By Ginna Parsons
BOONEVILLE – Lisa Garner Stevens has a very vivid memory of Christmas Eve when she was 13 years old.
After everyone else in her family went to bed, she crept into the kitchen and got down her mother’s cookbooks. And she came across a recipe for homemade caramels.
“We had this open den/kitchen area and I watched ‘White Christmas’ on TV for the first time and made caramels for the first time,” said Stevens, 49. “They turned out beautifully and I still make them from that exact recipe. It’s not Christmas unless we have ‘White Christmas’ and homemade caramels.”
Of course, along the way she’s learned to make other things. She cooks four to five times a week for herself and her 16-year-old daughter, Lainey, a junior at Booneville High School. Her 20-year-old, Leah, is a senior at Mississippi State University.
And on Sundays, her mother, Dot Garner, joins the family for a big lunch that might include fried chicken, mashed potatoes, purple-hull peas, slaw, fried okra, corn, sliced tomatoes, cornbread, a dessert from Dot – and pickles, always pickles.
In the summer, Stevens travels every week to Atlanta to help her twin nieces, Liz and Elise Garner, can pickles for their specialty food company, garnergirls. They specialize in MawMaw Dot’s Sweet Pickles and Habanero Sweet Pickles; both are available in gift shops in Northeast Mississippi.
“I bet I have put up thousands of pickles this summer,” Stevens said.
Her work schedule allows her this luxury – she teaches sociology at Itawamba Community College during the regular school year, but has the summer months off. Before that, she worked as a grant writer for the Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District for 20 years.
“If I had still been at my first job, I couldn’t have taken summers to make pickles,” she said.
“I believe life is this huge puzzle and everything we do is interconnected. I don’t know if we see it now, but I do think if we live long enough, we’ll see how it all fits together.”
Stevens likes to cook so much, she rarely eats out, but when she does, it’s usually on Friday nights.
“Because there’s nothing I like better on Saturdays than to stay home and clean house and cook,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite things to do. I love to stay home. It’s like a haven.”
Stevens actually has a bachelor’s degree in home economics from Blue Mountain College.
“I didn’t want to go to college, but my dad made me, so I decided if I had to have that piece of paper then I wanted it to be fun, and cooking was fun,” she said. “Later, I went back to school and got my master’s in sociology. I thought about going back and getting my Ph.D., but I think I’d rather make pickles.”
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.