By Ginna Parsons
TUPELO – Eric Watkins remembers the exact moment he decided he was going to start preparing his own meals. He had graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in accounting and taken a job in Water Valley.
“I was on my own for the first time and I had bought a TV dinner to eat,” he said. “I took it out of the oven and there was this glob of meat in grease and the potatoes were still frozen. I decided right then I was going to learn to cook.”
The first two Bell’s Best cookbooks were his first purchases and he just about wore them out.
“They’ve seen better days,” he said. “I got my lasagna recipe from one of them. That’s a Saturday afternoon kind of recipe. It takes a while.”
Watkins, 56, soon moved to Tupelo and hooked up with a group of friends who liked to water ski.
“We’d come in from the water and have cookouts,” he said. “My specialty was marinated pork chops that I’d grill. That’s when I really started cooking. I didn’t start baking, though, until I became a single father.”
Watkins, who was born and raised near West Point, has two sons: 25-year-old Drew, who lives in Inverness, and 12-year-old Cayson, a seventh-grader at Tupelo Middle School.
Everything Watkins makes is from scratch and he even shuns cake mixes.
“No one is more amazed at how things I make turn out than I am,” he said. “I made a sour cream pound cake once and my friend said, ‘This tastes just like my mom’s.’ To me, that’s the ultimate compliment.”
Watkins’ parents, William and Dorothy, still live in Clay County, in a wide spot in the road called Griffith. The dining table at their home is the same one his grandparents set up housekeeping with.
“You couldn’t put enough people around that table for my grandmother, even if you had to pull up chairs,” he said. “When you sat at her table, you were family.”
Today, Watkins cooks weeknight meals when Cayson is there, but mostly he cooks for the folks at his church, Lee Acres Church of Christ, and for friends.
“I started cooking for fellowship meals at church because I didn’t want to be the guy who had to take paper plates and napkins every time,” he said. “There’s 10 or 12 in my small group at church and I like to cook for them, too. I’m usually the dessert provider. I call the small group my guinea pigs because they’re the ones I try stuff out on and they know that.”
Watkins tries new recipes about once a month, but when he uses an old one that’s tried and true, it’s like a walk down memory lane.
“Certain things I cook I associate with the people who made them or the people who enjoyed them,” he said. “When I make something and someone else enjoys it – that’s what makes cooking worth it to me.”
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 email@example.com.