COOK OF THE WEEK: Tupelo woman would rather be in kitchen than anywhere else

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Jane Rather’s dream job is to work in the test kitchen at Southern Living. In the meantime, she’s happy to be cooking for a bunch of kids.
Rather is in charge of preparing lunch two days a week for 95 preschoolers and 22 teachers at First United Methodist Church in Tupelo.
“A friend of mine was doing the cooking for the preschool and when she moved to St. Louis, I asked if I could take her place,” said Rather, who had been teaching in the program. “I’ve been doing that since 2005. I try to do something healthy that the kids will like. We almost always have a meat, vegetable, fruit and bread.”
As part of her ministry, Rather also leads a class for church members she calls “Cooking, Casseroles and Conversation” on the first Tuesday evening of each month.
“I try to do four or five quick and easy recipes with different themes,” said the 58-year-old. “Young mothers is how it started out, but as it’s grown, we have had some grandmothers in there. I guess everybody can use new recipes.”
Some folks in Tupelo may remember Rather – or rather her delicious food – from the four years she worked at the café at Flowerdale Marketplace, which closed its McCullough Boulevard location earlier this year.
“I was responsible for the specials and the quiches at first and then I started helping with it all,” she said. “It was not work for me. I miss seeing all the people there.”
There’s nothing Rather likes more than trying new recipes. In fact, she cooks every day and typically prepares three totally new menus every week.
“My family never knows what they’re going to get,” she said. One night last week, they had maple-glazed pork tenderloin, a medley of roasted apples, pears and new potatoes, and fresh asparagus.
Her favorite time of day is from 3 to 5 in the afternoons when she’ll turn on the Food Network and watch Ina Garten and Paula Deen cook.
“Sometimes I’ll see something on TV and say, ‘Oh, that would be great for supper tonight,’ so here I go to the grocery store at 5 o’clock and come home and do it,” she said.
As far as cookbooks go, Rather has three she turns to often: “Southern Sideboards” from the Junior League of Jackson; “Key Ingredients” from Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and “A Sterling Collection” from the Junior League of Memphis.
“I especially go to the older cookbooks for the standard dishes,” she said.
Rather and her husband, David, have two daughters, Alexis, an assistant women’s golf coach at Louisiana State University, and Kate, a kindergarten teacher at Saltillo.
“I don’t have grandkids yet, but I do have a granddog, Baxter the Basset Hound, who belongs to Kate,” she said.
Rather said she has two favorite foods: chicken salad and chicken and dressing.
“Everywhere I go I have to try the chicken salad if it’s offered,” she said. “And chicken and dressing is my favorite meal. I craved that when I was pregnant with Alexis. There’s no telling how many pans my mom and David’s mom made for me back then – and I’m still trying to master 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.