Andruses celebrate Christmas with Cajun fare in historic home

Photo by Ann Cipperly

By Ann Cipperly

With spacious rooms featuring heart pine floors, oak mantels and a staircase gleaming with the patina of age, the 1900 historic home of Annette and Terry Andrus is a stunning setting for entertaining and celebrating Christmas. While Annette cooks breakfast, Terry prepares dinner, using many of his 99-year-old mother’s recipes from Louisiana.

Terry’s mother, Elnora Andrus  “Grandmother”, moved to Opelika from Eunice, LA., in 1996 to be near family and continues to enjoy cooking, especially her Pumpkin Cranberry Bread she shares at Christmas.

On a recent evening as the sun lowered behind the trees at the former Renfro house on North 10th Street, Terry, who grew up in Cajun country, was in the kitchen stirring a big pot of Gumbo. Annette had attractively set the long dining room table and two folding tables for their Bible study group.

Terry prepared the scrumptious dinner, featuring his Gumbo to serve with French baguettes and two pans of Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake, a dense date cake embellished with a brandy laced caramel sauce.

The Andruses have enjoyed entertaining in the spacious home since they moved there in 1988. Terry is president of East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC), and for about 15 years he and Annette entertained the auxiliary, physicians and the board during the Christmas season.

When their children were growing up, the family went to Eunice at Christmas to celebrated with Terry’s mother and other family.  Eunice is a small town between Baton Rouge and Lake Charles.

“I had never known about feasting the way the Andruses do,” says Annette. “At Christmas time Terry’s mother would stand at the stove all day until the table was completely covered with three meats, six vegetables, oyster and cornbread dressings, three desserts, Pralines and every kind of cookie.  Sometimes she would make Gumbo. It was wonderful.

“The kids had a great time with their cousins. It was fun for all of us. We have great memories. Grandmother has a gift for cooking and hospitality.”

On Christmas Eve, the family tradition was visiting one of Terry’s cousins who had all the family over for a big pot of Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.

Grandmother provided pajamas to her grandchildren on Christmas Eve for pictures and an outfit to wear to church on Christmas Day.

When Grandmother was growing up Christmas was much simpler, but a good time with family.

She grew up in the small town of Frey, LA. in a family with many excellent cooks.  On Sunday afternoons, she enjoyed visiting her father’s oldest sister, who had ten children, and always served homemade bread and blackberry jelly, two things that are still Elnora’s favorites.

She learned to cook at a young age. When she was a child, her father had a playhouse built with a small two-burner stove that actually worked.

Before Elnora married, she made cornbread for her family, and she still enjoys baking breads. Her mother-in-law was a good cook as well. Elnora remembers people would come from many miles away to dine on her fried chicken.

Growing up, Terry was his mother’s taster and also the taster for his grandmother, who was famous for her fried chicken. He remembers going to his grandmother’s house every Wednesday and sitting on her counter to taste the food she was cooking.

Annette grew up in New Orleans, and seafood dishes were her family’s favorites. She met Terry while she was a senior in nursing school in New Orleans, and he was a medical technician at the hospital where she was attending school.

Terry graduated from the University of New Orleans and graduate school at Georgia State. His first job out of college was at a hospital in Dothan.

Annette was a homemaker while their children were growing up. Now that the children are grown, she owns Pathfinders Counseling Center in Opelika.

The Andrus’ children, who grew up in Opelika, are John David and his wife Jessica, who have two sons, Jake and Luke; Sarah and husband Daniel Taylor, who live in Marietta, Ga., have three sons, Daniel, Noah David and Josiah; and Hannah and her husband Andrew Burkhardt live in Asheville, N.C.

While Terry cooked some and grilled when the children were small, he now prepares all the dinners.

“Since Terry is doing the cooking,” says Annette, “I am the new taster. I like to find out what we are going to have next. He thinks about what he is going to cook while on the treadmill, goes to the grocery store and then cooks it. I eat it and clean up. We have a good deal going.”

Among the Louisiana favorites are Crawfish or Shrimp Etoufee, Grillades, a traditional brunch dish or meal served over grits, Corn Maque Choux, Elnora’s Christmas Cake and others.

“Now that the children are grown,” says Annette, “Christmas changes a little every year because they have other families to visit with in-laws. We tell them we will have Christmas when they can come or if they can’t come, we will go see them.

“We love it that way,” adds Annette, as Christmas continues to be a special family time with plenty of good food.

