Ann Priester Bennett Recalls Interesting Family History, Heritage Recipes

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Ann and Kevin Bennett both grew up in Lee County, graduated from Auburn University and then moved away for years. They returned home in 2009 and built their home on farm land that has been in Ann’s family since 1888. Photo Contributed to the Observer

By Ann Cipperly

Ann Priester Bennett is surrounded with family history that stretches throughout Opelika and beyond, with one family member helping to start Priester’s Pecans. Ann honors and gives tributes to those early settlers who worked the land. Along with her family’s heritage, Ann collected recipes from her grandmother, mother and aunt that bring back memories of growing up on the farm in the Stonewall community, located north of Oak Bowery Road in Opelika.

Ann’s great-grandfather, James Richard Priester, and his brother moved to Lee County in 1888 from Ft. Deposit because the water tasted terrible there. Their uncle, Richard Lockhart, who lived in Gold Hill, told the brothers to come to Lee County where the water was sweet tasting, and he would help them get farmland. 

Her great-grandfather and his brother married sisters from the Farmville community, Leila and Mattie Wilson. Both were second wives and much younger than their husbands. Leila moved to Fort Deposit and helped her Priester family there start Priester’s Pecans.

Ann’s great-grandparents started the farm by railroad tracks, which were installed in 1868, with a stone wall on one side. They opened a store by the tracks that served the surrounding community. The name Stonewall came from a place down the tracks with a stacked stone wall where trains stopped at the wall coming from Gold Hill.

When Ann’s grandfather, Bruce Priester, married her grandmother, they built a white house on the farm in 1923 that is still there. On the farm they grew vegetables and could get items at the store started by the great-grandparents. Ann’s grandmother’s maid, Lily Wynn, made hoecakes, while the grandmother made tomato sauce to serve with fresh vegetables.

Ann’s grandfather also had cotton fields off Waverly Parkway. When one of the mills was being built, her grandfather was approached about selling the land to build cottages for the workers. The cottages were built with a street down the center called Priester Road.

When Ann’s father was growing up, he enjoyed working at the farm. He graduated from the veterinary school at Auburn University. While working on his internship in Greenville, he met Barbara. After they married, the couple moved to the farm and built their house.

Ann’s Aunt Jeanne Priester lived on the farm. She was a home economist who presented cooking demonstrations for Sunflower Meal across the south. Then, she worked for the extension service at Auburn and taught cooking classes on the first public television’s cooking show.

Later, Jeanne worked in Washington D.C. and started the Meals on Wheels program. She was always at the farm at Christmas and made her Ambrosia recipe.

While Ann’s mother, Barbara, had a cook, she also cooked. While the grandfather had grown cotton, Ann’s father switched over to cattle. Roast beef and other beef dishes were often served.

Barbara operated Priester’s Mobile Home Park on Waverly Parkway. There weren’t many apartments in Opelika in those days. Many well-known Opelikans started their careers and families while living there.

Ann and Kevin met in high school at Scott Prep and started dating in their junior year. They continued to date while attending Auburn University. Kevin’s parents, Joan and the late Luther Bennett, owned Bennett Appliances in Opelika for many years.

After they graduated from Auburn University, Ann and Kevin moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, where Kevin worked as an engineer.

When they lived in Kingsport, Ann and her friends made Strawberry Freezer Jam every year, and it was popular for Christmas gifts. The recipe for Skoby’s Restaurant’s Creamed Corn is from a famous restaurant in Kingsport that served the corn as a side with steaks.

Ann and Kevin moved back to Opelika in December 2009 and built a house at the farm near her mother. For an outdoor fireplace, Kevin found rocks from chimneys remaining from early houses built by those who lived on the great-grandfather’s land. Kevin dug up rocks from places where houses had been. The only things remaining are the rocks and daffodils.

The keystones in the arch of the fireplace are rocks that were pulled from the original stone wall where the train stopped. Kevin found an Indian grinding stone that was used in the hearth of the fireplace.

“It’s our historic fireplace,” Ann said. “It is a tribute to the people who came before us on the farm. We wanted to recognize the full history of the people who lived on the land before us. They knew how hard it was to work a farm in the heat when trying to grow crops. We wanted to recognize the labor and hard work of those who worked the land.”

