Union County cook known best for her fried okra, tea cakes

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Aileene Roberts readily admits she didn’t have to cook much growing up in Baldwyn. Her mother went to work in a factory when Roberts was a year old, but her grandmother lived with the family and did most of the meal preparation.
“The summer I was 10 years old was the only time I did any cooking,” she said. “My daddy was a farmer and he’d leave me at home to clean house and cook. I burned up just about every pan Mother had that summer.”
When Roberts married her husband, Ronald, 48 years ago, she couldn’t fix a wide variety of foods. Fortunately, the young newlyweds moved in with his parents for a short time before putting a mobile home next door to them.
“I’d walk over there and ask her how to do things,” said Roberts, 68. “Meats, vegetables, how to season, how to make cornbread. She taught me everything but biscuits. I learned them by trial and error. For two years, Ronald suffered through my biscuits. They’d be too hard or too crispy. Then I had a preacher’s wife show me how to make hers and that’s the way I still make them today.”
Roberts said her husband used to quail hunt quite a bit and every year, they’d have a big quail dinner. It was her job to prepare the biscuits and gravy for the meal.
“Every now and then when I make a particularly good biscuit, Ronald will say, ‘Mmm – that’s quail supper biscuits.’” said Roberts, who has two sons and three grandsons.
The Roberts live in the Alpine community, about a half-mile from where Adam Mayes committed suicide in May after killing a mother and her daughter and kidnapping two others.
“We live in the Alpine community in Union County but our address is Guntown and we have a Saltillo phone number,” she said. “It’s crazy.”
Roberts is retired from East Union School where she was the Career Center director and a bus driver. She was an assistant teacher before that.
More time on her hands means more time to work in her garden. She and Ronald grow peas, watermelons, tomatoes, cantaloupe and okra. She’s famous at church for her fried okra.
“Fried okra and tea cakes,” she said. “That’s all they want me to bring.”
In January 2010, Roberts decided to go on a diet. Her downfall was meat, especially breakfast meats. She followed a Weight Watchers plan and successfully took some weight off.
“And then that August, I completely lost my appetite,” she said. “Food just didn’t taste good to me anymore. I lost 30 pounds and have kept it off. Today, I could live without meat. I could be a vegetarian very easily. That’s how I’ve kept this weight off. But my appetite is gradually coming back.”
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.