SALTILLO – If you’ve ever eaten at the West End Market and Deli on the Lee/Pontotoc county line and wondered who made all those popular desserts, you’ve just found the answer.
Shirley Parker, 74, prepares the sweet treats for her sons, Jack and Bruce, to sell in their store.
“I cook almost all the desserts there – Strawberry, Blueberry and Chocolate Delights – chocolate is their favorite – coconut cakes, pecan pies, sweet potato pies, coconut cream pies, million-dollar pies, sugar-free lemon pies, buttermilk pie, key lime pie, chocolate cheese and strawberry cheese,” said Parker, who lives in Saltillo.
Parker hasn’t always been a good cook or even a dessert maker, for that matter. When she first married, she didn’t know how to cook at all.
“I married at 16 – back then they did that – and moved 750 miles away to Wisconsin,” said Parker. “I’d never cooked because Mother thought it was too much trouble. She didn’t want to have to clean up after me.
“My sister-in-law was at the same place in Wisconsin and we got us a cookbook and learned how to cook. We followed every recipe as it was written, and then we branched out.”
Parker and her family – she had the last of her five children when she was 25 – moved back home to Northeast Mississippi in 1962. She went to work at Riley’s Jewelry Store in downtown Tupelo, but still found time to cook every night for her brood.
And, she found time for bowling.
“When I worked at Riley’s, I did the engraving. We didn’t have computers back then. I did everything by hand,” she said. “The man who owned the bowling alley would bring in plates for me to engrave for the trophies and I got curious about the different things written on the plaques, like the handicap. And he said if I’d come to the bowling alley, he’d teach me how to bowl. I went one Wednesday afternoon and he taught me and I’ve been bowling ever since.”
Parker’s average today is 146, although she said when she was younger, her average was much higher, like 165.
“You get old and you can’t throw the ball as hard,” she said, laughing.
Because Parker stays busy preparing desserts for the West End store, she cooks for herself only two to three times a week. But her children and their families get to enjoy her cooking about one Sunday night a month.
They like it when she fixes lasagna with a salad and bread, or her baked ham with sweet potatoes and lawn mower salad.
“I don’t have to do it all,” she said. “All the kids pitch in and bring side dishes.”
And if you can’t find Parker cooking or bowling, you’ll likely find her at a card table.
“I play Canasta with the senior citizens at Bel-Air every Tuesday,” she said. “We also eat. We call ourselves ‘The Best Place To Eat in Tupelo.’ One will cook a casserole and one makes salad, and one does bread and one does dessert. We just eat and play and carry on and have a ball.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal