COOK OF THE WEEK: ‘Mother Hen’ keeps family, friends and co-workers satisfied, organized

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – When Connie Kelly was a young girl, her cooking skills earned her the nickname “Mother Hen” from her younger sisters and brother.
“We lived across the road from my grandmother who made sure we were fed and she’d see after us and referee our fights,” said Kelly, 54. “When I was 11 years old, I told Mama I’d keep the kids and feed them and she could save the money she was paying my grandmother. Money was not as plentiful as it is now, so she agreed.”
Every day, Kelly opened up cans of soup and fed her siblings.
“After a week of soup, I knew I had to learn how to cook,” she said. “So I’d go up to my grandmother’s house and ask her how to fix different things. She taught me how to make cornbread, how to cook peas, how to make fried potatoes.”
To this day, her siblings still refer to Kelly as their mother hen.
“If there’s something wrong in their lives, I’m the first one they call,” she said.
Kelly’s co-workers at Master-Bilt in New Albany also find the name fitting.
“Up here, I’m the one that gets the menus together for potlucks and holidays. We have a snack day once a month for employees who have birthdays that month and I organize that, too,” she said.
In January 2009, Kelly even organized a Diet Club at her workplace. The first year, 12 women participated. This past January, two male co-workers joined the group.
“We do 12 weeks at a time,” Kelly explained. “Everybody pays $2.50 a week. Fifty cents from each person goes to the person who lost the most weight that week. The other $2 we put in a pot and at the end of the 12 weeks, the top three losers percentage-wise share the money.”
The Diet Club is currently in its fourth 12-week session (members took breaks between sessions for vacations and holidays).
“Some of us have really done good,” Kelly said. “Some have lost a lot of weight, some have maintained their weight and a few of us have put on a few pounds.”
Kelly lost 23 pounds the first session, eight the second and two the third. She thinks she may have gained a couple of pounds this session, thanks to a cruise to Mexico that she and her husband, Billy, just returned from.
“I tell the other members we’ve got to keep trying, because if we don’t, we’re just going to keep getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “The Diet Club is the best thing I’ve done in a long time as far as weight control.”

Unusual recipes
Kelly, a switchboard sales clerk at Master-Bilt, calls herself a jack of all trades and master of none. In her career, she’s worked in human resources, as a switchboard operator, as a payroll clerk and as a time-keeper.
But the job she likes best is the one that doesn’t pay: cooking for others.
“I used to cook a lot when the kids were home,” she said. She and Billy share five children and 13 grandchildren.
“Then I cooked every Sunday. The deal was you come to church and then you get to come to Mama’s house and eat,” she said. “We kept a lot of them in church that way.”
Kelly likes to collect recipes and the more unusual they are, the more she likes them. A while back, she found a Paula Deen recipe for Green Tomato Cake.
“I thought, ‘I have never in my life heard of such,’” she said. “But we had a garden, so we had green tomatoes and I tried it. It was absolutely wonderful. It reminds me of a fresh apple cake. Don’t let the name keep you from trying it.”

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 ginna.parsons@djournal.com.