Ann is the fourth generation to grow up on the farm. When she was growing up, Ann and her family spent many Christmases in the grandparents’ home. She has fond memories with family and good food being served.

Among the recipes she is sharing is her mother’s cornbread dressing that her sister, Sharon Witt, now makes for holidays. Her other sister, Reeder Dulaney, makes a yummy blueberry cobbler.

Another of her mother’s recipes is Moody’s Steakhouse Famous Chicken Bristle that was served at the popular restaurant in Greenville. She is also sharing her grandmother’s recipe for tomato sauce to serve with vegetables, as well as Lily Wynn’s hoecakes.

The apple butter recipe is from their daughter-in-law Courtney, who is married to their youngest son, Luke. Courtney was close to her great-grandmother who developed the recipe, which is great to make for gifts. Courtney and Luke live in Florida and have two children and one on the way.

Ann and Kevin have two other sons. Their oldest, O’Brien, named after grandparents, is a high school football coach in Tennessee. He and his wife, Katie, have five children with one on the way. Their other son, Rob, lives in Washington, D.C., and has a son.

Ann and Kevin’s home is the setting for many family gatherings. Ann enjoys hosting, and her sisters help by bringing food. At Thanksgiving everyone has their favorite dishes.

Since moving back, Ann has become involved in the community and at the First Baptist Church in Opelika. “I am back to my roots,” Ann said. Like other generations before her, the farm calls family back to the gentle, restful memories of the past.

Cipperly can be reaches at recipes@cipperly.com.

Living on farm

LILY WYNN’S HOT WATER HOECAKES

Grandmother’s maid lived on the farm.

1 cup self-rising cornmeal

Pinch of salt

Scant 2 cups boiling water

Bacon drippings for frying pan

Boil water and heat bacon drippings in skillet. Put cornmeal and pinch of salt in mixing bowl. Pour hot water very slowly over cornmeal, stirring constantly as you pour. Mix until smooth.

Spoon batter into hot drippings to make pancake style hoecake patties approximately 3-inch diameter. Cook until golden brown on both sides and drain on paper towel. Serve immediately. Makes about 10 hoecakes.

Priester Family Cooked Tomato Topping for Peas and Butterbeans

Fill half a Dutch Oven with peeled tomatoes or use 1 gallon canned tomatoes.

Add 2 cups chopped onions

Add 2 cups chopped bell peppers

Add ½ cup white vinegar

Cook for 3 hours on low heat, stirring frequently to avoid sticking on bottom. You will cook tomatoes down to half original pan level.

Add ¼ cup sugar, and cook another 30 minutes, stirring more frequently to avoid scorching.

Put in freezer containers and cool. Freeze or use refrigerated amount within 10 days.

Mama’s Priester Family Cornbread Dressing

1 onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 stick salted butter

1 pan cornbread

4-5 pieces of white bread, torn in small pieces

1 qt chicken broth

3 eggs, slightly whisked

¼ to ½ cup milk to help with stirring consistency

1 tsp. poultry seasoning

3/4 tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

Sauté onion and celery in butter until glazed. 

Crumble cornbread in a very large mixing bowl.

Add torn white bread pieces

Add chicken broth and glazed onions and celery and mix.

Add eggs and stir thoroughly, add milk as you stir. Add seasonings.

Bake in greased pan at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until top is light golden brown.

Moody’s Steakhouse Famous Chicken Bristle

This recipe was served by Moody’s steakhouse in Greenville and was a regional treat. All statewide Alabama politicians went to Moody’s and ate their Chicken Bristle on the Alabama campaign trail during the late 40s, 50s, and early 60s. My mother grew up in Greenville and loved eating there.

6 chicken broilers or fryers cut in half

1 qt. apple cider vinegar

1 lb. butter plus 1 stick, divided

2 Tbsp. salt

½ tsp. red pepper

½ lemon

Bread or hamburger bun halves for the number of people you will serve

In large Dutch oven, melt 1 lb. butter in heated vinegar. Add salt and red pepper. Drop in lemon. Do not add ketchup.