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at

Elnora’s Christmas Cake
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 egg yolks
2 cups buttermilk
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups chopped dates
2 cups chopped pecans
2 cups shredded coconut
Cream butter and sugar; add egg yolks. Combine flour and baking powder.
In small batches, add flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and mix until well blended.
Add dates, pecans and coconut in small batches and blend.
Pour into greased round can pans (I line them with parchment or wax paper).
Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
3 egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp. water
1/2 tsp. salt
Pinch of baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
Beat egg whites until stiff; add 1 tsp. water, salt and baking soda. Beat until blended.
Cook sugar and 1 cup water to soft boil stage. Pour sugar mixture over egg whites. Add coconut, dates and pecans.
Frost cake.

Elnora’s Coconut Cake
(Old Family Favorite)
2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 cup solid Crisco
Mix well and then add:
3/4 cup evaporated milk.
2 eggs mixed with another 1/4 cup evaporated milk and 1 tsp. vanilla.
Pour into three greased cake pans, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Small can coconut
Combine sugar, flour and milk. Cook and stir until thickened; add vanilla and small can of coconut.
2 egg whites, set aside
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup white Karo syrup
2 Tbsp.  cold water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 can coconut
Mix sugar, syrup and cold water. Cook 4 minutes in microwave uncovered on high.
Beat egg whites two minutes while other ingredients are cooking in microwave. Pour syrup slowly over stiffly beaten eggs. Beat well. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Spread filling between layers. Ice cake with the frosting and pat 1 can coconut onto cake.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 stick butter, cubed
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. brandy
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Sugar to taste
Preheat oven to 350.
Coat a 10-inch round cake pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper. I use a spring-form pan.
In a saucepan, cover the dates with 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add baking soda; mix and mixture will foam. Cool slightly.
In a bowl sift flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a mixer bowl, beat the butter with sugar at low speed until light and fluffy (1 to 2 minutes). Beat in eggs and vanilla.
In alternating batches add flour mixture and date mixture. Beat until well blended (we use paddle attachment of mixer).
Scrape mixture into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Let cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
In a medium saucepan, bring brown sugar, butter and heavy cream to a boil on medium heat, whisking to dissolve sugar (about 2 minutes).
Remove from heat and whisk in brandy, vanilla and salt.
Turn cake onto a rack. Using a skewer, poke 15 to 20 holes in cake. Pour half the sauce over warm cake and let stand until absorbed, about 5 minutes. Invert cake and poke 15 to 20 holes in cake and pour remaining sauce over the cake.
Whip cream with sugar to taste. Serve cake with a dollop of whipped cream.

Elnora’s Pumpkin Cranberry Bread
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups canned pumpkin
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 cup dried cranberries
Beat sugar, pumpkin, eggs and oil and water in bowl. Stir in flour, baking soda and spices until moist. Stir in cranberries.
Spoon into three small greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes or until tests done.

Crawfish or Shrimp Etoufee
3 lb. peeled crawfish or shrimp
3 sticks butter
3 bunches thin green onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups water
1/3 cup cornstarch added to 1/2 cup cold water
Salt and pepper
Tony Charchere‘s Seasonings
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
Steamed rice
Tabasco sauce, if desired as serving
Sauté green onions and garlic in butter on low heat for 10 minutes. Add 3 cups water. Add crawfish or shrimp. Add salt and pepper and Tony Charchere’s Seasonings. Cook 20 minutes on low heat.
Thicken with cornstarch and water mixture. Add parsley and cook 5 minutes more.
Serve over steamed rice. Serve with Tabasco sauce, if desired.

Recipe serves 20. Cut in half for smaller servings. Serve over garlic cheese grits. Great served for brunch.
10 lb. round steak (cut in serving size flatten 1/4-inch short strips)
1 cup bacon grease, divided
1 cup flour
2 cups chopped onions
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped bell pepper
6 cloves garlic, minced
16. oz. can tomatoes or 4 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp. thyme
2 cups water
2 cups burgundy wine
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, chopped
5 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. Tabasco
4 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped parsley
In Dutch oven heat 1/2 cup of the bacon grease over medium heat. Add the meat and fry until browned. Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.
To the Dutch oven, add the remaining bacon grease and flour, stirring constantly until the “roux” is dark brown. To the roux, add onion, green onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic; sauté until soft.
Add tomatoes and thyme; cook 3 minutes. Add water, wine and mushrooms; stir well.
Return meat to pot. Add salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce.
Lower the heat and continue cooking and stirring. Simmer 2 hours. Stir in parsley.
The dish is best refrigerated 8 hours and reheated before serving.
Served over garlic cheese grits.

