COOK OF THE WEEK: Retired educator enjoys cooking, gardening, grandchildren

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Beth Williams learned at an early age that old-fashioned country cooking was the key to a man’s heart – at least it was the key to her father’s.
“Daddy was not a casserole person,” she said of her father, John Williams, who died in 2008. “He was meat and potatoes and cornbread. My mother, Marietta, worked, so a lot of afternoons, I’d come home and get dinner started for her.”
Williams (yes, she was a Williams and she married a Williams) still cooks the way she learned to growing up, especially on Wednesday nights, when her two daughters and their families converge on her house to eat before heading to church.
“Whitney and Katie will start calling on Tuesday asking what the menu is going to be,” said Williams, 61. “It can be anything from breakfast for dinner to baked potatoes and salad. Sometimes, we’ll just go buy sub sandwiches and some Happy Meals for the kids if we’re pressed for time.”
A typical pre-church meal might include her black-eyed pea cornbread casserole, corn on the cob, peas, cabbage, mashed potatoes with melted cheese on top and cornbread.
On the nights when it’s just Williams and her husband, Larry, at home, she’s likely to make different choices.
“We started trying to eat healthier in February – really, we’re just making an effort to live healthier,” she said. “We eat fish, shrimp, chicken. Red meat is a treat. We eat a lot of salads. We tried being vegans for about two weeks and I lost seven pounds, but I wasn’t satisfied food-wise.”
Williams, who is known for her sourdough bread and her cookies, said the couple also eats a lot of fruit and have taken to making smoothies with fresh blueberries, strawberries, bananas and maybe a bit of pomegranate juice.
“And I walk twice a day,” she said. “I can tell a difference. I just feel a lot better.”
The Williamses, who now live in west Tupelo, are both career educators. Larry was the principal and then the superintendent at Nettleton, and Williams spent five years as a science teacher and 30 more as a guidance counselor before retiring in 2007.
But their three children – they also have a son, Michael – all went into the medical field. Michael is the head of the physical therapy department at Campbell Clinic in Memphis, Katie is a nurse practitioner in Tupelo and Whitney is a medical technician at North Mississippi Medical Center.
“We couldn’t make a teacher out of any of them,” Williams said, laughing.
When she’s not taking care of one of her eight grandchildren or cooking for her church family at West Main Church of Christ, Williams is likely out in her yard.
“I mow, I do the weed-eating and I take care of the flower beds,” she said. “Larry plows the garden. Last year, we had 70 tomato plants and we had some okra. We’ll plant tomatoes and okra again this year, but not squash. I didn’t have any luck with my squash last year. It seems like they just dried up on the vine.”
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.