July 9th , 2012 8:43 am Leave a comment

Chef’s Corner: Grandmothers prepare the best food


My grandmothers excelled at cooking.

Photo Courtesy of Mark Stevens
Bertha Sneyd lived her entire life in Limestone Cove in Unicoi County. She preserved the food she harvested from her garden by canning everything from beans and tomatoes to homemade chow-chow and pickles.

Sure, everyone says their grandmothers were good cooks. It’s as American as “apple pie” to fondly remember those favorite foods prepared by a loving grandmother or, in my case, mamaw.

Photo Courtesy of Mark Stevens
Verna Stevens excelled as a cook and hostess. She prepared bountiful Sunday dinner served family-style in her dining room. She also kept a cake or pie on hand at all times for visitors, such as the preacher or relatives.

My grandmothers were Verna Stevens and Bertha Sneyd. They were both prodigious in putting away food for the winter. They froze produce such as corn. They canned the harvests from their gardens, including green beans, tomatoes, pickles and much more. They learned these skills from their own mothers and grandmothers. They grew up in a time when you raised your own food and preserved it or else you went hungry.

Assisted by my grandfathers, they also tended huge gardens. The harvests each summer were nothing short of remarkable. They raised sweet corn, green beans, shelly beans, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, onions, potatoes and much more.

Their green thumbs extended to flower gardens as well. My Mamaw Stevens raised beautiful dahlias the size of dinner plates that always towered over my head. I still raise dahlias, although I lost the heirloom plants that she dug each fall, storing their tuberous roots in the basement to protect them from harsh winter weather and await the spring planting season. I’m lucky if I can get my dahlias to grow waist high.

It’s funny that my brother, Mark, and I remember some of the same things about the foods prepared by our grandmothers, but he also recalls some things that I no longer remember. Mark and his wife, Amy, reside in the Cajun country of Louisiana. They moved there in March of 2011. Mark reminded me that Mamaw Stevens grew her own dill for use in pickling in a small bed located near Simerly Creek.

Both my grandmothers made great meatloaf. No one in the family has managed to duplicate them. Their meatloaves were often part of the huge spread of food provided at family picnics. My brother admitted he doesn’t remember their meatloaves, but then I am probably more of the meatloaf enthusiast.

“Mamaw Stevens let me help make the Drop Rolls and Mashed Potatoes for Sunday dinners,” Mark noted as we spoke by phone about our grandmothers.

He also reminded me that she served her Sunday meals family-style with each dish contained in its own serving bowl or platter.

They could both bake. I still remember Mamaw Stevens rolling out her own pie dough. She also prepared “Drop Rolls,” which are light, fluffy dinner rolls perfect for serving with just about any family meal. Mamaw Sneyd made huge biscuits for breakfasts and other meals. They made all the favorites — fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, beans and cornbread — that are part of traditional southern Appalachian cooking.

I acquired my fondness for salty and sour tastes fairly early in life. I loved the pickled corn, pickled beans and dill pickles that my grandmothers knew how to can. They both made their own sauerkraut, and my Mamaw Sneyd also made chow-chow and other homemade relishes.

Arthritis and other ailments, including the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, curtailed the ability of my Mamaw Stevens to cook in her later years. My Mamaw Sneyd actively cooked almost her entire life until a hard-fought battle with cancer also prevented her from spending time in the kitchen.

My brother said that Mamaw Sneyd impressed him by trying new foods, such as pizza and Chinese dishes, that Mamaw Stevens would probably have shunned.

“She could also make a grandchild a treat by just mixing peanut butter with vanilla ice cream on a hot day,” Mark said.

Both grandmothers apparently didn’t need written recipes. They kept most of their recipes in their heads. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead and write down any of their recipes. We still have a few recipes from each of them, but it’s not even close to the wealth of good food they knew how to prepare from scratch.

I am sharing their recipes for Drop Rolls and Dill Beans. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have always enjoyed them.


Dill Beans  - By Bertha Sneyd 

6 cups distilled white vinegar

6 cups water

1/2 cup pickling spice

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

Eight small heads of dill

1 teaspoon alum

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 small garlic clove or onion

Use small, tender beans, and arrange them upright in jars.

Mix all ingredients and then bring to a boil.

Ladle mixture into eight pint-sized jars. Leave about a 1/2 inch of space at top. Try to have one head of dill per jar.

Screw lids onto jars and process in a hot water bath for 6 to 10 minutes to seal. Store for at least two weeks before eating.

For larger beans, keep jars in hot water a little longer.


Drop Rolls  - By Verna Stevens 

2 cups self-rising flour

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 cup buttermilk

Mix flour and mayonnaise. Slowly add buttermilk. Add additional milk if more is needed to make batter smooth.

Add batter to lightly greased muffin pan.

Bake in oven at 350 degrees until rolls are lightly brown, usually no more than 5 to 10 minutes.

Note: These are great rolls to serve with meals featuring a big bowl of gravy, such as roast beef, ham or turkey.


This week’s column was written by Bryan Stevens, assistant editor of the Elizabethton STAR.


Would you like to submit a recipe and photo of a departed loved one for the newspaper to feature in an upcoming “Chef’s Corner?” For more information, call 297-9077 or email lifestyles@starhq.com.


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