Robert Clark loves to build and bake.
The results of his enthusiasm for building are evident at his family home on Southside Road in Elizabethton. He started with a basic, square house and has added three self-contained apartments onto the original dwelling.
“I had no plans to do that,” he said.
The home was the one built by his parents, the late Ethel and Paul Clark.
His father died in 1971 at age 51. His mother worked as Deputy Clerk and Master under Charlotte McKeehan until her retirement.
When his mother got ill, Clark helped care for her until she passed away about two years ago. He even modified a section of the home to give her more privacy in her room.
Clark is the brother of David Clark, a minister at Boones Creek Christian Church, and the late Dr. Kenneth Clark.
He said his enthusiasm for cooking is probably an inherited trait.
“I’ve baked since I was a kid,” Clark said. “My dad cooked a lot, and so did my mom. Everyone in the family cooks.”
He also has seven aunts on both the maternal and paternal sides of his family and reports that they are all good cooks.
His aunt, Mary Manning, makes biscotti that has won acclaim from many people in Elizabethton, including Leta Hale, owner of Leta’s Specialty Shop in downtown Elizabethton.
“Leta says it is the very best,” Clark added.
He also has a nephew, Matt Clark, who works as a chef at Gourmet and Company in Johnson City.
His grandmother, the late Verna Bingham, was also once a featured cook in the pages of the Elizabethton STAR. The article featuring Bingham appeared on Thursday, Feb. 5, 1959, in the newspaper. He has retained a tearsheet featuring the article as a cherished keepsake.
Baking, he explained, is something that has always held his interest. “I love pastries,” he added.
Clark is well known for his Sourdough Bread.
“My aunt, Dorothy Pearson, has used the same sourdough mixture for 30 years,” Clark explained. “She gave me a starter and the recipe.”
He said she also gave the starter and recipe for sourdough bread to Luther McKeehan.
Clark said he usually bakes 24 to 48 loaves of bread each week. Most of the bread he gives away to neighbors and fellow church members.
Clark taught driver’s safety in other countries with a company out of Arlington, Texas. He worked for about 25 years at that job, which saw him travel extensively to such countries as South Africa, Kenya, India and Malaysia. He taught students of varied faiths, including Muslims in Malaysia and Hindus in India.
In addition, he has participated in missionary trips to such countries as Ethiopia, Uganda, Haiti and India.
Clark retired three years ago, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t stay busy.
He attends Southside Christian Church where once a month he cooks a meal at the church.
When he suggested the monthly meal, only one stipulation was presented to his proposal. “I was told not to ask the women to help,” he said. “They’re always working, so we wanted to give them a break.”
The monthly meals usually feature a meat accompanied by a couple of vegetables. The July meal will offer burgers, hot dogs, baked beans and other foods suitable for a Fourth of July celebration.
Clark also prepares all the desserts for the Christmas dinner at the church. “I make enough to feed 125 to 140 people,” he noted.
He also bakes on behalf of various benefits. He recently prepared desserts for the benefit “Lunch Date with Ricky Skaggs and The Whites” held at the Daily Bread Restaurant in Jonesborough. Proceeds from the lunch benefitted the Jonesborough Area Ministerial Association Pantry.
Of the cakes he bakes, Clark said his Black Walnut Cake is a popular favorite. “People like it the most,” he said.
Clark added that one of his Black Walnut Cakes once fetched $55 at a benefit auction — and the winner had been prepared to bid even higher.
“My aunt Mary, who is in her 80s, will crack out 40 quarts of black walnuts for this cake,” Clark said. “We freeze the walnuts until we need them.”
When it comes to an easy-to-bake item, however, Clark said nothing beats sourdough bread.
“It’s the easiest bread in the world to make,” he said, even providing a demonstration during the interview for this article.
Clark said he is willing to share his sourdough recipe as well as a bit of starter.
He is sharing his mother’s recipe for chocolate cake.
“I don’t know where she got the recipe, but this is the cake that mom made for every church function,” Clark said.
The cake is also a favorite of many members of his family.
He said his nephew, Paul Clark, who works as a missionary in Haiti, always asks for the cake when he comes home for a visit.
Mom’s Chocolate Cake
3 eggs, separated (room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/3 cup oil, such as Canola
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 360°F. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.
Beat egg whites with 1/2 cup sugar, added slowly as whites are beaten.
In mixing bowl, add flour, soda, salt, sugar and cocoa and mix together. Add 1/3 cup oil and 1/2 cup buttermilk and mix well. Add remaining 1/2 cup buttermilk, 3 egg yolks and vanilla and beat well.
Fold in beaten egg whites until combined.
Pour in pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until done.
1 pound powdered sugar
5 to 7 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 to 4 tablespoons cocoa (to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt butter and stir in the cocoa until mixed.
Place powdered sugar in mixing bowl with about 5 tablespoons of milk and mix on slow speed. Add melted butter and cocoa and mix well. Add vanilla. Add more milk, a little at a time, until mixture reaches spreading consistency.
Note: This recipe ices the top of the cake if the cake is left in the pan. If the cake is turned out on a cakeboard and the sides need icing, you may want to increase this recipe by one half.
This week’s column was written by Bryan Stevens, assistant editor of the Elizabethton STAR.
To submit your own recipes or suggest a person for “Chef’s Corner,” email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 297-9077.