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She can really cook
August 15, 2006

It's not an unusual story. A mom needs to help the family out by going to work, but what to do with the younger children?

Why, put the 12-year-old daughter in charge of the three little boys, and tell her to get dinner during the afternoon.

It happens lots.

It happened one summer day a good many years ago out near Spring Creek on what is now known as Stubbs Road. But the story takes a difference twist, because this youngster, Beulah Stubbs, thought she didn't just want to fix the same old thing. She'd never cooked a meal by herself before but she knew that this dinner, her very first, would be different.

"I looked around and thought I wanted more than just tomatoes and rice."

The enterprising young miss took down a volume from the set of Betty Crocker cookbooks her mother had ordered and flipped through looking for something fancy she could make with the ingredients she had at hand—chicken, garden vegetables and the tomatoes and rice.

There it was—chicken cacciatore—she rounded things up, started chopping and cooking. In a little while she called in the brothers for dinner. They liked it.

"I knew right then I could really cook."

When the fellows finished—there was nothing left.

Later when she was flipping through the book she found a recipe for jelly roll, and she made that too.

"Jelly roll's not easy," I said to her.

"No, it's not. When it came out perfect, that was it! All I wanted to do after that was cook."

Beulah Stubbs Handsford still has that set of cookbooks and still has lots of memories of growing up on that Spring Creek farm with her nine brothers and two sisters. Her daddy was a farmer and there were lots of vegetables to eat—and to tend to, mostly peanuts, cucumbers and okra, she recalls.

"We broke a lot of okra."

I asked if she likes cooking with okra today. She shook her head. Definitely no okra on the Handsford dinner table. But lots of other good things—on that table and many others in this town.

After the chicken cacciatore and jelly roll, Beulah never quit cooking. She continued to cook and baby-sit while she finished growing up. She had a family of her own and other responsibilities, like her job at IT&T. Then she was laid off.

Don't let anyone tell you a layoff is always bad news. It turned out to be good news and a change in direction for Beulah. She went to work in the kitchen at Hutto School doing what she loves. She's been at John Johnson and Hutto for some 24 years making lunchtime the definite favorite time of day for Decatur County scholars. When she's not at school cooking, she's somewhere else cooking. (Don't call it work—she says it's her passion.) She cooks at Southwind Plantation and for the good folks at the First Presbyterian Church.

Of course, she's done more than cook over these years. She raised her own two children on good food and love. Both of them live in Macon now. Daughter Selinda is an attorney in private practice, and former Bearcat football star Vincent is a police officer.

Beulah Stubbs Handsford, Sherrie Stubbs Sweet, Jordan Sweet Like she doesn't have enough to do, Beulah's started a new endeavor. She's joined forces with her niece, Sherrie Stubbs Sweet. Like Beulah, Sherrie, the daughter of Beulah's brother, Bill, grew up along Spring Creek, and like Beulah she's fascinated with food—but from a different perspective. She's interested in nutrition, how food can help and harm you.

She told me that many members of her family suffered from diabetes and heart problems. She wanted to help them and others. She does. She has a degree in dietetics from UGA. She's a nutrition program manager for the State of Georgia working through the health departments in Dougherty, Grady, Decatur, Seminole and Early counties. Busy lady—especially when you count in a 5-year-old son, Jordan, and year-old daughter, Kennedy.

But these two very busy ladies are now running a store, The Sweet Spot, on Planter Street at the corner with Broad.

Sherrie's husband, Joe Sweet III, and his dad recently opened a barbershop in the family-owned (for 40 years) building.

"There were these two empty rooms in the back," Sherrie told me. Didn't take Sherrie and her aunt long to figure out what to do there. The Sweet Spot is a boutique offering gifts and accessories and to everyone's delight an assortment of Beulah's sweet treats. A well-named shop indeed.

Beulah's a generous woman. Lots of good cooks hate to share their recipes, but Beulah gave me some of her (and the community's) favorites, including that first-time chicken cacciatore. But a cook's got to have a few secrets. Her eyes twinkled a bit when she said there were some things about her pound cake and fried chicken that were not for publication!

First-time Chicken Cacciatore
(as adapted by 12-year-old Beulah Stubbs)

2½ to 3 pounds chicken parts
¼ cup fat
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium green peppers
1 14.5-ounce can tomatoes, undrained
3 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Dredge the chicken in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. Brown in the fat in a skillet. Remove the chicken, then cook the onion, garlic and peppers in the drippings for about 5 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan and add the tomatoes and other seasonings. Simmer until done, about 40 minutes.

Young Beulah served the cacciatore over rice. She remembers that the recipe called for a can of tomato paste, but she didn't have any. It also called for cooking oil, but fat is what she had and what she used. She added a little extra oregano. Those little brothers gobbled it right up.

Beulah's Dirt Pie

2 packages Oreo cookies
2 packages 3½-ounces Jell-O instant pudding mix, chocolate
8 ounces Cool Whip
¼ cup chocolate ice cream sauce
¼ cup caramel ice cream sauce
¾ cup chopped nuts of choice (Beulah likes pecans)

Crush the cookies and spread in a 13-by-9-inch pan. Prepare the pudding according to the directions and spread on top of the cookies, and then spread the Cool Whip on top of the pudding. Warm the syrups briefly in the microwave until melted and runny. Drizzle the syrups in a pattern over the top of the pie. Chill until ready to serve.

Then there's this one. Beulah says it's a favorite at school where it usually appears at the end of a meal featuring fish.

Lemon Lush

1½ cups crushed graham crackers
½ stick margarine
¼ cup sugar

Melt the margarine and stir in the crackers and sugar. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch inch pan.

Combine 1 8-ounce package of 4X sugar with 8 ounces of cream cheese and 8 ounces of Cool Whip and spread on the crackers. Prepare two 3-1/2-ounce boxes of Jell-O instant lemon pudding and spread on the cheese mixture. Top with 8 ounces of Cool Whip. Chill and enjoy!


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network