The Times West Virginian

July 25, 2012

‘Just plain good’

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — When it’s just too darned hot to cook, or you need something cool and light in a jiffy, Josephine Vespoint has a quick-as-a-wink salad for you.

Take two cans of pears, and drain and place each pear right side up on a bed of lettuce.

“Fill each with a tablespoon or so of whipped salad dressing and add grated longhorn cheese.”

And that’s it.

“It’s an unbelievably good salad,” she said. “Make sure you chill it before you serve it. It’s a wonderful dessert.”

You can even add some raisins or nuts or other garnishes if you want.

“It’s just plain good.”

She should know good food.

She lives in Clarksburg now but originally is from Monongah.

“I discovered a new way to make eggplant,” she said. “When you fry it, it soaks up the oil like crazy. I found this recipe where you beat an egg, dip it, then into Italian bread crumbs and add seasonings. It’s delicious. I’ve been stuffing and frying them. My daughter went nuts about it.”

She also bakes a lot.

She’s one of 12 children (fifth from the bottom).

“Four are deceased and the others are scattered over the country. One’s in Monongah, one in Fairmont, one in Clarksburg, one in Baltimore (Tennessee) and the rest are in California.

“Back in the day, we all went to Monongah High School.”

Her mom, Elizabeth Fazio Domico, was a good cook, she said.

“We learned to bake from her. We sort of picked it up on our own. She made bread, but she didn’t make desserts.

“She made good Italian bread, but that’s not all she did. She had a lot of extra duties. We made our own butter and ricotta cheese. She milked the cow in the evening.

“I guarantee you she was busy. There were no modern conveniences. There were pretty hard times. We had a big farm and raised a lot of animals, so there were a lot of them to take care of.

“But we were a good, loving family, believe me,” she said.

And with that many brothers and sisters, “I was never lonely,” she said with a laugh.

She’s also never without a recipe.

“I’ve got zillions of recipes,” she said. “The paper started printing recipes years ago and I started collecting them through the years. Plus I’ve got cookbooks. A brother in the Army sent me one from every country he was in.

“And I get a lot of recipes from my friends.”

When you want something sweet for that next reunion, picnic or cookout, her cookies hit the spot.

“I make close to 2,000 cookies to give to my family and friends,” she said. “And they’re not simple cookies. A lot have nuts and raisins in them. And a lot are Italian cookies.”

Can’t finish her cookies right away? Don’t worry.

“If they’re wrapped right, you can freeze them forever. It won’t hurt them,” she said.

Her favorite cookie is the wedding cookie. She got the recipe from a woman at a shower, she said.

She also does casseroles. Zucchini bread. And cakes. Big cakes.

One of her favorite summer cakes is light and easy to make.

“You make the cake in a 9x13 pan. Punch holes in it and pour Jell-O over it. Put it in the fridge so it will set up. Then you put whipped topping. It’s a nice, light dessert.

“I like to bake and cook. I really do,” she said. “I don’t have any hobbies. I went back to sketching again. I like to draw and doodle. It’s either baking or drawing. That’s about it.”

She has two daughters and one son, and five grandchildren.

She retired from school cooking about 14 years ago.

“I loved that work,” she said. “I liked being around the kids, and the cooking and the baking. I like to get out and work. I’m not a person to sit around and do nothing.

“There’s always something you could do. My father wouldn’t let us sit. We’d come home from school and we’d do weeding in the garden.

“It was a huge garden. We grew everything. Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers. Everything. We had one garden just in potatoes alone.

“We canned our own tomatoes and peppers. If he bought ripe peaches, we canned peaches. With that many kids, you have to.

“And I still can today. Give me apples or pears, and I’ll put them right in a jar.”

“At that time, we thought we were deprived. But you know what? There were a lot of people just like us in Monongah. You’d go to school and see you weren’t the only one. It made all of us tougher.

“I’m 78 and the way I see kids now, I don’t think they could live like we did. They’re not used to having to do anything. Life is easier.

“But I’ll tell you what: They were less stressful times. Every once in a while we went to a movie. It was a big treat. Monongah had a movie theater years ago. And once in a while, way back when, we’d take the streetcar to come to Fairmont and see a movie.”

Every Wednesday through September, Take 5 wants you to take us on a picnic. Submit your summertime recipes to Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@ timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.