@djournal.com. Each Cook of the Week will receive $10 from the Daily Journal.

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