The Times West Virginian

My Favorite Recipe

May 11, 2011

Food is for sharing

FAIRMONT — Food does more than feed your body. It also feeds your soul.

Ellen Jane Parks learned this at an early age, growing up on her family’s 150-acre farm near Enterprise.

“Every evening meal was ‘sit down together.’ We all consumed more love than food. I’m sorry that doesn’t happen at very many homes today.

“We always had an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit, and we cold-packed our own meat, spare ribs so tender they’d fall off the bone.

“Mom (Clara Akers) did all the cooking. No one could put on a spread like my mom. And it was all homemade ... bread, noodles, dumplings, gravy and homemade pie crusts.

“Still to this day, she cooks. She never knows how many she’ll have at dinner. When the whole family gets together, there’s 63 of us,” Parks said. “And that is so much fun. We love each other.

“The whole family has so many wonderful cooks. And each has their own speciality. And when we all get together, man, that’s a lot of calories!”

Because ingredients like flour and sugar were valuable and dear, there was little opportunity for Parks to try her hand at baking.

But learn she did, and she still remembers the first meal she made for her husband, Barry: grilled pork chops, mac and cheese, green beans, salad and coconut cream pie.

“It was good, but the chops were a little dry.

“My husband has never turned down a meal in almost 45 years of marriage,” she said. “It is so wonderful to cook for someone who appreciates the time you put into creating a meal.

“When we first got married, he would not eat fish or dill pickles. Now, he eats everything.

“I have the reputation of making dainty cookies,” she said. “They seem to be more appealing. You don’t feel guilty eating several when they’re little. I always make small meatballs, too. I like the looks of three or four on top of a plate of spaghetti, rather than the normal two.

“When I serve cabbage rolls (pigs in a blanket), I must admit my husband would rather have me make large ones. I call them ‘hogs under cover.’”

Good food doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated. Her Yellow Mandarin Orange Cake is made from a box mix.

But the arrangement of fresh, bright red strawberries adds just the right contrast.

“Everyone enjoys an attractive table setting,” she said. “When serving a meal, it is all about presentation. I think you first taste with your eyes. Make sure you always serve your guests with a smile. That’s one of our biggest assets.

“No matter what you are preparing for your family or friends, your main ingredient should always start with a lot of love. This is a great way to start a meal and end it the same way: love.

“Food is for sharing.

“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it for themselves. I want to leave my friends and family and grandchildren with beautiful memories.

“I like cooking everything. My favorite dishes are those I see others enjoying.”

She and her husband live in a lovely home perched on the banks of the Tygart River. This means watching Canada geese almost skim the water’s surface as they fly as a group. Waving to friends as they boat up and downstream. Relaxing on the back patio with a frosted glass of iced tea.

“And it means lots of get-togethers,” she said. “Last summer, we hosted our granddaughter’s high shool graduation party, our grandson’s birthday party, a niece’s engagement party, a family reunion and a meeting place for our church.

“Now that takes a lot of food! But it makes a huge amount of fun and memories.

“I am blessed to have a beautiful home. I don’t want people to remember my home as just a lovely place, but as a home where the door is always open.

“It should be an everyday thing that we care about other people. To pay attention to what they have to say and how they feel. It should be an everyday thing that we be a very dear and giving friend. That’s why every day should be special. Bless others with your love and wish them much happiness.”

She likes cooking for other people, she said.

They have one daughter, Lee Ann Vincent, and two grandchildren, Kylee Ann Linger, 18, and Keaton Linger, 10. Her father, Jim Akers, passed away two years ago Christmas.

“They are my greatest blessings,” she said of her grandchildren. “A gift from heaven.”

They also live just two doors down.

“I have an open-door policy. They practically live here. Especially on snow days, when school’s called off.”

A few years back, she took a cooking class at Pete Dye Golf Club and finished first out of 35 other women, taking home a white chef’s coat and toque.

“I placed first with hors d’oeuvres, but don’t ask me what they were. I can’t remember,” she said with a laugh.

“But it was an honor.”

Otherwise, she’s not taken any professional cooking classes, she said.

She’s the go-to person for wedding cakes, and was a wedding coordinator at her church. But it got to be too overwhelming, she said.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything.”

Send your favorite cake recipes to Debbie Wilson at the address below or call 304-367-2549.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at

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