Dorothy Graham learned to cook early on

Published 11:42 am Thursday, April 11, 2019

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Bless Your Spoon

By Stephanie Williams Dean


Anyone who’s had a conversation with Dorothy Graham knows she’s the kind of woman who can do anything she sets her mind to do – and do it well.

As a child, Dorothy grew up on a farm. Although her family had mostly beef cattle, they kept a few dairy cows to have fresh milk for use at the house. One of the few things she didn’t learn on the farm was how to milk a cow. But she had one sister, Ruth, who did. Ruth’s job was to milk the cow while Dorothy was left in the kitchen to prepare a meal.

“I guess that’s where I got my start. My grandmother was a good cook, my mother was a good cook, and she taught us how to cook. My grandmother was known to go into the kitchen, turn around a few times, and her meal was ready.”

The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree – Dorothy picked that trick up from her. It doesn’t take her all day to get a meal together – she can turn one out in no time.

Learning to cook often begins at home in the family kitchen, and preparing meals is where it all started for her. “Most of my cooking was done with my mom. My mother’s cooking was good southern food. I learned just being in the kitchen with her and observing.”

During Dorothy’s early years, from the time she was 2 years old and until she was 5, she lived with her grandparents while her parents worked in New York. Her parents came home and bought a farm. She was born in the house on the property they purchased after returning. Dorothy and her family would visit her grandparents who had a farm about a mile from where her family lived. Her grandparents grew corn and cotton but had no big dairy production.

“We all worked together on the farm, pulling corn and picking cotton. I saw a lot, and I learned a lot.”

The family only had one milk cow, but they always had the milk and butter they needed. And they never ate pork or raised pigs but enjoyed beef, chicken and fish.

Dorothy’s dad learned how to take beef ham from the cow and cure it, so they often had that with gravy for breakfast. The other parts of the cow, he’d take to a meat processing plant where it was packaged into cooking meats.

“We had a meat cow we’d kill each year and freeze. My mom would make meatballs out of the ground beef, and she canned it,” Dorothy shared.

Her parents also had a big garden, and her mom canned and dried apples from a couple of apple trees on the property. Dorothy’s grandparent’s farm joined her parent’s farm, and they lived off the land.

“Back then, we grew everything that we ate. And if we didn’t grow it, we bought it locally from the grocer,” she said.

All the vegetables were provided from their garden – they grew corn, green beans, and turnip greens – and raised chicken and turkeys for meat.

“Back when I was growing up, we also grew potatoes, both sweet and white, and we could keep them all through the winter. That supplied us with food. Blackberry vines grew wild, and we got enough blackberries off our farm growing up to can them. We made blackberry pies, cobblers, and jam.”

Dorothy and her husband still grow a turnip green patch. Her husband, Nelson, enjoys gardening and loves beets pickled, so he grows beets along with green beans, greens, and turnips from the greens – which grow underground – and he tries to have a row of okra growing along with a little corn sometimes. Having some things they both enjoy has been good for the marriage. The couple has been married for 45 years.

As far as her cooking, Dorothy readily admits to taking a recipe out of a book and then making substitutions, so it ends up tasting like she wants it to taste – as most good cooks do.  She might add a spice or leave it out. The recipe may call for cream of chicken soup, but instead, she uses cream of celery soup.

While Dorothy still enjoys cooking good basic food, she’s not too much on spicy dishes but does prepare her favorite chili recipe which has a bit of spice. Once really good at making desserts, she doesn’t do much baking anymore as there’s not enough time in the day.

“What I really loved to bake were fruit pies, peach, apple, cherry, and strawberry and – oh yes the pound cakes. We had pear trees on our farm and made pear preserves.”

Still putting in a full day of work each day, Dorothy’s favorite meal to prepare is dinner when she returns home. Her cooking and eating styles have changed over the years. Cooking mostly with olive oil, she now prefers to eat healthily but occasionally uses some butter.  She learned to cook foods the traditional southern way using corn oil but doesn’t use it anymore. She’s also moved from regular salt to using pink salt. With organic foods being more readily available, she tries to buy organic as much as possible.

While Dorothy once baked biscuits every morning for her husband before he’d go to work, she stopped after he was told to stop eating bread for better health. To this day, he eats very little, and when she stopped eating bread, she discovered her weight stayed under control.

“I cook ground turkey now instead of ground beef because I think it’s healthier. We’ll have fish – I like Alaskan white fish. We eat more chicken than anything else, but there’s one thing I do not do is fry fish or chicken. I used to but not anymore.”

Dorothy’s eggs are so good that her granddaughter, Gracie, often asks her to scramble some up in pure butter in a skillet.

“One thing I learned was how to make good scrambled eggs. I learned that if you put about a tablespoon of water per egg when you break the eggs in a bowl, add salt and pepper, and whip them really good, it makes eggs light and fluffy – the water does.”

