By Ann Cipperly
Cherry Bruce has a love of cooking for her family. When she is in the kitchen preparing meals, four dogs are going to be lounging nearby. Cherry’s husband, Dr. Buddy Bruce, is a veterinarian at his Animal Health Center on Second Avenue in Opelika. The Bruces live nestled in a woodland setting in a log home that was built by his family in 1927.
Cherry has been staying home during the pandemic except for appointments and picking up groceries. The Bruces have lost two relatives to COVID-19 and are trying to exercise precautions to stay safe. Cherry has found it difficult to select good produce or read labels at the grocery store while wearing a mask. “COVID has been a hard learning curve for a lot of us,” she said.
“I have been very busy in the kitchen for these past months,” Cherry added. “Even though I love to cook, it is a treat for me when Buddy can bring home a carry out meal. I have a better feel and appreciation for what my grandmother and mother’s lives were like with feeding and taking care of their families.
“For them, every meal or bite to eat was cooked mostly from scratch and with little convenience foods. Their convenience foods were those prepared ahead of time, such as pimento cheese, chicken salad, souse meat (a combination akin to scrapple with meat and pepper seasonings in a congealed loaf), leftover biscuits, cakes, pies and cookies, etc.
“Just thinking of what to cook,” she said, “using what you had on hand, without monotony of the same meals week in and week out, had to be hard work.”
When Cherry and Buddy were first married, she would make a huge pot of soup, and it would last a week. “I could eat beef and vegetable soup for breakfast,” she said, “I loved it so and still do, but Buddy was done after a couple of meals.”
She was working full time, and the soup was easy. While she could cook a lot more than soup, there were times she came home tired and didn’t want to think about cooking. She relied on a stove top pressure cooker to have dinner prepared quickly.
“My fall back menus were breakfast foods,” Cherry said, “including scrambled eggs and bacon, pork chops, beef tenderloin beaten and fried or just pancakes. Buddy was, and still is, content to eat anything, just not the same two days in a row, unless it is my lasagna or beef stroganoff leftovers.”
Unlike her grandmother and mother, Cherry has many options for finding good recipes and kitchen equipment they did not have. She is thankful they were both excellent cooks and had good palates that helped them to invent new recipes.
Cherry inherited that ability from her grandmother and mother. She can draw inspiration from a picture of a dish for creating something different. “I never make a new recipe for guests until I have made it my own,” she said. “I will change this or that ingredient to adapt it to my family’s taste.
“I like using recipes that incorporate leftover foods to cut down on waste. My cabbage soup recipe was born out of leftover cornbread and breakfast sausage and not wanting to thaw out something from the freezer. It was filling, satisfying, simple—and Buddy loved it. It was also different from my regular beef and vegetable soup, which I still enjoy.”
Cherry grew up in nearby Salem, where her mother owned and operated Salem Grocery. Her father owned a logging company, A.H. Smith and Sons, which used mules rather than large machines.
Her family lived in Dr. McClain’s former house in Salem and later built a new home closer to Opelika. Cherry remembers the family’s maid was a good cook who kept her in line by making delicious fried apple pies.
She enjoyed visiting her grandmother, who lived just outside Opelika, and would watch her cook. In a family with many good cooks, Cherry’s mother prepared a special Sunday dinner every week, while her father cooked barbecue pork loins and chicken for family gatherings.
Cherry met Buddy in high school at Scott Preparatory, and he also worked for her father while he was attending Auburn University.
The Bruces have two sons, Matthew Blaine and Bryon Andrew, who are both engaged. The couples will wed just a few months apart from one another.
“Thanksgiving and Christmas will be much like it has been in the past with family,” Cherry said. “My family will adhere to the general rules of not touching surfaces and then touching their face, wearing a mask, sharing elbow bumps instead of hugs, and carrying their own personal hand sanitizer in their pockets.
“I keep praying as we all should for those who are in need or sick, for our country, our leaders and for a vaccine against COVID to be perfected,” Cherry added. “We all need to go back to what our lives were before COVID. Even as my life is now, I am truly blessed and happy.”
Carrot Raisin Bread
2 cup grated carrots (approximately 4 medium-large)
½ cup raisins
4 Tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. ground nutmeg (freshly ground is better)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sugar or ½ cup of Splenda blend
1 cup brown sugar or ½ cup Splenda brown sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup oil
3 cups self-rising flour
½ cup finely chopped pecans, optional (roasted pecans add depth to the flavor)
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans or a Bundt pan.
Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Add carrots and raisins to wet bowl. Combine the wet into the dry. Normally you would flour the raisins, but this is a very thick batter. If you feel that it is too dry, add 1 – 2 more Tbsp. of sour cream.
Spoon batter into greased or sprayed baking pans. Bake on center rack of oven on top of a large baking sheet. This is not messy, so no spillage, but baking on a sheet will make it easier placing in and removing from the oven.
Bake for 50 minutes in convection oven or up to 1 hour in a regular oven, or until golden and pick comes out clean. Loaf pans should require less time, about 35-45 minutes.
Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before inverting your pan to remove. Allow to finish cooling on a wire rack. You may also dust with powder sugar. I love it plain and warm with a small smear of softened butter.
3 cups chicken stock
4 Tbsp. butter
¼ head cabbage, chopped into 2 inch pieces and separated
1 large potato, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ tsp. poultry seasoning or savory
½ Tbsp. flour for a thickener
1 wedge cooked cornbread, crumbled into medium size pieces
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese, optional
*Alternative additions: 1 cup cooked and crumbled bacon or sausage or beef, and or ham cubes
Bring stock and diced potato to a boil in medium size stock pot. Add seasonings. Cook 10 minutes and then add cabbage. Cover with lid and let simmer on low heat.
Remove ½ cup broth and make a slurry with flour. Add slurry to soup continue to simmer another 3 minutes. (I sometimes skip the slurry if I want a thinner broth.)
Add crumbled cornbread and a cooked meat, if you are going to add any.
Ladle into bowls and add shredded cheese on top, if desired.
Baked Green Beans
2 (40 oz. each) cans Allen’s blue lake green beans, regular unseasoned, drained
3-4 medium Yukon potatoes, peeled and cut in half
2 Tbsp. bacon drippings
1½ cups chicken broth, plus ½ cup if needed later
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 medium onion, sliced
3-4 slices bacon
Preheat oven 350.
Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray. Add beans, nestle potatoes into the beans; sprinkle all with salt and pepper. Spoon bacon drippings over all, and add a layer of onions on top.
Layer the bacon last. and pour chicken broth over as needed. You can save a ½ cup of broth in case the liquid cooks too low.
Cover baking dish with foil. Place in oven and set timer for 45 minutes. Check to make sure beans are not drying out. Remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes. (My preference is to cook a little on the dry side.)
Cherry Bruce’s Oven Baked Ribs
Move top oven rack to lower middle of oven and preheat to 350.
2-3 slabs of baby back pork ribs (make sure that you remove peritoneum membrane from the bone side of the ribs, unlike other connective tissue it will not soften when cooked.)
1 Reynolds baking bag, turkey size
A mix of dry rub
1 large baking pan with at least 2 inch sides (I use my broiler pan bottom.)
Rinse ribs with cool water, dry completely with paper towels.
It helps to have an extra baking sheet and a large shallow bowl on standby.
Place baking bag in the broiler pan and turn the top down to make it easier to place ribs into bag.
Cut ribs into pieces that have 3-4 ribs. Spoon or shake dry rub mix on each side of rib section. Place sections into the baking bag, you may have to shingle these to make them all fit. Sprinkle any leftover rub on top of ribs inside bag. Fold bag back to normal. Push as much air out as you can and apply fastener to the bag as close to ribs as you can and close. Cut off any leftover end of bag. Do not pierce bag.
Bake at 350 for 1 ½ -2 hours and check by sight; rib meat will shrink back away from bone as it cooks, and you will clearly see bone ends. Ribs are done when they reach 145-150 internal temperature, but leave in until it reaches 165-190 for a more tender rib. Make sure you place the temperature probe into a meaty part and not next to rib bone.
I usually leave until 160 internal temperature and transfer to my outdoor grill for 20 minutes, give or take. You do not have to do this; it is just a personal preference.
Be careful not to burn yourself when opening the bag. You can move ribs to another baking sheet and apply barbecue sauce and place ribs under the broiler for a few minutes. I just serve as is, with the barbecue sauce on the side.
Place ribs on a serving platter and tent with foil to let ribs rest for 5-10 minutes.
8 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1½ Tbsp. kosher salt or sea salt
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin powder
½ tsp. cayenne
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. old bay or Cavender’s all-purpose Greek seasoning
Mix about three hours before you need this to let flavor develop.
Fried Green Tomato and Okra Patties
These make great appetizers too. I serve them warm on a platter with a small bowl of my homemade tomato relish jam.
2-3 medium sized green tomatoes, rinsed and chopped
1-1 1/2 cup sliced fresh or frozen okra
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
Mix in a bowl and set aside.