Elnora’s Pecan Date Muffins
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup chopped dates
Beat eggs slightly in bowl. Stir in vanilla, sugar, baking powder and salt. Then add nuts and dates.
Grease mini muffin tins lined with paper muffin cups. Fill 1/2 full with batter.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Makes 18 to 24.

Corn Maque Choux
8 Tbsp. butter
3 cups minced onion
1 small green pepper, finely diced
1 small red pepper, finely diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
4 tsp. minced garlic
8 cups sweet corn
2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. Tony Charchere’s Seasonings
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
Heat butter until melted; add onion, peppers and tomatoes. Sauté 2-3 minutes until onions are wilted. Add garlic and sweet corn. Add salt and Tony Charchere’s Seasonings.
Cook mixture on medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add heavy cream until desired consistency.

Elnora’s Gingersnaps
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cane syrup
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup Crisco
Mix dry ingredients; cut in shortening. Stir in syrup and egg. Shape into 1-inch balls. Dredge in sugar, if desired.
Bake on cookie sheet at 350 for 10 minutes.

Marinated Asparagus
2 lb. fresh asparagus
3/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup dark balsamic vinegar
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp. red chili oil
Trim asparagus and boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove from boiling water and place in ice bath for quick cooling.
Arrange asparagus in a 13 by 9-inch dish. Whisk remaining ingredients together and pour over asparagus.
Cover and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours.

Elnora’s Pralines
2 cups sugar
1 cup Carnation Evaporated Milk
1/2 stick butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups chopped pecans
Combine sugar, milk, butter and vanilla in saucepan; boil to soft boil stage. Add pecans. Beat until it begins to harden.
Drop tablespoons of mixture onto waxed paper.

Braised Red Cabbage
1/4 cup oil
2 lb. red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. dry red wine
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
Heat oil under medium heat. Add cabbage and salt; stir and toss constantly until cabbage begins to wilt, about 7 minutes.
Add red wine and cook until liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes.
Add vinegar and stir constantly until cabbage is tender, about 13 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Five spice is also good if you like the flavor.

Terry’s Gumbo
Key to gumbo is the roux. This gumbo recipe feeds about 20. You can reduce portions for a smaller party. This gumbo is a cross between New Orleans Creole and Cajun gumbo.
2 onions
4 ribs celery
4-6 garlic cloves
White part of bunch of green onions
Stems of butch of Italian parsley
Use food processor to combine all; set aside.
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
In a black cast iron Dutch oven mix oil and flour under medium high heat whisking continuously the roux mixture until it reaches desired color. I like mine medium dark brown.
After the roux is at right color, cool roux by mixing the vegetables in the mixture. This serves two purposes: stops cooking the roux and sautés vegetables.
2 cans Rotel tomatoes
2 pkg. thawed frozen chopped okra for seafood gumbo
Add Rotel to mixture and cook 5-10 minutes.  If making seafood gumbo add okra, but for chicken or turkey gumbo, skip that step.
You can do this a day or 2 ahead and store in refrigerator.
At this point, the gumbo needs stock. For chicken or turkey gumbo, I use carcasses and entrails to make stock in water with onions, parsley, garlic and celery to make stock.
For a seafood gumbo, I sometimes make stock with fish bones or shrimp shells. Use onion, parsley, garlic and celery to make stock. Most times I buy clam juice at the grocery for my stock. You do get interesting looks when buying 20 bottles of clam juice.
For either gumbo, add stock to the vegetable roux mixture. I put it in a slow cooker and cook all day. After this I put it in a large gumbo pot.
For chicken gumbo, I use 2 pre-cooked chickens, deboned, and a package of good sausage (I use Conecuh).
Heat gumbo. Add chopped parsley and green onion. Turn off heat and season to taste.
For turkey gumbo, use leftover turkey and repeat same process as chicken gumbo.
For seafood gumbo, add 2 lb. peeled, deveined shrimp, 2 lb. fresh crabmeat and 1 lb. fish. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Add parsley and green onions as above. Turn off heat. I like oysters and will add 2-3 pints.
Serve all gumbo over rice.


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