“They had been in school for about two weeks and they came home and said, ‘You’ve got to go to the school.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, no. What have they done?’ And they said, ‘No, you’ve got to go to the school and cook for us.’”
It seems the trio had become accustomed to Russell’s home-style cooking, and the food prepared in the cafeteria just missed the mark.
Russell and her husband, Ronnie, adopted the kids two years ago from a family member who could no longer take care of them. The children, ages 9, 12, and 13, attend Hickory Flat Attendance Center.
“When they first got here, all they knew was canned vegetables,” said Russell, 59. “I told them they were going to have to get used to fresh, because that’s what we grow in our truck patch garden. Now, they won’t even look at something that comes out of a can, except beans.”
Russell, a Minnesota native, cooks every day for her family, including her 17-year-old son who attends the Mississippi School for Math and Science in Columbus when he’s in town.
“The youngest children’s mother was Guatemalan, so they like Mexican food,” Russell said. “My husband is Southern, so he wants pinto beans, turnip greens and cornbread. And I was brought up on meat and potatoes. So it gets interesting around here.”
Russell prepares a lot of spicy food, like white chicken chili, Mexican pizza, tacos and fajitas. In the summertime, they like to grill hamburgers and shish kabobs.
One chilly day last week, Russell had a pot roast with potatoes and carrots going in the Crock-Pot and eight skinless, boneless chicken breasts baking in the oven.
“On cool days, I like to bake several things in the kitchen,” said the stay-at-home mom, who used to practice nursing. “While I’ve got the oven going, I just throw a bunch of stuff in there.”
Every Christmas, Russell is well-known for the 100-plus loaves of bread she makes.
“I started out making bread to give to Ronnie’s family at Christmas and now it’s just kind of blossomed,” she said. “All our friends get bread now as well as the kids’ teachers and our relatives.”
The Russells moved to Hickory Flat in 2003 after Ronnie retired from the military. His mother, who died last year, lived in Memphis and they came to this area to be closer to her. Since moving here, Russell has become very involved in her community.
She’s the secretary-treasurer for the Hickory Flat PTO, a Cub Scout leader and she’s involved with the American Legion.
“And another woman and I cook for the Hickory Flat United Methodist Church on Wednesday nights,” she said. “We have anywhere between 30 and 40 people, depending on the weather. We make spaghetti alfredo or chili or regular spaghetti – all kid-type food. As long as they’ll eat it, we’ll make 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 e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.