By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
All her life, Alma Hoy Parrish has been about one thing: family.
She’s put the knowledge she learned at her mother’s knee to good use during her 46-year marriage to Tom Parrish while raising their two children, Mike Parrish and Lori Hill.
And she continues it today, basking in the love of her four grandchildren and many friendships.
She’s a loving mom to Lori Hill and North Marion coach Mike Parrish. She’s “the proudest grandmother on Earth” to Hannah, Leah, Quinton and Micah.
She grew up in the Dakota coal mine camp, the seventh of 10 children to Edward and Margaret Hoy.
“My dad was a coal miner and farmer as well,” she said. “That’s how he fed us kids, farming and hunting wild game.”
And all the while she watched her mother in the kitchen, stretching food to feed her hungry family.
“She was the most wonderful cook and baker who ever lived,” Parrish said.
“We had to work. We grew up in the kitchen. We all learned the art of cooking and housekeeping and everything that pertains to the home. And I’m glad we did because it made me the cook and baker and housewife and mother that I am today.
“I am pretty nifty in the kitchen,” she said. “I can make anything. I am known as a wonderful cook. When I go to North Marion (where her son coaches) and I don’t have a pie in this hand and a pie in the other hand, the faces of those people go down,” she laughed.
She loves to make food for crowds, she said.
“Everything that pertains to being a housewife is important to me. I never worked outside the home. My life is in the home. And I’m glad I was afforded the opportunity to do that.
“People say I’m as good at baking as I am at cooking,” she said. “I like to do them both.”
Dumplings. Ham. Turkey. Pies.
“Anything that pertains to good old country cooking, that’s me.”
Her mother has been gone since 1989, but she’s never far from her daughter’s thoughts.
“I have so many good memories of her,” Parrish said. “I can see her now kneading the bread and rolling the pie crusts.
“When I make bread, it’s Mama I think of. I come from a long line of great cooks. My dad’s mother cooked on a wood stove. She made her own jelly and bread. You talked about her dinner all week.
“They leave us with memories; they really do. They’re never really gone. My mother lives on. She does.”
She realized one year, as she was preparing the usual large holiday meal, this is exactly what her mother had done.
“I noticed I was following her. It’s tradition. It’s family. And that is what I’m all about. I am so happy I could be what I wanted to be, and that’s a housewife. It’s so rewarding and it’s the hardest job there is.
“You’re never done. But I like to do that kind of thing.”
She’s eased up on herself a little. When her kids were growing up, the house was always immaculate.
“Now it’s just ‘happy clean,’” she said.
As busy as she is maintaining their five-acre property, she’s never too busy to stay out of the kitchen.
“Thumbs up on the cooking!” she said. “I’d rather cook for a dozen than just one or two. The more the merrier, when it comes to my table. The more people I have to cook for, the better I like it.”
Like a lot of experienced cooks, she doesn’t follow recipes (“They’re all up here,” she said, tapping her temple. “Just like my mom did.”). And she doesn’t measure ingredients.
“It’s a dab of this, a smidgeon of this, a pinch of that. I’ve done so much cooking I can look and tell. And it always turns out. I have a good knack of knowing.”
She’s never really thought about putting out a cookbook, she said.
“But I’ve been told I probably could. I’m that good of a cook. I’m not bragging, but people say I’m the most wonderful cook.”
If she were to make her own cookbook, that might be the only place you’d find a recipe for her macaroni salad.
“It’s my own recipe,” she said. “You will not find it in any cookbook.”
It’s got the usual summer mac salad ingredients: elbow macaroni, sliced eggs, pickles, celery and onion, with mayo-based dressing.
But the salad has those “layers of flavors” cooking shows are always talking about. There are hints and suggestions of other flavors as well.
“I put everything I like in it,” she said. Red and green peppers. Vinegar and pickle juice. Salt, pepper, celery seed and sugar. She mixes mustard in the dressing “to give it a nice yellow color,” she said.
“I add vinegar and pickle juice. That takes it to another level. Then I add sugar to sweeten the vinegar taste. That just about sums up what’s in it.
“It takes a lot of ingredients to make something good. You get the taste of the pickles and celery in the background.
“It’s like building a house. You start with the foundation and then add the little extras. That’s how I cook, really.
“And when it comes to cooking, I don’t spare any cost. I don’t buy anything generic. I get the best brand names. You want it to be good. You have to have quality.”
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 email@example.com.