It appears that even her granddaughter, who is 10, might be following in the footsteps of all the good cooks who came before her. Gracie’s mom has taught her how to make the family’s baked chicken recipe.  With so many good cooks in the family, it’s interesting that neither of Dorothy’s daughters, Regina or Angela, wants to accept the honor of being a good cook.

Dorothy gives all the credit to her mom for her skills in the kitchen. When Dorothy was growing up, there were times she had to have a meal ready – maybe not the complete meal but parts of it. Her mother, who loved to cook, was hired to be the private cook for a very well- to- do married couple who lived in New York. Her dad had brothers living up there, too, and they helped her mother find that job. Her father and mother made for a reliable team, so her father was hired as the butler. Dorothy’s dad chauffeured the boss man, taking him to work every day and picking him up every evening. His boss lived out on Long Island but worked in downtown Manhattan. Her dad was always dressed as a butler while her momma did the cooking in the kitchen. The couple worked up there for about five years before returning to Mocksville – happy that they were financially able to buy their farm.

While making some good memories, her parents learned a lot about cooking and serving and then came home to put what they’d learned to use.

Sitting down with her family at the dinner table is one of Dorothy’s favorite moments. To this day, they still eat together about three times a week. She enjoys seeing her loved ones eating and enjoying the foods that she prepares. All the foods Dorothy cooks are from old recipes, but she’s added a few of her own and from the internet. There’s one family favorite, a vegetable soup recipe that was one of her mom’s, and Dorothy still makes it today.  Her mom learned how to cook a leg of lamb while in New York, so Dorothy enjoys cooking that now, and she enjoys making her mom’s meatloaf. She’s tried numerous times to make her mom’s chicken pie recipe. Her mother made it in a big dishpan – a kind of big round pan used back in the day to wash dishes – but hers was only used for baking her special chicken pie. Over the years, Dorothy’s tried to bake her mom’s recipe, but couldn’t get it to taste like the old recipe.

Recollecting her mother, Dorothy smiled, saying, “Sometimes I don’t think it’s actually the ingredients but the love that went into it. That’s what I think about my mom’s chicken pie.”

But Dorothy still uses her mother’s meatloaf recipe and makes it the same way her mom used to make it –along with her stew beef and baked chicken.

“Cooking my mom’s recipes gives the dish value just     because it was my mom’s – it’s like keeping her alive in some way.”

Dorothy also has a good way to cook the fresh greens from their garden.

“I get the handpicked greens and wash them once. I fill a large pot half full of water to a boil and put the greens down in them for 10 minutes. I add a 1/8 tsp. baking soda which is called parboiling. It foams up and let that mix really good. Let it continue to boil for another 5 minutes. I take the greens out of that put and put in another pot and add water but not totally covered. Add salt, pepper, and a small bit of red pepper with cooking oil, and no meat in it except turkey. Then you bring to a boil and reduce heat for 40 minutes. Just a bit of sugar added. You have to taste and decide what you need to add and greens take more salt than other vegetables.”

Dorothy shared her experience with scarlet fever as a child which left her without a strong grip in her hands and made opening a jar difficult sometimes. She’s also left-handed, which can be challenging as everything she does is backward. She’s found that to be a challenge in the kitchen as it made it harder to teach someone else.

Even up to this day, she sometimes finds herself saying, “I’m left-handed – and this isn’t going to work.”

But for the most part, cooking wasn’t much of a challenge for her – it was, and it wasn’t – because if she decided she was going to cook something, she was going to cook it.

“Whatever I decided I wanted to do, I did – and it usually turned out good. Very few times did I have what they call a flop.”

While Dorothy knows that everything is geared today for quick meal preparation by popping food in the microwave, she believes it’s healthier to cook the original way. Many of the recipes you find on the internet are good ones, but you don’t have to prepare them in the microwave – you can still make it them in a conventional oven.

To those just beginning to cook, Dorothy advises, “Try to cook the foods you love the most.”

If you have some favorite family recipes that you love, that’s an excellent place to start, too.

She also recommends you begin with proper cooking utensils and most importantly a good pot – she uses stainless steel pots. Good pots, pans, and utensils are essential in the kitchen. Dorothy learned this from her uncle who worked in the kitchen, too. He bought the first set of quality pots they owned from a salesman who came and gave a demonstration. When Dorothy got married, she received a good quality set of pots as a wedding gift. That was an investment well worth the cost.

“I don’t use Teflon – as you can chip pieces off – and it gets in your food. The flavor of the food gets in a pot, and you can’t get it out. It transfers to other foods.”

Dorothy acknowledges she’s learned much during the course of her lifetime. And while the farm might have supplied the food necessary for living, her family’s faith provided the sustenance required for a good life.

“We went to church on Saturday and rested on Sundays. On Sunday, we often visited other churches. We participated in church events by taking food.”

Her entire family has been members of Clement Grove Church of God where, for the last 40 years, she’s been cooking at church – but says she’s ready to let some other folks take over.

