COOK OF THE WEEK: Retired teacher cooks ahead so she can enjoy family time

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

When Judy Hester was growing up in Shannon, her mother was a wife and homemaker who kept an immaculate house and yard, sewed for the family and put three meals on the table every day.
“I decided when I got married that’s what I was going to do,” said Hester, 66. “But that’s hard to do when you work outside the home.”
For 28 years, Hester taught kindergarten and first and second grades at Nettleton. Since she retired in 2004, she’s found she has all the time in the world to cook both at her home in Nettleton and at her cabin in Amory at the Nettleton Fox Hunting and Fishing Association.
“I like to plan my meals two weeks out,” said Hester. “My kids refer to it as OCD, but I’m not. I just like to plan it, organize it and execute it. Anybody who knows me knows how organized I am.”
Hester likes to keep casseroles and soups made up in the freezer so she can pull them out at a moment’s notice, and she also has freezers full of vegetables she puts up every summer.
“My daughter always said, ‘My mother cooks fresh from the garden in summer and fresh from the freezer and canning pantry in the winter,’” said Hester, who has two children, Leslie and Britt, and one granddaughter, Finley.
Hester particularly likes to cook at the cabin she and her husband, Glyn, recently renovated.
“When we got married almost 45 years ago, we said we’d never divorce, no matter what, even if we had to live in opposite ends of the house,” Hester said, laughing. “And that’s basically how it is, both here and at home. I have my space and he has his. My space is the kitchen.”
Hester cooks with an eye toward busy mothers, because at the end of the day, if everyone is going out to play, Hester doesn’t want to be chained to the stove – she wants to be right there with them playing games or riding the four-wheeler.
“I know how being a busy mom can be,” she said. “It was easier for me being a teacher, because I had the afternoons off, but I didn’t like that feeling of coming in at 3:30 in the afternoon and saying, ‘What are we going to have for dinner?’”
One day last week, Hester headed to the cabin with three packs of chicken breasts and some vegetables. She boiled chicken and chopped onions, celery and carrots and the next day, she put together four chicken casseroles and three bags of chicken soup.
“I try to stay ahead of the game and if you can ever get there, you can have meals at the table any time you want,” she said.
Hester learned a lot about cooking from her late mother, Martha Dale Tate, who would leave Hester in the kitchen to prepare meals while she worked outside in her yard.
It’s a good thing, too.
“Before we married, my husband took me to his mother’s house and said he wanted me to cook for him,” Hester said. “He had me make fried quail, biscuits and gravy, slaw and french fries. I guess I passed.”
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

Click video to hear audio