The Times West Virginian

My Favorite Recipe

May 18, 2011

My Favorite Recipe: A country cook

RIVESVILLE — (Editor’s note: The “My Favorite Recipe” food for June is pie. Send your favorite homemade recipes to Debbie Wilson at

Ask Milford Suder if his wife, Helen, is a good cook and all he can do is close his eyes, grin widely and rub his tummy.

“You better believe it,” he said.

She should be. Now 81, she’s been cooking since she was 6. She learned “good old country cooking,” as she calls it, from her mother, Nellie Elizabeth Parker, herself a good country cook.

“I learned to cook from scratch early,” she said. “We all learned. No mixes or boxed foods.

“The roots of my life came from being raised on a farm,” she said. She and her brother and sister learned the responsibility of helping with farm chores, including milking their 12 cows twice daily and churning that milk into butter, which they sold to buy the basics they didn’t have.

She was born in Cassville, Monongalia County. For a while her family lived in Kentucky but moved back to the homeplace on Jake’s Run. She graduated from Clay-Battelle High School in 1948 and married Milford Suder when she was 17. He was 21.

He worked in the mines and she worked at Westinghouse. He’s a carpenter by trade and she’s a seamstress. They completed building their home in 1952. They have one daughter, Debbie Garcia, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Her mother gave Helen a copy of the 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook, which all these years later she still turns to for recipes for cakes and other baked goodies.

“I am a cook from scratch,” she said. “I can make anything you can think of ... biscuits, breads, pies, vegetables, meats ... it doesn’t matter.”

Ask Milford what’s his favorite dish that she makes, and he just smiles.

“It’s all good,” he said. “I cannot choose. Baker or cook, she’s both. She doesn’t need recipes on paper. She has them up here,” he said, tapping his temple.

She likes the precision of baking.

“This creates something from all the ingredients. If they’re not in the right proportion, it won’t turn out. It’s chemistry. I will go to the book for baking.”

But she also likes the creativity of cooking.

“That’s a skill you develop. You put in what you like and create your own cooking skills by trial and error.

“I’m just a little country cook, but I’ve faced many challenges in my life. I’ve had cancer, been treated for it, and I’m still here. I’ve met lot of challenges in my life, but I’ve always faced them like a warrior. When the ship’s going down, you try harder.

“I love the Lord and family and friends.

“I enjoy big crowds,” she said. “The welcome mat is always out.”

Ask Milford about her turkey dinners, and all he can do is smile and groan contentedly at the thought of her mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing.

Like a lot of cooks, she makes mashed sweet potato casserole, but she makes sweet potato balls, a crunchy little treat, as well.

“You take mashed sweet potatoes, cooled until you can handle them, and put a big gollup in your hand. Put a marshmallow in the center, then more sweet potatoes and make a ball. Roll in coconut and bake on a cookie sheet until toasted.”

Milford just smiles.

Today, she’s made Snowflake White Cake and Cocoa Fudge Cake, both made from scratch from her well-worn, well-used Betty Crocker cookbook.

It doesn’t take a lot of coaxing to get Milford to sit down and enjoy a healthy slice of post-lunch double-layer snowflake cake.

Naturally, the Fluffy White Icing is homemade, embellished with coconut, strawberry slices and maraschino cherries.

“One thing about a cake, you have to taste it to know if it’s good,” she said between bites.

“Mmmmm. This cake is good, even if I did make it myself.

“What’s different about this cake recipe from today’s?” she asked and pointed to the cookbook.

“The dry ingredients. They’re in the bowl. You don’t cream your butter or shortening. It’s reversed. That’s the way this cake is made, reversed.

“You start with your dry ingredients. Then you put your shortening in and pour your milk. That’s totally backwards from today’s recipes. And look how good they are.”

Here’s a tip after adding sugar when making homemade icings or meringue:

“Take a teaspoon and if you can feel grit, you need to beat it more. You need to break down the sugar. That’s why meringue weeps.”

Sometimes she’ll use can frosting, but only to add some interest, like the pecan frosting she added to the side of her cocoa fudge cake.

And she can make a pie crust “in five minutes and never have my hands in it,” she said.

Her secret: Put flour, salt, sugar and shortening in a food processor ... “zip, zip, zip, pulse, pulse, pulse” ... then add egg, ice water and vinegar, and repeat. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate ... “quick,” she said.

She makes her own baked beans, “the country way, from scratch,” she said. “I do buy canned for quickness, though.

“But you name it and I make it ... pepperoni rolls, kielbasa, monkey bread ... Everybody’s to die for my monkey bread.

“I’ve been at this since I was 6. I know what I’m doing. I have a multitude of friends who, when they read this, will say that is the way we found it when we ate with her,” she said.

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

Email Debra Minor Wilson at

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