COOK OF THE WEEK: Pontotoc woman’s cookbooks yield delicious meals

PONTOTOC – Audra Chism didn’t mean to start collecting cookbooks. It just happened.
She’d pick them up at churches and bookstores. Then, when her grandmother died, she got all her cookbooks. One of her brothers went on the Internet and bought her a slew of them from the 1950s.
When one of her dear friends, Jane Riley, downsized her home in Tupelo recently, Chism was given several more, including many by author Julia Child.
“Mrs. Jane, she gives me recipes and recipe books,” said Chism, who cleans houses for a living. “That’s what she usually gives me for Christmas, too.”
In fact, Chism has so many cookbooks – 500 or more by her estimation – that her uncle built her a special five-shelf bookcase for her kitchen.
“But that doesn’t even hold them all,” said the 41-year-old mother of two, Claylee and J.D. “I have them stored in cabinets all over the place.”
But Chism doesn’t just collect cookbooks. She reads them, too, cover to cover.
“My husband will come in the room and say, ‘Hey, what are you reading?’ and I’ll say, ‘Oh, another cookbook.’”
Chism uses these recipe books to create delicious dishes for her family, which includes her husband of almost 16 years, Mark, her parents, Wade and Margaret Stegall, and her church family at Lee Memorial Baptist Church in Pontotoc.
“We have family dinners at the church about twice a month,” she said. “The church is mostly made up of our family or extended family or friends who are like family. We usually have 20 to 25 at dinner.”
Chism also likes to cook for the community, which has been supportive of her family in both good times and bad.
“The people in Pontotoc came together for a benefit for my father when he had cancer,” she said. “So now, whenever there’s a benefit for someone, I try to take a cake or donate what it would cost me to make a cake. They were so good to him.”

Accidental buffet
At home, Chism’s family’s favorite meal is fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, peas or butterbeans and cornbread.
“If I have time, I’ll fry the chicken in a big, cast-iron skillet. If I’m pressed for time, I use my electric skillet. But there’s nothing like chicken fried in a cast-iron skillet with the top on.”
One recent weekend, Chism’s family was treated to a huge meal, but it wasn’t exactly planned.
“The freezer drawer got left open overnight, so we had a big buffet – fried chicken, grilled chicken, shrimp, pizza rolls,” she said, laughing at the memory.
Chism, a 4-H volunteer and chairman of the Relay for Life in Pontotoc County, also likes to make desserts.
“My husband’s favorite dessert is a yellow cake with homemade caramel icing,” she said. “If his friends find out he’s got that, then he has to share 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.

Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal