By Ann Cipperly
A blue and black ribbon hangs over the mailbox at the home of Ellen and Mark Sistrunk. It has been a difficult year for the Sistrunk family. Their son Justin and his wife Laura lost their first baby, and their other son Webb was one of three Auburn policemen shot last spring. Ellen retired from work she loved, and Mark’s mother, June, left her home to move in with them. While there have been heartbreaks and changes over the year, the Sistrunks are thankful to be together at Christmas.
“This year has put a lot in perspective,” says Ellen. “Between my retirement, losing our grandchild Thaddeus Hale Sistrunk, Webb being shot and my mother-in-law moving in, it has been a long year. Thanksgiving and Christmas are very special this year.
“While Mark and I were watching the Auburn-Alabama game,” Ellen adds, “it seemed so incidental after the year we have had. The Lord has gotten my attention about how merciful He is. Our entire family has grown closer to the Lord because of the losses we faced and the potential losses we could have had. It has really set our focus on the Lord.”
Ellen taught at Trinity Christian School, a classical and Christian academy, for 22 years, with six years teaching music and 16 years as a history teacher in middle school and high school. Her last day of school was May 17.
On Sunday night, May 19, Webb was shot. One of the three officers was killed, and the other two survived. Webb was in the hospital five days. He stayed with his parents for a couple of weeks afterwards to recover. While he was at his parents’ home in Collinwood, the neighborhood placed blue and black bows on all their mailboxes in honor of the injured policeman.
At the end of October, June, who is 89 years old, moved in with Ellen and Mark. While it is always an adjustment to leave the home you have lived in most of your life, June finds it has been easier than she expected. She has her own space downstairs and enjoys a Bible study every day with Ellen.
Ellen grew up in western Alabama in a small town called Eutaw. She went to a small private school and graduated with the same students in her kindergarten class.
Her grandmother and mother both had a love for music and studied music in college. While her grandmother went to a lady’s conservatory to study music in Cincinnati, OH, her mother, who was an only child, had a minor in music from a school at Tulane in New Orleans. The musical family enjoyed singing together.
Ellen’s grandmother did not enjoy cooking, and her mother learned to cook after she was married. One of her mother’s favorite dishes is Husband’s Delight, a recipe from a neighbor when she lived in Massachusetts.
After high school in Eutaw, Ellen attended Auburn University, majoring in political science and pre-law. In her senior year, Ellen did an internship at Judge Mike Nix’s office where Mark’s mother was his secretary. Ellen and June became good friends, and she introduced Ellen to Mark, who was an Auburn policeman.
Since Ellen did not know how to cook, she watched June prepare dishes and asked questions. She is sharing June’s Cornbread Dressing with Chicken and Peanut Brittle recipes.
After Ellen and Mark married, they would switch spending Christmas between her mother’s home in Eutaw and Mark’s mother in Society Hill. June would read Justin and Webb the “Night Before Christmas” before they went to bed.
“We would have Santa gifts,” says Ellen, “but the boys always knew the real reason of Christmas. I would read them the book, ‘Santa’s Favorite Story,’ about Santa telling the story of Jesus.
“When our sons were young, Mark would get up early to see their expressions when they saw their gifts. He would play with them after they opened their toys. He has always been a wonderful father and is close to both boys.”
Mark was a policeman when their sons were young. Then he went to work at Uniroyal for two years. He had an opportunity to buy Ledbetter Wrecker Service. After a while, Mark and a business partner , John Toney, changed the name to Big Blue Towing. He continued to have friends who were policemen.
Justin and Laura live in Jackson, Ga. Webb lives in Opelika and has recovered and returned to work at the Auburn Police Department.
While Webb had to work Thanksgiving, he will probably be off for Christmas. Justin and Laura will visit over the holiday. Mark does a great deal of the cooking and will cook breakfast Christmas morning. The Breakfast Casserole is made the night before and baked Christmas morning. Mark will use Capps sausage in the casserole.
Ellen is also sharing several recipes her mother made at Christmas, including the Charlotte Russe.
“Christmas is going to be a mixed bag,” says Ellen. “Justin and Laura lost a baby at 20 weeks last April that should be here but is not. We are thankful that Webb is alive. It is an odd emotion. I don’t know if I could describe what Christmas will be like because I won’t know until it happens. I trust the Lord because He is the one who has gotten us right here. He has a plan and a purpose.
“Christmas will take a different meaning for me because it showed me how sovereign God is and how good He is,” she adds. “The fact that God would take the human form and come down born as a baby and know that He was going to suffer.
“As a parent I look at my son being shot or my children going through the loss of a baby, and it is heart wrenching and terrible. I cannot imagine what God the Father must have thought when God the Son was being born, knowing He was going to have to grow up and suffer.
“I think Christmas is going to be a mixed bag of things,” Ellen states. “I am thankful without a doubt because of Webb, and hope Justin and Laura will be able to start their family again, so it will be a joyful time for them as well.”
Cipperly can be contacted at email@example.com.
Breakfast Casserole for Christmas morning
Recipe from Joyce M. White
1 lb. sausage (mild or hot, depending)*
3 slices bread, cubed
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 cups milk
Grated cheddar cheese, divided
Fry and drain sausage. Place bread cubes in bottom of 10×13 baking dish sprayed with Pam. Sprinkle sausage over bread cubes. Blend together eggs, salt, mustard and milk. Add part of the cheese. Pour this over the sausage and bread cubes. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. It is better made the night before and refrigerated.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Serves 10-12. Can be frozen ahead of time. Thaw before cooking.
*We use Capps Sausage, which can be purchased at the Capps’ store at Lee Road 100, Beauregard.
Cornbread Dressing with Chicken
1 whole chicken plus 2 to 3 thighs
Cornbread (I cook cornbread in two 10-inch cast iron skillets.)
2-3 onions, chopped
Celery to taste, chopped
1 stick butter
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 box (32 oz.) Swanson’s Chicken Broth, if needed
Three 9 x 12-inch aluminum pans, optional
Cover chicken and thighs with water and boil until chicken falls off bones. Remove chicken from broth; set broth aside. Debone chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Let cornbread cool.
Sauté chopped onions and celery in butter until soft.
To mix cornbread and chicken, you will need a very large bowl. (I mix the mixture in a 20-inch aluminum bowl.)
Mix cut-up chicken and cornbread thoroughly. Add sautéed onions and celery; mix thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, mix eggs and two cans cream of chicken soup. Add to mixture in large bowl.
Add broth a little at a time to cornbread mixture. You want the consistency of thin grits. Too much liquid makes it hard to cook. If you run out of broth from cooked chicken, use Swanson’s chicken broth.
I put cornbread mixture in three greased 9 x 12-inch aluminum pans and freeze.
When ready to bake, turn oven to 375 degrees. Cook for 1 to 1½ hours until dressing is firm and springy and brown on top. Enjoy!
Served every Christmas at Ellen’s family
1 dozen lady fingers
1 pint whipping cream
7/8 cup sugar
1 envelope plain gelatin
2 Tbsp. whiskey
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup milk
Separate eggs yolks from whites. Beat egg yolks thoroughly. Add sugar and beat well. Add vanilla and whiskey slowly so the eggs don’t “cook”.
Dissolve gelatin in ¼ cup cold water. Scald the milk but do not boil. Add gelatin to the hot milk and dissolve. Let cool and when it is lukewarm; pour slowly over the egg yolk mixture.
Take the whites and beat until stiff. Also, stiffly beat the cream. Fold the whites and beaten cream into egg yolk mixture. Line a bowl with the lady fingers, split in half. Pour mixture over the lady fingers and place in refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Serves 10.
*Don’t consume raw eggs if you are pregnant or have health issues. Can use pasteurized eggs.
Spicy Holiday Cheese Ball
Recipe by Lil G. Webb
Ellen’s Mother’s favorite
1 lb. Wisconsin cheese, grated
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
½ onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dash cayenne pepper
1 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 small jar stuffed green olives, chopped
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Mix both cheeses together in an electric mixer. Add onion, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, chili powder and olives. Mix until smooth and then add parsley. Let stand about 10 minutes. Shape into a ball and roll in pecans. Wrap in foil and keep refrigerated. Can be frozen.
Serves about 30. Alternate cheeses used: Bleu cheese and Roquefort.
Cotton Patch Spinach
Ellen’s family has this every holiday.
Recipe by Lil G Webb
3 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
1-2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 Tbsp. grated onion
1-2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 stick butter, melted, divided
¼ tsp. mace, optional
Salt and pepper to taste
Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing Mix
Cook spinach according to package. Drain spinach in a colander and squeeze out as much juice as you can.
While warm, add cream cheese, sour cream, onion, lemon rind, half of melted butter, mace if using, salt and pepper. Mix well and place in greased large casserole dish. Take the remaining melted butter and add to stuffing mix (enough to cover casserole) and pour over spinach mixture. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Serves 6.
