The Times West Virginian

October 5, 2011

Somethin’ from the oven

By Debra Minor Wilson
For the Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — How many people remember the jingle, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven”?

Katie Keefover not only remembers it but also lives it.

There doesn’t seem to be anything she can’t bake.

Homemade pepperoni rolls? She came in third and second in two cookoffs at the Three Rivers Festival. Homemade pizza pie? Check. Homemade cinnamon rolls? Double check.

In fact, “Homemade” is probably her unofficial middle name.

“It’s a pleasure to serve you,” she says as she carves out a plate-size chunk of her fresh-from-the-oven apple cobbler, topped with about half a gallon of vanilla ice cream. (An exaggeration, just barely.)

Just in case you want more, she’s also got hot apple pie on the table and apple dumplings still bubbling away in her oven.

When she was 8 years old, she made her first dinner: spaghetti and meatballs. Her mother, Allie Parson Thomas, didn’t really like to cook, so her stepdad Charlie encouraged Keefover to be at home in the kitchen.

She learned to cook by watching her grandmother, who would make biscuits for every meal, and from cooking class at school. She also learned from an aunt.

“She made the best of everything! But she’d just give you wee little pieces, just enough to tempt you.”

That is something that, fortunately for everyone who likes apple pie, Keefover obviously did not learn.

Her first vegetable soup was a marriage of what was on hand.

“We only had five vegetables in the refrigerator, so I put them together. Mother and Dad said that was the best vegetable soup they’d ever tasted.”

She lived in Nutter Fort, Fairmont, Hagerstown, Md., and then Grafton, where she spent her teenage years.

“That’s when I really learned to cook ... from Miss Cook, who was the cooking teacher. I known, how appropriate. She was so sweet. She taught us to think of others when you’re cooking, not about yourself.”

Taking that advice to heart, one night she made fried potatoes, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes and parsley potatoes. Her family liked potatoes.

“They liked them, but I think they preferred other food,” she said with a laugh.

When she was 18, she met Bob Funk.

“His eyes just looked like a kitten’s,” she said. “I hurried home and told my mother, ‘I just saw the man I’m going to marry.’”

And she did, that next June. Before that, when she first invited him to dinner, she didn’t know what kind of pie he liked. So she made 16 different ones.

“I wanted to make sure I had it covered.”

She did. He liked the butterscotch. His family polished off the rest.

“Bob, oh, he loved to eat,” she said.

They had three children. Sadly, he died in a car accident on Cheat Mountain just before Father’s Day 1970. He was buried on their 13th wedding anniversary.

“I’ve had a lot of hardships in life, but God is good all the time,” she said.

“When I was making this apple pie, I was thinking that we are the apples of God’s eye.”

Her family is relatively easy to cook for, she said. She and her older son like liver and onions; others do not.

“Everybody to their taste,” she said.

“I taught all my kids to cook. And all three are better cooks than I am, I kid you not. If I had the money, I’d set them up with a restaurant.”

Her favorite holidays are Thanksgiving and Christmas. While some people make deep-fried turkeys, she makes hers the old-school way so she can have broth for gravy and dressing “and all that stuff.” For Christmas, she prefers a nice ham, sweet potatoes “and the whole nine yards.”

And all the cookies and pies she can bake.

Her apple treats were as easy to make as, OK, apple pie. Everything, from the crust to the filling, is homemade. She usually makes a double batch of dough when she bakes, she said.

“There’s just something homey about a homemade pie. I most generally make two pies at a time, sometimes three,” she said. “My trouble is I like to bake and give it away, and then later at night I’ll say, ‘Oooh, I wish I had a piece of that!’”

She laughs.

When she feels the need, she’ll go to one of her many cookbooks hidden in a kitchen cabinet and drawer.

She can improvise, too.

“I was asked to make an apple-pecan pie. I’d never heard of it before, so I got an apple pie recipe and pecan pie recipe, and mixed them together.”

She doesn’t mind sharing her recipes, and receiving them from others.

“My mother-in-law gave me this recipe in 1957,” she said of the crust. “It’s called ‘Perfect, No-Fail Pie Crust.’

“But you know how good cooks don’t measure things. I know by my hand how much to put in.”

And when she’s ready to pop the goodie into the oven, there’s one last step.

“Now, all you add is love,” she said, sprinkling sugar on top.

The contest for October is apples. To be featured on the “My Favorite Recipe” page, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.