Mrs. Georgia finalists wrote timeless recipes
By Sylvia Cooper| Columnist
Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and time to take a break from politics where you often hear, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

This week, we'll go into the kitchen with some fabulous Augusta women who have stood the heat of the kitchen as well as the test of time. I'm talking about the finalists in the Mrs. Georgia contests from the mid-'60s, when the way to a man's heart was through his stomach and a stitch in time saved nine.

Last week, I asked, "If you know what a spider is, does that make you an antique?" which prompted Anne Burdett, "a recovering cookbook collector" to say she knew about spiders, that her mother had had several of the footed frying pans used by their ancestors stored in a barn in her hometown in North Carolina. Ms. Burdett also came to The Chronicle and dropped off the 1964, '65 and '66 Mrs. Georgia recipe books. Each has 15 finalists and the recipes for the dishes they cooked for the judges as part of the contest, along with their handwritten comments.

In 1964, Mrs. Kenneth W. "Nancy" Carrington was Mrs. Augusta. I could not locate her, but her recipe was Veal Parmigiana with Tomato Rice, about which she wrote: "This is my husband's favorite! We use it often when entertaining. My better half, a terrific cook in his own right, found it in the newspaper."

A finalist that year was Mrs. Hubert W. "Eleanor" Duffie, who wrote that when you served her chicken salad "you'd better be ready to pass out the recipe to everyone who tastes."

Mrs. Duffie died three years ago of Alzheimer's disease, according to one of her daughters, Gail Stebbins.

"She was a great lady, a great cook, and she was extraordinarily artistic," Mrs. Stebbins said. "Many people in Augusta still remember her food and floral arrangements. She was quite innovative. She'd take a recipe and tweak it and make it her own."

Another finalist in the Mrs. Georgia contest in 1964 was Mrs. Chester B. "Helen" Kanavage, who did so well in the Augusta competition she went on to compete for the top title in Atlanta and finished in the top seven.

"We had to come out in our bathing suits, one piece, of course," she said. "And we had to wear an evening gown and also a church dress. I wore a suit and hat."

She said the competition, sponsored by the Atlanta Gas Light Co., was a big deal.

Her recipe was pound cake, about which she wrote, "It's so simple and easy to bake, and happens to be my family's favorite cake."

Mrs. Kanavage's husband, Chester, a general surgeon in Augusta, died five years ago, shortly after celebrating his 75th birthday and just shy of their 55th anniversary.

"The last thing he said to me was, 'I adore you,' " she said. "I have that in my heart always."

1964 finalist Mrs. W.E. "Lorine" Williams died this year in March at the age of 92. She was a former Cotton Queen and the oldest charter member of the St. James United Methodist Church in Augusta.

Her recipe for the contest was country buttermilk fried chicken, about which she wrote: "A friend gave me this recipe years ago. I call it country buttermilk fried chicken as it originated in the country."

In 1965 there were five finalists from Augusta. I could not locate Mrs. Robert P. "Pat" Shearer or Mrs. Walter "Lou" McCroba. Mrs. William E. "Ginger" Johnson III did not return a telephone message, although she still lives in Augusta, as does Mrs. Paul H. "Judy" Snyder, a 76-year-old widow.

Mrs. Snyder's recipe was for baked yellow squash, which she described as "easy to fix, pretty to serve and good to eat."

Mrs. Snyder's mother, Sallie McFarlane, was a caterer and wrote food articles for The Augusta Chronicle under the pen name of Cordelia Rhodes during the 1940s, '50s and "maybe even the '60s."

During World War II, Mrs. McFarlane baked and canned cakes to send to the soldiers for 85 cents and a cup of sugar. She also compiled a newspaper insert on cooking without sugar, using recipes submitted by readers, Mrs. Snyder said.

1965 FINALIST Mrs. Robert J. "Roslyn" Jacobson is now 76 and living in Bluffton, S.C. Her recipe was Chicken Stafatho, a Greek dish she described as "easy enough to prepare often for family -- and festive enough to serve for company."

She recalls the competition as a two- to three-day event, during which they cooked a main dish and dessert and showed examples of their sewing skills.

"I made a cheesecake, and I had made a white lined wool cape and some knitted things to show the judges," she said. "They stressed cooking, sewing, homemaking and beauty."

