COOK OF THE WEEK: Dry Creek animal lover has gift of satisfying a sweet tooth

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

A visit to Bettye and Robert Walker’s home is like a trip to the pet store.
To even get in the door, you have to make it past a black-and-white sentry cat who lounges on the porch steps. Once you’re in, the noise is almost deafening as you’re greeted by a yellow-naped Amazon parrot, two conures, a pair of lovebirds, a pair of cockatiels, a pair of gray doves, a finch and a 16-year-old canary.
Around a corner, an elderly poodle and a Yorkie with a breathing problem yap for Walker’s attention.
For an animal lover, this is pure heaven.
And it all started several years ago with one cat.
“I had a Himalayan Persian and she shed so much Bobby said we couldn’t keep her, so we got a bird, a cockatiel that has since died,” said Walker, 77. “Then we got the parrot and we’ve just added on since then.”
The menagerie keeps the Walkers company in their home on Lake Mohawk in the Dry Creek community outside Booneville, where Robert is the pastor at Concord Baptist Church.
The big parrot and one of the conures are the talkers in the family. They greet people by name, call the dogs, send visitors away with a “Bye-bye – see you later,” and say, “You got that?” when the phone rings.
All the birds are in a sunroom just off the kitchen, where Walker can be found most days, cooking something to take to church.
“I particularly enjoy doing sweets – cakes and pies and that sort of thing,” she said. “I’m all right with the other things, but they’re not my favorite thing to do.”
Walker, who worked for South Central Bell for 29 years before retiring in 1994, learned a little bit of cooking from her mother, but she learned Southern cooking from her mother-in-law.
“My mother was from New Jersey and they don’t cook vegetables the way they do down here,” she said. “She’d just open a can of green beans and heat them on the stove and that was it. I remember when we first married, I was 17, and somebody gave us some fresh green beans and I put them in a great big pot of water and just had them rolling around.”
Over the years, Walker, who has five children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grands, has found that hands-on teaching is the best approach for her in the kitchen.
“I never have really mastered chicken and dumplings,” she said. “I went to one church member’s house to learn how to make them. Hers turned out fine, but mine didn’t do too good. I went to another lady’s house who made caramel cakes – every time she took one to church, everybody just raved over it. She showed me how to brown the sugar and get the other pot going and then you just beat it and beat it to the right consistency.
“We have some wonderful cooks in this community. I just say, ‘Please let me come watch you.’ They can tell you all day long how to cook something, but it’s not the same as watching them.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.