Cook of the Week: Baking and sharing brings joy to Belden transplant

Adam Robison | Daily Journal Karen Massa likes to share sweet treats with family and friends, but her signature carrot cake, which she calls 'Sonny' Carrot Cake, she makes specifically for her son-in-law an grandson in San Antonio.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Karen Massa likes to share sweet treats with family and friends, but her signature carrot cake, which she calls ‘Sonny’ Carrot Cake, she makes specifically for her son-in-law an grandson in San Antonio.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

BELDEN – Karen Massa may be a city girl now, but she didn’t start out that way.

“I was born and raised in a small town in northern Indiana – Bremen, Indiana – and grew up on a 160-acre farm,” she said. “This was back in the day when we drank milk right from the cow. We raised chickens, so we had fresh eggs, beef that had no antibiotics and more vegetables than you can imagine.”

Massa, a mother of two and grandmother of six, learned to cook by observation and osmosis.

“My mother didn’t have time to stop and show me anything,” she said. “Macaroni and cheese was one of the first things I ever made for them when they came out of the fields.”

Massa’s mother always put a big meal on the table on Sundays after church, usually for about 30 people.

“Mom would fry platters of fried chicken and she’d make a big bowl of yeast dough on Saturday,” she said. “On Sunday morning, we’d make clover leaf rolls – pans and pans of them – and while we were in church they would rise. There was a huge platter of them heaped up like a mountain and they would all be gone when dinner was over.”

Massa and her husband, Jerry, moved to Belden from Germantown 15 years ago. In their 38 years of marriage, they have moved 12 times, with stints in Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Florida, New York, Indiana and Tennessee.

“What I really like to do is bake for others,” said Massa, 66. “The joy of baking and giving is the happiness of the people who receive it. Before Jerry retired, I’d send stuff with him to his office and he’d get in the door and round the receptionist’s desk and she’d get on the phone and start calling people and saying, ‘Go to the breakroom. Jerry’s got goodies!’”

Massa was a home economics major in college and taught that subject for a couple of years when they lived in Virginia in the 1980s.

“I stopped because they started phasing it out of schools,” she said.

She did teach sewing and quilting for eight years at Hancock Fabrics in Tupelo, before retiring in 2008. Now, she has more time to cook in the evenings.

Jerry likes to fish every day at Trace State Park and sometimes they’ll have fried catfish, fries and salad for dinner, or maybe hamburgers, baked potatoes and broccoli.

“We eat very simply,” she said. “I don’t try a lot of new recipes with Jerry. He’s not into casseroles. When I do try something new, it’s usually for potlucks or for a neighborhood get together or for a friend.”

One recipe she’s been making for years is a potato dressing that Jerry grew up eating every Thanksgiving. It’s made with grated carrots, onions, turnips and potatoes, bound with eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper, and dotted with butter.

“You have to acquire a taste for it, but it is absolutely delicious,” she said. “So every Thanksgiving, before we go wherever we’re going for the holiday, I make a roasted duck and potato dressing just for the two of us as part of his Lithuanian heritage.”

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.