Dip chicken halves in sauce and place on large grill. Baste regularly with sauce while grilling.

Add one stick of butter to the sauce when chicken is done (about an hour) and put on bread or bun. Toast on grill. Serve toast with the Chicken Bristle.

Courtney’s Apple Butter

Recipe developed by her great-grandmother Barshie Davis

Makes great gifts!

4 quarts peeled/diced apples (Winesap or Limbertwig are best)

½ tsp. nutmeg

4 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. cloves

3 ½ cups sugar

Place ingredients except for sugar in a crock-pot, and cook on low for about 3 hours. Keep adding a little water to keep from sticking. After 3 hours, stir and mash. Continue cooking stirring and watching apples for softness.

After about 6 hours, add sugar and cook for another 3 hours. Makes 4 pints of apple butter.

Crock-Pot Beef Stew

1 lb. stew beef (can double the amount)

½ cup flour

2 Tbsp. oil

1 cup beef broth

¼ tsp. pepper

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. sugar

3 bay leaves

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 onion, finely chopped

4-5 potatoes, cut into wedges

2-3 carrots, sliced

4 cups water

½ cup celery, diced

1/8 tsp. pepper

Mix flour and salt and pepper. Coat meat with mixture. Heat oil in skillet, add flour coated meat and brown meat on all sides.

In a crock-pot combine beef, Worcestershire sauce, onion, beef broth, 1/8 tsp. pepper, sugar and rest of vegetables. Cook on high for 6 to 7 hours until vegetables are all tender. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Serve with corn bread or over rice. Serves 4 to 6.

Skoby’s Restaurant Creamed Corn

20 oz. frozen corn

1 pint half and half

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

2 Tbsp. flour

2 Tbsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. melted butter

Breadcrumbs for topping

Mix half and half, salt, pepper, flour, sugar and butter together in large saucepan. Pour corn into mixture and cook, stirring very frequently, on stove top at low-medium heat about 20 minutes. Do not let mixture stick to bottom of cooking pan.

Pour mixture into greased casserole dish. Top with light sprinkling of breadcrumbs and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Serves 8.

Ann’s Keto/Gluten Free Sausage Casserole

1 lb. cooked and drained hot sausage

1 lb. cooked and drained mild sausage

2 cups half and half

6 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp. dry mustard

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Place sausage in bottom of large, greased casserole dish.

Blend all other ingredients and pour over sausage.

Bake approximately 45 minutes at 375 degrees. Let set about 10 minutes prior to serving. Serves 8.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Makes great gifts.

2 pints fresh strawberries, capped and chopped

4 cups sugar

1 pkg. Sure-Gel

3/4 cup cold water

Cap, wash and chop fresh ripe berries. Add 4 cups sugar. Stir well and allow to sit 20 minutes until sugar melts. Dissolve Sure-Gel in water. Then heat water to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 1 minute.

Pour hot water mixture over strawberries. Stir constantly at least 3 minutes to make sure sugar is dissolved.

Spoon mixture into freezer containers. Make sure there is at least ½ inch space at top. Seal containers, making sure there is no jelly mixture on lid to prevent sealing.

Let stand at room temperature 24 hours until set. Put in freezer. Thaw before use. Tastes great with biscuits, muffins or toast. Can be refrigerated 3 weeks.

Reeder’s Very Easy Blueberry Cobbler

1 stick butter melted in casserole dish

1 cup self-rising flour

1 cup sugar

1 cup milk

1 pint (2 cups) of rinsed and drained blueberries

Can substitute 1 large can sliced peaches instead of blueberries

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Mix flour, sugar, milk and cinnamon to make batter. Add fruit to melted butter and spread over bottom of casserole dish. Pour batter over fruit. Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes.  Serves 6.

Reeder’s Easy Homemade Ice Cream

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 can evaporated milk

2 ½ cups sugar

1 Tbsp. vanilla

½ gallon whole milk

Mix all ingredients and pour into ice cream freezer bucket. Add ice and salt to ice cream maker according to appliance directions. Plug in and run the ice cream maker until it slows down, then stops. Ice cream is ready to serve.

If you are in a hurry, refrigerate the sweetened condensed and evaporated milk cans ahead of time to speed freezing process.

