By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
People say they go to cookouts and picnics to get together with friends and family.
They say they like the burgers and dogs, and pasta, fruit and potato salads, and all those other side dishes you can’t have a picnic without.
But they’re there really for one reason only.
Their eyes hungrily graze the dessert table, searching and hoping for that one sweet that will make this day the success you want it to be.
And people who love a little peanut butter with their chocolate cake will devour Patricia Goddard’s Poor Man’s Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Icing.
Eat it up, but don’t ask her why it’s called “Poor Man’s” cake.
“I don’t know,” she’ll say with a laugh. “Maybe because it doesn’t have any eggs in it!”
Her mother, Edythe Bagwell, always made this cake, which pleased her family to no end.
“We loved it,” she said. “Now everybody wants me to make it because it won’t turn out for them.”
This happens with a lot of food she makes. Nobody else seems to do it better.
“Evidently I have the secret,” she said. She learned to cook from her mother and father. Her siblings (Wanda, Nancy, Diane, Jackie, Jimmy and Ronnie) weren’t much for cooking then, she said.
“Mom started to work when I was probably 12 or 13. I had to cook dinner of an evening. My dad (Ernest Bagwell) always sat at the kitchen table and taught me what to do. I did it all the time. I love cooking.
“I learned to cook everything. Every Friday we had deep-fried fish. Dad would get the perch or cod out of the freezer, and thaw it out. I’d come home from school, make the batter and fry the fish. We’d always have baked beans and French fries every Friday.”
For a long time, she cooked for her siblings. Then for her husband Dallas and two sons, David and Jason.
“I taught them to cook. They were at the stove since they were little,” she said. Now she’s cooking mostly just for Dallas and herself. But she’s carrying on her teaching-to-cook tradition by showing her grandchildren the way around a kitchen.
She collects cookbooks. But the ones she uses most are for sweets, and the ones local churches and Homemakers Clubs produce.
One in particular is special to her.
Her sister-in-law gave her a cookbook from the Plum Run Homemakers that featured her mother’s Poor Man’s Cake and Washboard Cookies.
Goddard worked as a cook for a local restaurant for 10 years, making all their homemade pies. Then she worked for a nursing facility for 17 years.
She said she has the talent for duplicating dishes you find at restaurants.
“I can make it like they serve it,” she said. “I come home and figure it out. I just love to cook. It doesn’t matter what.”
She admits she has a weakness for sweets.
“I love to bake in the fall, but I don’t care to do it much in the summer. It’s too hot.”
But come fall she’ll be busy baking up all kinds of cookies and pies and tasty treats. She’s made trays of holiday cookies and fudge, and sold them.
She’s also learned to make homemade marshmallow.
“You cook sugar, water and corn syrup on the stove to a certain degree. Then you put a little bit of egg white and unflavored gelatin into a mixer, pour the syrup in and put it in a buttered dish. Let it set 24 hours to crust up around the edges. Cut it the next day.
“It’s wonderful. It’s creamier than store-bought. It melts in your mouth.”
She baby-sat before she went into cooking, she said.
“I’d sit all my little kids at the dining room table if I had a cake to make. I’d give them all little cakes and let them play with the icing and decorate them while I did mine. I didn’t have to worry about them getting into stuff.”
Like a lot of good cooks, she’ll take a recipe and go from there.
“I like to experiment. I’m never precise,” she said. “I go by the recipe, but if I want to add something different, I do that to make it mine and not somebody else’s.
“My mom used to make a one-egg cake from scratch. So many people won’t make from-scratch cakes anymore because the cakes are heavier and they think they’re not as good.
“In the fall, Mom used to make a cake and slice apples into thin slices and layer that all the way across the cake, and put cinnamon sugar over it. We’d run home from school on lunch break to have a piece of warm cake with milk on it.”
Her pies featured “mile-high” meringue, which isn’t that hard to make, she said.
“I use just a little dab of cream of tartar and salt. I whip it in a cold bowl with cold beaters to make it whip up better. Then I put it in a really hot oven so it doesn’t have to stay in there long.
“For my baked beans I start with canned beans, and rinse and drain them. Then I add things to them to make them my own. Nobody has ever been able to duplicate them.”
Her family also enjoys her fried chicken (made on the stove, never in a deep fryer, she said) and spaghetti squash.
“My husband says I’m the best cook. Most people who have eaten my food say I’m a good cook. It’s just something I like to do.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.