COOK OF THE WEEK: Okolona woman’s culinary prowess improves with time

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Karen Stewart still remembers the first big fight she and her husband, Bill, ever had.
“He said my cornbread wasn’t as good as his mother’s,” said Stewart, 66. “That was the wrong thing to say when you’re first married.”
Stewart admits that when she was a new bride, she didn’t know much about cooking.
“But after I married, I had to cook,” she said. “I took a bunch of cooking classes at The Gizmo in Tupelo and I started reading cookbooks.”
Stewart is proud to report that after 41 years of marriage, her cornbread has come a long way.
“It finally got better than my mother-in-law’s,” she said.
Stewart, an Aberdeen native, and her husband have lived in Okolona for 40 years. Their home, Evergreen, was built around 1875. They have three grown children – Leslie, Emily and Will – and one granddaughter, Vivian.
“I try out new dishes on family and close friends,” said Stewart, who plays bridge and Bunko. “I probably entertain every two to three months. In fact, I have Bunko here next month and I’m going to do breakfast: muffins, grits, sherried fruit and Indie’s Brunch Casserole.”
Stewart said she used to entertain more and cook more in general, but as she’s gotten older, it’s become harder to be on her feet all day.
“We used to start the day after Thanksgiving making cookies and candies to give to people and we’d cook up until Christmas Day,” she said. “I had little kids then crawling all over everything. I don’t know how we did it. Now, you get to an age when you want a stacked cake and you think, ‘They need to make a living at Sugaree’s Bakery and they do them quite well.’ And you give them a call.”
Stewart recalled a couple of 50th birthday parties she cooked for a number of years ago. At one, she prepared tenderloin and rolls, marinated shrimp, savory cheesecakes and asparagus roll-ups.
“Someone asked me who I had used to cater and I said, ‘Cater? I did all this.’ But I can’t cook for parties like I used to,” she said.
Stewart said her specialties are Southern cooking and party foods. She prepares meals two to three times a week and the rest of the time, she and Bill eat out.
“I’m not a ticky eater,” she said. “I never have been. I don’t like anchovies and sushi, but that’s it.”
Once, she and a friend, Glenda Burns of Okolona, took a sushi cooking class at The Gizmo.
“Well, we tried it and we just looked at each other,” she recalled. “The more I chewed it, the bigger it got in my mouth. It was not going to go down, so it had to come out.”
Stewart said she doesn’t have a favorite meal.
“Right now, my favorite meal is whatever I’m having when I eat out because I didn’t have to cook 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 email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.