Mix 1 beaten egg, ½ cup of Martha White cornmeal, ½ cup White Lily self-rising flour, and ½- ¾ cup buttermilk to make a thick batter. Fold into this the tomato and okra mix.
½ -3/4 cup cooking oil
In a cast iron skillet over med heat, add enough oil to cover bottom, when oil sizzles with a drop of water, drop by Tbsp. batter into skillet. As bubbles appear around edge, gently flip and continue cooking other side until both sides are golden brown.
Fry in small batches and place on a wire rack over a paper towel lined baking sheet. Add more oil to skillet as needed.
You can reheat them in a 350 oven, so that they will all be warm at the same time. It also makes them a little bit crispier, which I like.
Cabbage Au Gratin with Bacon
Great as a side but adding 2 cups ham cubes or cooked and crumbles sausage or beef makes it a meal.
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, with non-stick spray.
1 medium head cabbage, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
1 can of cream of chicken soup
½ cup French onion dip, such as Bean’s or ¼ cup Philly onion herb, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
1 soup can of buttermilk or half-n-half
1 small jar diced or sliced pimento, with juice
½ tsp. black pepper and ¼ tsp. salt
½ cup bacon, crumbled
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese shreds, divided
Combine soup, dip, mayonnaise, milk, salt, and pepper until well blended. Add the pimento with juice. Put about 2 Tbsp. in the bottom of sprayed baking dish.
Put down a layer of cabbage, half of the remaining soup mix, a layer of cheese, and half of the bacon. Repeat layers. Top with remaining cheese and bacon.
Cover with a sheet of foil, and bake at 350 for 35 minutes or until starting to bubble at sides. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes.
Pound Cake and Raspberry Trifle
A nice clear glass footed bowl makes a beautiful presentation for a Christmas dessert. You may substitute a fruit of your liking such as pears. This can also be used with chocolate pudding. Sometimes I use chocolate brownies in place of the pound cake for a change.
1 large Sara Lee pound cake or ½ of your own pound cake, cut into 2 inch cubes.
3 medium – large bananas, just ripened, peeled and sliced
Juice of 1 lemon or 3 Tbsp. lemon juice (to keep the banana slices from turning)
1 large box vanilla or French vanilla instant pudding, make as directed on box
1 large tub Cool Whip or 2 cartons whipping cream, whipped
1 large jar seedless raspberry jam, divided into 3 portions
6 Tbsp. good sherry or brandy, divided into 3 portions
To assemble, first layer 1/3 of pound cake in bottom of glass footed bowl. Sprinkle with 1/3 portions of sherry over pound cake. Spread 1/3 of jam (to make it easy to spread, warm it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so) and follow with 1/3 of banana slices, then 1/3 of pudding followed by 1/3 of whipping cream.
Continue layering until you have all three layers. Place plastic wrap over top, and put it in refrigerator overnight or at least 4 hours before serving.
Beef and Vegetable Soup
This is the soup or stew that I made to last the week when Buddy and I were first married. I usually would just throw in any leftover vegetables. If you were beginning with a blank slate, then this recipe will have to do. This makes enough for 6-8 people.
1.5 lbs. leftover chuck roast or fresh ground chuck or stew beef cubes
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) stewed tomatoes, chopped or 2 cans diced tomatoes
30 oz. bag frozen vegetable soup mix or 2 cans (15 oz each) mixed vegetables
1 can shoepeg corn
1 cup frozen petite baby lima beans, thawed
1 large yellow or white onion, diced
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
½ cup sliced okra, fresh or frozen
2 ribs of celery, split lengthwise and then sliced into small pieces
1 – 2 tsps. better than bouillon beef base
4 – 5 cups water
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, brown ground chuck, then drain. If using stew beef cubes, sauté in 1 Tbsp. oil until outside is brown and inside should be pink. I do not drain when using stew beef. If using a cooked chuck roast, simply chip or chop your roast into bite-sized pieces and discard any fat.
Add vegetables along with tomatoes, beef bouillon, black pepper and water; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Place pot lid halfway on the pot to prevent boil overs.
Check for salt content after soup has cooked for 30 minutes. The beef base adds salt as does canned tomatoes, but adding raw potatoes will make it taste less salty because potatoes absorb a lot of salt. Stir soup intermittently to keep it from sticking. Add water if needed as it cooks.
Simmer for a total of 45 minutes, more or less as needed, to make stew beef tender. Serve with cornbread muffins or a good crusty bread. Soup also freezes well in smaller single sized containers.
