COOK OF THE WEEK: Dumas woman returns to roots in Northeast Mississippi

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

DUMAS – Vivien Richardson says her first memory of cooking was the year she started school. Her mother was helping her father in the cotton field, and they had left her in charge of the kitchen.
“Mother drew me a picture of a clock and she said that when the real clock looked like the picture, it was time to put the food on to warm,” said Richardson, 71. “Of course, Mother had already cooked the meal. People today wouldn’t dream of letting a child in the kitchen that young. But I was the oldest of four and mother had her hands full, so I learned to do a lot of things myself.”
Richardson was raised in Dumas and, in fact, the brick house she lives in now is just a stone’s throw from the old wooden house she grew up in.
“I can remember sitting on that front porch and watching them run electricity to that pole over there,” she said.
Richardson said she spent a lot of time with her grandparents in her formative years, especially her grandmothers.
“They let me do pretty much as I pleased,” she said. “I’d get in the kitchen with them and cook – I called myself cooking anyway.”
After high school, Richardson moved to Memphis, where she met her husband of 51 years, John A. They would live in Memphis more than 35 years and raise three sons – Creig, Keith and Philip – before moving back home to Dumas in ‘92, ‘93, ‘94 and ‘95.
“It took a while to get everything back down here,” she said, laughing. “We bought this house in 1992. It was built out of materials from the old Pine Grove School. All the wood and even the brick is recycled.”
Richardson said when she and John A. married, she could put a full meal on the table, but she didn’t let on that she knew how to cook.
“My husband had been on his own for years when we married, had his own apartment and everything,” she said. “I didn’t want to rock the boat. I figured if he didn’t know I could cook, I wouldn’t have to, and he was a really good cook. It didn’t take him long to figure it out. Now, he doesn’t cook at all. He says now that he’s got me, he doesn’t have to.”
The three Richardson boys have picked up their parents’ love of cooking. One of them – Philip – asked his mother if she would put together a cookbook of her favorite recipes for him.
“I don’t usually follow a recipe, so I started writing things down as I made them,” she said. “Knowing the other boys, they’ll want one, too. When I get in there cooking something I think I think they’ll like, I open my notebook up and write it down as I go. I probably have 50 recipes so far. I’m hoping to have it done by Christmas.”
Richardson often cooks for the Dumas Quilting Club, of which she has been a member for 20 years. The ladies meat every Monday and Tuesday at the Methodist Church from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a potluck lunch break at noon.
“There are six of us on a regular basis and sometimes eight – as many as we can get around a quilt,” she said. “We quilt for the public. All our money goes to charity. If a house burns, we’ll do a quilt and donate it for a fundraiser. Over the years, there’s no telling how much money we’ve raised and donated. Wherever there’s a need, we try to help.”
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.