The Times West Virginian

November 23, 2011

My Favorite Recipe: Having a ball

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Sioux Pyle Ryan has always liked to cook.

Since she started helping with the grade-school cooks when she was little, sometimes it seems like she’s been doing it her whole life.

“I’ve cooked since I was a little girl,” she said. “My four sisters and three brothers are all real good cooks, too. All of us.”

So it was only natural that she should make her life’s living by making people happy through food.

She worked at the old Buffet Royale as the salad girl. Then she applied to the Marion County Board of Education as a cook. She was one of the lunch ladies at White School for 12 years and then at East Fairmont High School for another 14.

She married Bud Ryan 48 years ago when she was 17 and now has three grown children — David Ryan, Carolyn Priestley and Bobby Ryan — and four grandchildren, Katlyn and Sam Ryan, and Mikey and Gracie Mae Priestley.

“I learned to cook from my mom, Vickie Pyle,” she said. “There were so many of us, we all had to learn to cook. She taught us practically everything we know.”

She got her unusual name from a song popular when she was born.

“It was called ‘Sierra Sioux,’ and my mom loved that song. So they named me ‘Sarah Sioux’ after my dad’s mom. But I never went by ‘Sarah’ in my life. I’ve always been ‘Sioux.’”

Her siblings — Helen, Mary Ann, Ray, Cam, Martha, Mattie and Butch — “are all good cooks, even the boys,” she said. “We just did it. It’s something you did every day. When there are eight kids, you gotta help. Everybody did everything. She got us started 4, 5 years old in the kitchen doing stuff.

“And it seemed like there was always company. Dad (Orville Pyle) was a preacher at Mount Harmony Community Church.”

Lots of kids, lots of company. It sounds like the perfect recipe for instant potatoes or canned soup.

“Oh, no. We did everything from scratch,” Ryan said with a laugh. “Everything was homemade. Everything was fresh. We couldn’t run to the store. If we had store-bought bread, it was because she was sick or something. That’s the way it was back then.

“And we kept everybody fed. That was the main thing. If anybody came to our house, we fed them. That’s how it is here at my house, too. You get fed.”

Her mother was a wonderful cook, she said.

“Oh, my! Her best food? It was all so good. She made really good breads and very, very, very good roast beef. And meat loaf. Funny, but my dad didn’t like chicken or turkey. So for holidays, she’d make turkey with either ham or roast beef. We’d have the best of both worlds.”

The Pyle clan lived on a farm and grew “everything,” she said.

“We even grew popcorn and made homemade root beer and bottled it. We didn’t have pop until years later. We had pigs and cows, and butchered them.”

And they ate country cooking. Cottage pudding cake with chocolate sauce. Waffles. Spice cake. Country butter. Homemade ice cream.

“It was so creamy. We could make any flavor you wanted. We hardly ever had that store-bought stuff.”

So when their pals talked about going to the soda fountain after school, did they feel left out?

“Lands, no,” she said with a laugh.

“I used to help the cooks in the kitchen at Core School when I was in grade school,” she said. “It was fun. I’d help them serve and clean up, and I’d get a glass of milk, a candy bar and a quarter. We thought it was really neat.”

She’s also learned recipes from her mother-in-law, Ida May Walls, such as peanut butter fudge, pepperoni rolls and eggless, milkless and butterless cake.

“It’s my husband’s cake. It is so good. You use flour, sugar, soda, vinegar, water and cocoa. It’s real simple. She’s a real lady.”

When she wants to make the grandkids happy, she’ll make her homemade pizza with peppers, sausage and pepperoni.

The dressing she makes each Thanksgiving, though, is strictly from her mother. And like her mother, “I don’t measure anything,” Ryan said.

“I don’t stuff the bird. Mom used to do it years ago, but they say it’s not good to do that anymore.”

Her favorite holiday is Christmas.

“Everybody’s together, and my sister and I make cookies, and my daughters and I make cookies. It’s a good time to get together and enjoy each other.”

You’d think that after cooking for hungry teenagers for 26 years, the last place she’d want to be is in a kitchen. Guess again.

“Cooking relaxes me. I thoroughly enjoy it. I loved my job but I had to quit because of my knees. It made me sick that I had to quit.

“I wanted to last 30 years, but I only got 26. Still, that’s not too bad. I miss it. I had a ball with the kids and teachers and the good women who worked with me.”

The contest for November is stuffings and dressings, and fudge for December. To be featured on the “My Favorite Recipe” page, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.