By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
RIPLEY – When Mildred Shackelford was growing up on her parents’ farm in the Chapman community near Ripley, the family didn’t have electricity. No indoor plumbing. No running water.
Instead, they used kerosene lamps and an outhouse. They pumped water by hand from a deep well.
Shackelford learned how to cook on a wood stove. There was no such thing as self-rising flour and self-rising corn meal. Everything was made from scratch.
“It wasn’t like you could just run to the store for a loaf of bread,” said the 86-year-old. “And everything was cooked in lard. We killed our own hogs and rendered the fat. But it sure made some good bread and good pie crusts.”
Shackelford’s mother married at age 15 and didn’t know a thing about cooking. So she didn’t make the same mistake when raising her eight children.
“I started cooking when I was 8 or 10 years old,” said Shackelford. “My mother let us play in the kitchen. She wanted us to learn to cook. I loved to cook and it was necessary.”
When Shackelford’s father was farming, there were no tractors. Just mules and plows.
“Farming was hard work,” she said. “When I was out in that field, I’d say, ‘I’ll never marry a farmer.’ And what did I do? I married a farmer. My grandchildren still laugh about that.”
She and her late husband, Hollis, raised registered Hereford cattle and enough vegetables to keep the family fed.
“I was a farmer’s wife,” she said simply. “I drove tractors and trucks. But married life and farming was a good life. My boys would go to the barn every morning before they went to school to help feed and do things.”
Shackelford, who worked in a riveter factory in Detroit during World War II before marrying, had three sons, four grandchildren and six great-grands. One son and one grandson were killed in tragic automobile-related accidents. So she makes the most of the time she has with the ones who are left.
“If there’s a ball game or a play, I’m right there,” she said. “I want them to know me, to know I care about them. I still drive everywhere I want to go – Corinth, Tupelo, New Albany – except Memphis. My children don’t want me to drive there, so I don’t contrary them.”
Shackelford, who still lives in the home her parents built, has about 100 blueberry bushes she harvests every summer. She lets people come and pick when the berries get ripe or, for a bit more, she’ll pick.
“I put them in Ziploc bags and right into the freezer,” she said. “I don’t even wash them – that makes the skins tough. I don’t spray my bushes with anything, so you can eat them right off the bush. I always have a bag in the freezer and when I want some for my cereal, I just reach in there and grab a handful. I have one great-grandson who calls them ‘cold purples.’ They’re his favorite.”
If you ask Shackelford about her own favorite meal, she’ll gladly rattle off a menu.
“I think I would have fresh peas out of the garden, fried okra, corn, sliced tomatoes and cornbread,” she said. “And something sweet. I don’t feel like I’ve had a meal unless I’ve had a bite of something sweet. Chocolate pie was my husband’s favorite. I bet I made a chocolate pie every week my husband was alive.”
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 e-mail them to email@example.com.