BLT Corn Salad
1 head iceberg lettuce or 3 cups mixed salad greens
3-4 tomatoes, peeled and seeded over a colander with bowl to catch juice
Chop tomatoes into bite size pieces, juice
1 lb. bacon, cooked and chopped
1 can shoe peg corn, drained
¾ cup mayonnaise and ¼ cup sour cream, mixed with saved tomato juice
Salt and black pepper to taste
Layer salad, corn, tomatoes, and most of the bacon in a trifle bowl or in a casserole dish. Pour dressing over top. Toss well to mix before serving. Dress the top with left over bacon.
A Different Potato Salad
4-5 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick
4 slices of cooked bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 rib of celery, split lengthwise and sliced thin
3 Tbsp. of your favorite honey mustard dressing (I like Ken’s)
½ cup mayonnaise
A pinch of paprika for dusting the top
I like to slice my potatoes before cooking instead of cooking them whole, so I do not have to wait for the potatoes to cool enough to handle them.
Boil slices of potato in just enough water to cover. Cook until just tender but not mushy. (A fork or pick will pass through easily.) Drain until very dry. Can use paper towels to blot any excess water.
Mix dressing and mayonnaise, salt, pepper and celery: gently fold into potatoes.
Layer in a serving dish with bacon, and finish with bacon and a dust of paprika on the top.
Blueberry French Toast Bake
9 x 9 inch baking dish, sprayed with non-stick cooking spray
4-5 slices Arnold’s buttermilk bread, cut in half
4 large eggs, beaten
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 heaping Tbsp. Pillsbury sugar free yellow cake mix
1 ½ cups heavy cream
½ cup Splenda brown sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup Splenda blend sugar
½ stick butter
¼ cup water
Place water, blueberries, Splenda blend and butter in a saucepan, stirring to mix while it comes to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to medium low and continue to stir until blueberries start to pop and sauce thickens slightly.
Add juice of ½ a lemon and reduce temp to simmer. Stir as needed. Preheat oven to 350.
Whisk eggs, cream, vanilla and cake mix to form a nice thick batter. Place bread into batter coating each side of each piece. Place bread in baking dish like shingles on a roof. Pour remaining batter into baker.
Spoon the blueberry sauce over and under the shingled bread. Sprinkle the Splenda brown sugar over the top.
Bake at 350 for estimated 50 minutes. or until custard is set and golden. Serve warm.
2 pie pastry crusts
1 ½ lbs. ground fresh pork
1 tsp. minced garlic
½ cup milk
2 slices white sandwich bread, broken into pieces
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
1/8 – ¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten
Salt and black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
Mix 1 beaten egg and 1 Tbsp. water for an egg wash; set aside.
Line the bottom of a deep pie plate with one of the pie pastries. Prick bottom with a fork. Place in refrigerator to keep chilled.
Place two slices of bread in a small bowl and add milk. Let bread absorb all of milk. Add a little more milk, if needed.
In a larger bowl, add egg, mustard, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne. Mix well. Then add pork and soaked bread and mix well like you would a meatloaf.
Place meat mixture into pie dish, gently pushing out to fill any voids. Cover top with remaining crust. Crimp sides together and make a vent hole in the middle to allow steam to escape. Brush top with egg wash.
Bake in a 350 preheated oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the internal temperature reads 160. If pie is browning too quickly, place a piece of foil lightly on top.
Island Barbecue Chicken or Pork
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breast (if larger size breast, split in half)
Or 4-6 pork loin steaks 1½ inch thick
½ – ¾ cup G Hughes Barbecue sauce
1 tsp. ground allspice
½ – ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. cayenne
¼ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. salt
½ – ¾ tsp. black pepper
8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained, saving ½ the juice
1 Tbsp. butter
Combine barbecue sauce with spices. Mix well. Place chicken or pork in a gallon zip-loc bag along with ¼ of barbecue sauce. Seal and turn over to coat each piece well. Marinate for 1 or more hours in refrigerator.
Preheat grill to 350.
Allow chicken to come back to room temperature for 30 minutes. Discard marinade.
Pour ¼ more of barbecue sauce into a grill pot. Place chicken on grill and brush with sauce. Cook 6-8 minutes on each side, basting with more sauce as wanted.
Remove chicken from grill and tent with foil. Place remainder of sauce into a saucepot on stove top. Add crushed pineapple and 1 Tbsp. butter to sauce. Bring to a simmer, reduce until thickened. Serve sauce alongside chicken.