Mrs. Jacobson said she always wanted to be a nurse. So when her youngest child entered high school, she went back to school and earned her LPN diploma in 1988. She worked in a dermatology office and nursing homes.

"I loved working in nursing homes because it takes so little to make the people there happy," she said. "I stopped working last year because I found out by accident I had incurable lung cancer, and I never smoked a cigarette in my life."

In 1966, Mrs. Wilfred Lee "Bobbie" Inglett won the Mrs. Augusta title and competed for the state title in Atlanta, where contestants showed their homemaking skills. Her recipe was Beef Stroganoff, about which she wrote, "I like to serve it for an informal buffet."

Although she worked as a bank teller and did other part-time jobs, Mrs. Inglett's main focus was always homemaking.

"I truly was a homemaker, and I loved it," she said. "I was active in the garden club, and I am an accredited flower show judge. Back then, that's what we did. I sewed and made prom dresses and whatever we needed to do. I don't do it anymore, but I still enjoy cooking."

Mrs. Inglett is now 74 and lives in Modoc, S.C., on Thurmond Lake.

There were also four finalists in 1966, three of whom I could not locate. They were Mrs. William S. "Jo Ann" Smith; Mrs. B.B. "Caroline" Mullis; and Mrs. Roy "Josie" Fulcher. Finalist Mrs. William A. "Leona" Schweitzer, 78, still lives in Augusta, but it has been years since she cooked the Spaghetti Oven Dinner she described as economical, as well as making for "a festive dinner party with wine and candles."

"We had four children to feed, and we didn't have much money, so it went a long way," she said.

When asked about the contest, she said, "I feel like it was a hundred years ago."

FOREVER YOUNG. I've told you before about my sister Pat, who loves Elvis and Santa Claus, in that order. When Mama and Daddy were still alive, Daddy would take her to the Tifton Mall, and she and Santa Claus would see each other and run to meet and hug in the middle of the mall to everybody's delight but Mama's. She said it was embarrassing for a grown woman to be talking about Santa Claus all the time, but that didn't dampen Pat's enthusiasm one little bit.

This year, as in every other year, right after her birthday in September, she starts talking about Christmas.

The September birthday situation starts somewhere around the end of July. Most of the time, it will start with an innocent question about whether I've gotten my latest Elvis catalog, followed by a question about whether I've seen the Elvis watch or the Elvis lamp or the Elvis set of coffee mugs, which, of course, I have not. This is always followed by her saying that the watch, lamp or coffee mugs cost too much money and that she doesn't want whichever one it is she has picked out.

"No, no," she'll say. "That's too expensive. I don't want it. I don't want it," to which I always reply, "No, no, it's not. That's what I'm going to get you. It's settled."

And I hang up the phone thinking I've been outsmarted once again by someone everybody says is slow.

Well, when the subject of Christmas came up in early October with the usual question about whether I'd gotten my Elvis catalog, I told her I wasn't ordering anything else from Elvis Enterprises because, first of all, it's way overpriced, and second, they won't send the order to an address different from the credit card holder's.

She said she didn't want anything in the Elvis Christmas catalog anyway. (Truth is, she's already got it all. But oh my Lord, does she know how to lay a guilt trip on you.)

"So what about a gift card you can use to buy something you want at the mall?" I asked.

She said she thought that was a good idea, so we set about deciding which stores were in Tifton and Augusta so I could get the card and send it to her before Christmas. We discussed stores and agreed Penney's is a good store.

So I went to Penney's, bought a gift card and called to tell her I'd mailed it and that she and I would go shopping in Augusta when she comes to visit us in January, to which she said, "I shop at Belk's. I don't shop at Penney's."

Then she asked whether I'd gotten her an Elvis desk calendar.

"I don't remember hearing you say anything about a desk calendar," I said. "But if that's what you want I'll keep the gift card and buy you an Elvis desk calendar."

I'm ashamed to say I took a little perverse pleasure in saying that because I knew she wouldn't fall for it.

So, of course, she got the gift card and an Elvis calendar and a gift basket and ...

See, she really does believe in Santa Claus, and he always delivers.

I just hope your Christmas is as merry as hers always is.

From the Sunday, December 20, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle


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