Dorothy’s worked in the funeral business for 62 years.  She opened Graham Funeral Home in Mocksville 22 years ago after working for another funeral home for 40 years.

In the Bible when Paul spoke of death, he said, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)

The Bible promises every believer that at this glorious moment, the holy angels will escort us into the presence of our Savior.

“Have you ever seen an angel?” I asked Dorothy.

“Well, the Bible speaks of angels, and I believe the Bible. I’ve never seen an angel, but I’ve seen people who I thought were angels. Through a person’s behavior, I’ve seen angelic actions.”

Sometimes I wonder what we’ll be doing when we get to heaven, so I asked Dorothy, “Do you think you’ll be cooking in heaven?”

“You know, we might not be eating in heaven, so I don’t think I’ll be cooking when I get there. We don’t know, but sometimes I think its best not to try to know all the answers.”

Now, that’s smart.

So we’ll continue to learn what we can, live by faith, and hopefully, be ready when the time comes.

Dorothy shared her favorite family recipes – each one equally unique, uncomplicated, and as delicious as the other.


2 ½ lb. ground beef

1 cup apple sauce

2 Tbsp. sage

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1 Tbsp. onion salt

1 ½ Tbsp. bread crumbs

1/3 cup ketchup

¼ cup water

Mix well and shape in a 9 x 12 casserole dish. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 35-40 minutes. I spread Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce on top.


½ lb. lean stew beef

2 quarts of water

2 quarts V-8 juice

20 oz. chopped tomatoes

2 lb. frozen soup mixed vegetables

28 oz. vegetarian beans

15 oz. Bush’s Best black-eyed peas

2 medium, diced white potatoes

1 chopped onion

1 cup macaroni noodles

Cook meat in extra large pot with water. Add all ingredients except macaroni. Cook on a low boil for one hour. Add 1 cup of macaroni noodles. Stir often, so the noodles do not stick on the bottom of the pot.


14.75 oz. can Royal Pink salmon

2 beaten eggs

1/8 tsp. black pepper

Dash of garlic powder

¼ cup olive oil

1 Tbsp. bread crumbs

Debone and mash salmon. Mix well and bake in a greased 8 x 8 casserole in a 375-degree oven until lightly browned.


Chicken pieces

Olive oil

Season All

Buy your favorite chicken parts. Wash and pat dry. Oil both sides of chicken and place in pan or casserole dish. Season all over with Season All. Bake in a 350-degree oven for one hour.


1 lb. ground chuck

12 oz. spaghetti

28 oz. tomato puree

1 cup large, chopped green peppers

1 cup chopped onion

2 Tbsp. oregano

1 ½ Tbsp. butter

1 can cream of celery soup

¼ cup of water

3-4 cups cheddar cheese

Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste.

In a large skillet, brown beef. Remove beef and drain. Melt the butter and saute the peppers and onions until tender. Add the beef, tomato puree, and oregano to the peppers and onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir until mixture comes to a boil. Let simmer on low for 10 minutes. Break spaghetti in 3-4 inch pieces and cook according to box instruction. Completely drain the water off.

Grease a 13 x 9 x 2 casserole pan. Spread a thin layer of spaghetti on the bottom of the pan and then spread half of the mixture on top of spaghetti layer. Sprinkle 1 to 1 ½ cup of cheese on top of the mixture. Repeat each layer. Sprinkle top with parmesan cheese. Mix ¼ cup of water and the can of celery soup and stir until lumps are gone. Spread on top of the casserole. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.


2 cups persimmon pulp

3 beaten eggs

1 ¾ cup whole milk

1 ½ cup sugar

3 Tbsp. melted salted butter

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. soda

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. nutmeg

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

In a mixer, combine pulp, eggs, and milk. Sift in dry ingredients. Mix well and add butter. Pour into a greased pan, and bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour.


1 cup milk

1/3 cup solid vegetable shortening

9 Tbsp. sugar

2 tsp. salt

1 pkg. yeast

3 Tbsp. sugar

1 cup lukewarm water

2 cups all-purpose flour, maybe less

1 slightly beaten egg

Bring milk to a boil. Remove from heat and add shortening, sugar, and salt. Let cool to lukewarm. Put yeast with 3 Tbsp. sugar in warm water. Let stand while preparing other ingredients. When milk is cool, pour in mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Add yeast mixture and then the egg. Continue mixing, and add enough flour to make a soft dough that can be handled. Place on board or cloth and knead until smooth. Place in a bowl or pot large enough for it to rise, and double in size. Place in a warm place for about 2 hours. Take it out and place on a floured board and work down. Shape rolls and place on baking pan. Let rise again in warm place until it doubles in size. Bake until golden brown in a 400-degree oven.


3 sticks of butter or margarine

8 Tbsp. confectioners sugar

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 tsp. water

4 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups chopped pecans

In a mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add other ingredients. Mix well. Pinch off bite-size pieces, roll into balls, roll out and cut, or press finger lengths out of a cookie press, and place on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 300-degree oven for 40 minutes.