Ambrosia

My Aunt Jeanne always made Ambrosia for us at family meals at my grandmother’s house. When she worked in Washington, D.C., Aunt Jeanne created the Meals on Wheels program.  

6 oranges, halved and sectioned out

1 cup shredded coconut

½ cup chopped pecans

Pinch salt

1 jar maraschino cherries

1 tsp. powdered sugar

Stir oranges, coconut, pecans and salt together.

Put in pretty serving cups and lightly dust powdered sugar on top of the mixture.

Top servings with a maraschino cherry.

Easy Slaw

1 lb. bag slaw mix or angel hair slaw

2 Tbsp. white vinegar

1 tsp. grated onion flakes

1/8 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. salt

¼ cup mayonnaise

Stir all together until slaw mixture is completely coated. Wait at least 15 minutes to serve. Store in airtight container in refrigerator 3 to 4 days.

Special K Muffins

Crushed Special K cereal to make 1 cup

1¾ cups Bisquick

½ cup sugar

1 scant cup milk

Mix and let sit about 10 minutes to let cereal soften.

½ cup applesauce

2 eggs

Fold in ½ cup applesauce and 2 slightly whisked eggs and mix well by hand.

Grease muffin pan with Baking Pam. Pour batter into muffin cups and bake at 375 degrees for 17 minutes in dark pan or 18 minutes in regular non-stick pan or until lightly golden brown on top. Makes 12 muffins.

Barbara’s Bread Pudding

¾ cup sugar

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. vanilla

3 cups heavy cream

6 cups cubed bread, preferably French baguette

½ cup raisins

Butter 8- to 10-inch baking pan. In large mixing bowl, briefly beat eggs with mixer on low. Add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and whisk well together into eggs. Add heavy cream and blend into mixture. Add bread and raisins to mixture and let sit for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. After mixture has sat for 30 minutes, pour into buttered baking pan. Cover with non-stick foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil covering and bake about 30 to 35 more minutes so that pudding mix is firm.

Remove from oven and cool pudding until warm. Cut into squares and serve. Serves 10.

Vegetable Dip

Serve with sliced carrots, broccoli and celery.

8 oz. pkg. Philadelphia Cream Cheese, room temperature

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ tsp. garlic powder

1 Tbsp. A1 Sauce

Whip cream cheese, add mayonnaise, garlic powder and A1 sauce.

Sausage Balls

1 lb. hot sausage uncooked

1 lb. mild sausage uncooked

¼ tsp. salt

2 lb. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 pkg. of real bacon bits

4 cups Bisquick

2 Tbsp. milk

1 Tbsp. Moore’s Marinade or Worcestershire sauce

Mix all ingredients and then knead into a dough ball. This takes at least 10 minutes to make the dough ball.

Preheat oven to 400. Set out 2 cookie sheets and put parchment paper on each cookie sheet.

Form sausage balls of approximately 1-1½ inches and place on parchment paper. Bake about 12 minutes and watch closely the next few minutes depending on size of the balls. Balls are done when you see some bubbling coming through top of balls. Remove from oven and place on paper towel to drain any excess grease.  Makes about 4 dozen.

Mama’s Shrimp

1 lb. uncooked large shrimp, rinsed and dried

1 tsp. cornstarch, sprinkled on shrimp to make sure it is dry

1 lemon

Mix following oil and seasonings:

3 Tbsp. olive oil

3/4 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning

1/2 tsp. Original Mrs. Dash seasoning

Heat olive oil in pan on top of stove to medium heat, not frying heat.

Add shrimp to oil mixture and start stirring shrimp, turning over when pink. If shrimp start curling, they are done. Remove from pan and squeeze slight amount of lemon juice over each shrimp.

Pour shrimp and oil mixture into serving dish. Serve immediately with wild rice or buttered noodles and salad. Serves 6.

Joan’s Squash Casserole

3 cups cooked and mashed squash

2 whisked eggs

1 cup evaporated milk

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

2 cups cracker crumbs

¾ stick butter, sliced into small pieces

¾ cup finely chopped onions

Salt and pepper to taste

Whip squash with mixer and fold in onions, eggs, milk and cheese. Pour into greased casserole dish and top with cracker crumbs. Spread butter slices across top of cracker crumbs.

