COOK OF THE WEEK:Set of cookbooks helps New Albany woman learn to cook in the 1950s

NEW ALBANY – To hear Shelia Robbins tell it, she could barely boil water when she married. Her mother preferred cooking to housekeeping, so Robbins got stuck with the latter.
Soon after she and her husband, Marshall, wed, he joined the Army and the couple was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where she worked as a clerk-stenographer on base.
“I guess I must have hounded everyone I knew about recipes because when I resigned to return to Mississippi, my co-workers gave me a two-volume set of cookbooks, ‘Meta Evan’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking.’ I just did now know how to cook and I was a long way from home.”
It wasn’t long before Robbins was slinging hash like a pro.
“I mastered it pretty fast,” said the 71-year-old mother of three and grandmother of eight. “I guess I had to. I tried to cook enough to have leftovers, but however much I cooked, that’s how much they ate. I couldn’t get ahead.”
Robbins still uses the same cookware – Rena Ware – she bought in 1957 and it has held up remarkably well.
“I bought it when we were in the service,” she said. “We had to pay for it on an installment plan. I can still order handles for it from the company, which I guess is why it’s lasted so long.”

Easter’s coming
When Robbins’ sons were growing up, she cooked what was economical and lots of it. Today she cooks a bit differently since Marshall has been diagnosed with diabetes. She more conscious of starches and sugar.
A typical weeknight meal at her home is chicken stir-fry over rice with a green salad or a pasta dish with salad. If she’s serving a starch, like potatoes, rice or pasta – then she doesn’t serve bread. The exception is cornbread, which she always makes when she’s serving vegetables from the garden.
Ironically, Robbins went through a bread-making stage.
“I got on this sourdough thing one time,” she said. “I didn’t think mine was as good as everybody else’s, but it was good enough that when I took it out of the oven I ate half a loaf. If I cook it and it tastes good, I’ll eat it. I have very little restraint.”
Robbins, who retired from the New Albany school system in 1985, prepares most of her family’s holiday meals. For Easter, she’s planning to serve ham, chicken casserole, green beans, squash casserole, deviled eggs, cole slaw, congealed salad, rolls and a lemon cake.
“When I cook cakes, I serve them to others or give them away,” she confessed. “I can’t keep them here. I’ll nibble on that, too.”

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/Daily Journal