The Times West Virginian

October 12, 2011

Simple’s better

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

PLUM RUN — The “My Favorite Recipe” food for October is apples. Send in your favorite homemade recipes to Debbie Wilson at

Some people, when they need a new recipe, go to a big shiny cookbook, filled with color pictures on slick, glossy paper.

Donna Fluharty, though, prefers to make family favorites. And for this, she turns to the little, well-worn, bound cookbook her mother-in-law had compiled.

“Home Cookin’: Recipes from the Kitchen of Helen Fluharty” is filled with downhome recipes handed down from generation to generation.

You can tell which dishes are the favorites. They’re the ones on pages splattered with batter and sauce, the ones the book opens almost automatically to.

Like their spaghetti sauce. Or homemade hot dog sauce.

Or apple pie filling.

Fluharty has this basic, versatile recipe for that’s good for cobblers of many kinds of fruit ... apple, peach, blueberry, blackberry, cherries.

“I have no idea where I got this recipe,” she said. “But it’s pretty well-used. It makes its own crust. That’s why I like it.

“It’s simple. That’s me. I don’t like a whole bunch of ingredients. Simple’s better.”

She has nine grandchildren — ages 23, 21, 18, 16, two 14-year-olds, 11 and then 7-year-old twins — and one great-grandson, 5 months.

She makes what her grandchildren call “Slinky apples” — a long, continuous curlycue — on an apple peeler and corer.

“I used to be a good cook,” she said. “I like to cook, bake, everything. Just all of it.”

She doesn’t cook much now that her husband Alan passed away in 2006.

“I’d just as leave pick up something quick,” she said. It’s hard to cut a recipe down to just one serving.

But many of her children and grandchildren live within literally a stone’s throw away on their Kennedy-like compound on Plum Run Road. They’re always there when she needs help or company ... or someone to cook for.

She learned to cook from her mother, Docia Jones, and mother-in-law, Helen Fluharty.

She was the only girl of four children. Their father died when she was 13, so she learned to cook.

The family is so close they almost share birthdates.

“All my kids were born on either the seventh or 17th,” she said.

“I learned to cook about everything from my mother,” she said.

Her mother-in-law made cream-filled donuts, “all kinds of stuff,” Fluharty said.

Her mother-in-law made potato salad with canned milk, salt and pepper, and her mother made it with salad dressing. To this day, she must make some of each, she said.

Alan Fluharty, whom she married when she was 18, was a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy.

She liked to bake pies, make roast beef, “and all that Christmas stuff,” she said.

They used to do Christmas at her mother-in-law’s house, but now everyone congregates at Fluharty’s home.

With deer season coming up, she’s ready to make pepperoni rolls for all the hunters in her family.

And pretty soon, she figures, they’ll have to haul out the kettle and make themselves some homemade apple butter.

“Yeah. This is my last jar,” she said, eyeing the jar filled with apple butter.

“We don’t even go by a recipe for that. Apples, sugar, some cinnamon candies and cinnamon oil. Maybe a little bit more, depending on the kind of apples we get. We make about 50 quarts. I give it away to the kids and other people. But we better be making more.”

During the summer, she keeps a garden. From beans and broccoli to tomatoes, peppers, squash and even watermelon.

It’s really easier to ask what she doesn’t grow in it: sweet potatoes.

“I just can’t keep the deer out of them. We have two chestnut trees and they were so full this year, the limbs hung clear down to the ground. And this is all we got from them,” she said, shaking a large plastic bowl maybe three-quarters full with chestnuts.

She’s lived in the Plum Run all her life. Her grandparents, William and Elizabeth Hamilton, built the house she now lives in a long time ago as a one-room log house. So she remembers playing here.

“I love it here,” she said.

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

Email Debra Minor Wilson at