Bake at 375 degrees covered for 30 minutes and then cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Serves 10.

Luther’s Sweet Muffins

2 cups Bisquick

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

2/3 cup milk

2 Tbsp. oil

1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Mix  all ingredients and pour into greased muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes. Serve with cold apple butter.

Debra’s Green Bean Packets

2 cans whole green beans, drained

2 tsp. dry mustard

1 lb. raw bacon slices, cut into thirds

1 cup brown sugar

Grease a metal baking dish. Mix mustard and brown sugar in small mixing bowl. Wrap bacon around green beans, making packets secured with toothpicks and place each packet in baking dish.

Sprinkle brown sugar mustard mixture over green bean packets. Cook covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then uncover and broil for 3 to 5 minutes to finish bacon. Serves 6.

Hamburger Casserole

2 cups spaghetti sauce

1½ – 2 cups cooked ground beef

(Note: can substitute 3 cups leftover spaghetti with meat sauce)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

2 Tbsp. milk

8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 ½ cups cooked and drained macaroni noodles

Stir together spaghetti sauce, mushroom soup and milk. Add shredded cheese and meat. Add cooked macaroni noodles, stir, and pour into greased casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Great for supper with salad and garlic-salted Parmesan cheese toast. Serves 6 to 8.

Best Ever Banana Pudding

3 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1½ cups sugar

Pinch of salt

3 eggs, separate yolks and save whites for meringue

3 cups whole milk

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

12 oz. pkg vanilla wafers, divided into 3 groups

6 medium bananas

¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

Combine flour, 1½ cups sugar and salt in saucepan. Beat egg yolks and combine with milk, continuing to beat mixture. Stir into saucepan’s ingredients, and cook on stovetop over medium heat. Stir constantly until custard mixture is smooth and thick, then remove from heat and add tsp. of real vanilla extract.

Layer the bottom of a 3 qt. baking dish (deep dish this size works better than long dish) with 1/3 of vanilla wafers. Add banana slices from 2 bananas on top of vanilla wafers. Pour 1/3 of the custard mixture over the bananas. Repeat vanilla wafers layer and thin layer of custard and 2 sliced banana layers twice.

Make meringue by beating room temperature egg whites until foamy. Very gradually add the ¼ cup sugar plus 2 Tbsp. sugar to egg white mixture. Continue to beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks. Add 1 tsp. vanilla and stir into mixture.

Spread meringue over top of pudding mixture, making sure all edges are covered. Bake at 425 degrees 10 minutes to achieve light golden brown meringue. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Mama’s Preferred Tomato Aspic

1 envelope of unflavored gelatin

¼ cup cold water

1 ¾ cups V-8 vegetable juice

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce

1 Tbsp. horseradish

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. sugar

3 shakes of Tabasco sauce

Soften gelatin in cold water, stirring constantly.

Put V-8 in large (4 cup) measuring cup and heat in microwave approximately 2 minutes until hot.

Add gelatin mix into hot V-8 and stir until completely dissolved.

Add lemon juice, Worcestershire Sauce, horseradish, salt and sugar, and stir until well mixed. Pour into mold or into Pyrex dish and chill until set firm. Top each serving with dollop of mayonnaise or a medium size boiled shrimp. Serves 6 to 8.

Israeli Shakshuka

When our Friends to Israel group traveled to Israel, this was on the menu at breakfast at every hotel where we stayed.

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 seeded and diced red bell pepper

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

¼ tsp. chili powder

28 oz. can whole tomatoes, drained

6 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

Small batch chopped cilantro

Small batch chopped parsley

Sauté onion and bell pepper in olive oil until onion is translucent. Add garlic, chili powder, salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and crush down to make a mash. Cook crushed tomato mixture about 15 minutes making sure it is good and hot.

Make 6 wells in mixture like a nest to poach each egg. Add each egg to nest hole. Lightly salt each egg. Cover pan and cook 5 to 8 minutes or until poached eggs are done to preferred hardness. Garnish with cilantro and parsley, Optional – can add feta cheese to top. Serve with pita bread.

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