Uncle Elmer’s Peanut Brittle
Made every year and given as gifts too!
From Mark’s uncle
2 cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
2 cups dry roasted peanuts
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. butter
Cook together sugar, syrup and water in a heavy pan on low heat about 2-3 minutes. Add peanuts.
Mix soda and butter and add to syrup. Pour into a 10 x 15 pan with sides. Let cool and break apart into pieces for serving or as a gift in a Christmas tin!
Easy Fruit Salad
2 large cans chunk pineapple
2 regular cans pears
1 small can peaches
Frozen strawberries, thawed
Strawberry pie filling
Drain all cans in a colander. Put fruit in a large bowl. Cut up pears and peaches into bite-size pieces.
Add thawed strawberries to bowl. Then add strawberry pie filling. Make at least 3 hours before serving. Store in refrigerator. Wait 30 minutes before serving to add sliced bananas.
Mrs. Billie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
A favorite cookie of the kids at Christmas.
Recipe by Sara Edde Wilson (sister-in-law)
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
½ cup oats
2 (12 oz.) pkgs of semi- sweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped pecans
In larger mixer bowl, beat butter shortening, sugar and brown sugar on high speed until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one. Beat in vanilla and lemon juice.
In another bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and oats. Gradually add to butter mixture. Blend thoroughly. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.
Use a scant ¼ cup of dough for each cookie. Drop dough on to lightly greased baking sheets. Space about 3 inches apart. For soft cookies, bake at 325 for 17-19 minutes, and for crisp cookies bake at 350 for 16-18 minutes.
Five Flavor Pound Cake
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup shortening
3 cups white sugar
5 eggs, beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk
1 tsp. coconut extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. run flavored extract
1 tsp. butter flavored extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 10 inch tube pan or 2 loaf pans.
In a small bowl combine flour and baking powder. Set aside. In a measuring cup, combine milk and each flavoring.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until smooth. Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Pour into a greased tube pan and bake for 1½ – 1¾ hours or until done or in greased loaf pans bake about 1 hour or until done. Cool in pan for 10 minutes and then place on a wire rack for rest of cooling.
Sandra’s Pecan Pie
Sistrunk family favorite
Recipe by Sandra S. Trammell ( Mark’s sister)
½ cup melted butter
1 cup Karo syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup pecan halves
Beat together eggs, butter, syrup and sugar until smooth. Fold in pecans. Pour into an unbaked pie crust and bake at 300 until brown. (Can be baked at 350 for 15 minutes to speed up baking.)
When you’re tired of turkey and ham, try these recipes.
Ellen’s Mother’s Husband Delight
1 lb. ground chuck
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. sugar
Two 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
Two 8 oz. pkg. medium egg noodles
5 spring (green) onions, chopped
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. sour cream
Grated cheddar cheese for topping
Brown ground beef and pour off excel fat. Stir in garlic, salt and pepper, sugar and tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Cook noodles and drain. Blend cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Add spring onions, mixing thoroughly.
Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
Layer noodles on bottom of dish; then add meat sauce on top. Spread cream cheese mixture over meat sauce. Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top in desired amount.
Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes. Serves 8. Can be made ahead and frozen.
Chicken and Dumplings
Recipe by June Sistrunk
½ stick butter
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ – ¾ cup self-rising flour
1 or 2 Tbsp. of shortening (to make the flour crumbly)
1 cup of water
Cook chicken until tender. Cool and de-bone the chicken. Add the deboned chicken back to the broth. Add butter and chicken soup to the broth.
Make dumplings by taking a fork and working the shortening into the flour, making it a crumbly consistency. Add water until doughy. Take a cutting board and sprinkle with flour. Knead the dough and roll out about ¼ inch thick.
Cut strips of dough with a knife. Bring chicken broth to a boil and put in dough strips one at a time. Stir occasionally to keep strips from sticking to one another. Don’t over stir. After all dough is added, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes with the pot covered. Serve with warm cornbread.
Hot Chicken Salad
Great for a small luncheon on a cold day.
Recipe by Lil G Webb
2 cans chunk chicken
1 cup celery, chopped
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ cup mayonnaise
Chopped onions (to suit your taste)
Potato chips, plain
1 block grated sharp cheddar, divide into half
Combine everything except chips and half of cheese. Put into a greased casserole dish and top with a mixture of potato chips and remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees.