By Ann Cipperly
After turning from a busy highway, a narrow road winds through dense forest under a canopy of fall leaves. Soon the land opens to a picturesque setting with a serene lake and the two-story log home of Dr. Buddy and Cherry Bruce. The road continues around the lake and through towering trees to the house where the entrance is marked with blooming plants and an outdoor sitting area with a swing and tables.
Since the Bruces four dogs are fond of company, Cherry has put them in their special place. Small whimpers can be heard, as the pets would like to greet who has arrived.
Built with heart pine logs from trees on the property, the house is stunning with a massive quartz rock fireplace in the spacious two storied living room, with a balcony leading off to the bedrooms upstairs. The adjoining screened porch with rock columns provides sweeping views of the lake.
The Bruces recently hosted a rehearsal dinner for friends with tables festively decorated with lanterns and hurricane shades surrounded with berries, magnolia leaves, ribbons, roses and deer antlers, creating a striking lakeside setting.
Using trees and stones on the property, the house was built by Maud Bruce in 1927. Maud was the sister of Dr. Byron Bruce, who was Buddy’s grandfather. When the house was finished, a dam was constructed creating the lake.
“Miss Maud designed the house,” says Cherry. “She had visited Yellowstone where she got the idea for having a big lodge where everyone could gather and have little cabins around the lake, but the house kept getting bigger and bigger. It ended up with everyone having a room here.”
Buddy’s parents, Homer and May Bruce, moved to the house in 1977 and had some remodeling done. Buddy’s father passed in 1988. Several years later his mother decided to move closer to town. She moved to Buddy and Cherry’s home, and they moved to the log house.
As we sat on the porch for Cherry to recall Thanksgiving memories, Canada geese squawked in the background. A few years ago, a pair of geese raised seven goslings, and now they all return to the lake every fall.
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.
Cherry enjoyed visiting her grandmother, who lived just outside Opelika, and would watch her cook. While her grandmother never had a mixer or other kitchen equipment, she was an excellent cook and would make her favorite dishes, including vegetable beef soup.
In a family with many good cooks, her mother prepared a special Sunday dinner every week. Cherry learned a great deal about cooking as she helped her mother prepare meals.
Her mother especially enjoyed cooking for Thanksgiving, and everyone in the family came for dinner, bringing a dish. Homemade dressing was prepared the night before to allow the flavors to blend and baked the next morning. On Thanksgiving, her mother cooked a large turkey, ham and beef roast. Frozen vegetables from the three-acre garden were simply prepared for the sides.
One of Cherry’s father’s favorite dishes was salted fish that he prepared a few days before Thanksgiving. Cherry remembers he would buy a kit and soak the fish overnight. He would pour the water off four or five times before going to bed. The next morning he would pull out any remaining bones. Her mother would fry the fish, and serve with pan biscuits and syrup.
Her mother also served fried quail and gravy with biscuits for breakfast. Quail and dove were favorite fall dishes. Cherry remembers one time her grandmother cooked pheasants for a large lunch group.
Her father was always asked to prepare barbecue for family gatherings. He cooked excellent barbecue pork loins and chicken.
Cherry met Buddy in high school at Scott Preparatory, and he also worked for her father while a student at Auburn.
Dr. Bruce owns the Animal Health Center on Second Avenue in Opelika. The Bruces have two sons, Matthew Blaine, who attends Auburn University, and Bryon Andrew, a student at Southern Union.
When their sons were growing up, Cherry would host the family at their home for Thanksgiving. She assembled all of the vegetable casseroles a day ahead and waited until ready to bake to top with breadcrumbs to keep it crunchy. She still does this for Christmas.
Now that her mother’s nephew from Naples, FL. has moved here, he hosts the family at his house. He serves a baked, fried and smoked turkey for 30 plus family members, with everyone bringing a side dish or two.
Cherry enjoys cooking, and all of her siblings cook too.
Her Yellow Cake with Chocolate Fudge Filling is a special dessert for the holidays. Sometimes she will bake 14 layers instead of eight. The cake can be varied by spreading seedless raspberry jam on every other layer, which creates a spectacular cake.
When Cherry hosts Christmas dinner at her home, her special chocolate cake is on the menu along with beef roast, ham and vegetable casseroles.
For Thanksgiving and Christmas, she plans menus weeks ahead and makes a grocery list. She gets most of the ingredients weeks ahead and waits closer to the holiday to purchase the meats.
“At Thanksgiving,” says Cherry, “I think back to growing up with all those good memories, thinking about my parents and grandparents who have passed on. I think about how each one enriched my life.
“I am also thankful for all the people in this country who sacrifice their Thanksgiving and Christmas to keep us safe,” she adds. “We remember them when we ask for God to bless our food and those who serve this nation and their families.”
Ann Cipperly can be contacted at email@example.com.
You will need a roaster with rack and a tight-fitting lid.
Adjust your oven racks to accommodate the roaster.
7 lb. thawed whole turkey
1 Granny Smith apple
1 large onion, quartered
2 ribs of celery
1 stick softened butter
1 Tbsp. parsley
1 Tbsp. poultry seasoning
1 large sheet aluminum foil
2 cups boiling water
Preheat oven to 500.
Take out packet from inside turkey’s cavity. Wash bird inside and out. Pat it dry with paper towels, inside and out.
Mix softened butter with parsley, poultry seasonings, salt and pepper. Rub mixture inside bird’s cavity and outside between skin and meat. If any is leftover, you can rub it over the skin.
Place bird on rack. Stuff the apple, celery, and onion inside the cavity. You may need to chop apple without seeds into smaller pieces and also chop the celery.
Pour 2 cups boiling water in bottom of roaster. Cover bird with enough foil to overhang roaster. This will make a tighter seal when you place the lid on. Place roaster in oven. Let the temperature come back to 500 before you start timing. Cook at 500 for 1 hour. Turn oven off and do not open oven door for the next 5-6 hours. The turkey will continue to cook with the oven off.
I usually do this around 11 p.m., turning oven off at midnight and then going to bed. Turkey is ready early the next morning, freeing your oven for the dressing and other casseroles Thanksgiving Day.
Fresh Sweet Corn Pudding
10 ears fresh corn (either Silver Queen or Bi-Color), grated (This will render 2 cups grated corn.)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 2 qt. glass or ceramic baking dish.
In a medium bowl, grate corn. Be sure to scrape down the husks with a knife to release all liquid from husks.
In a large bowl, whisk milk and eggs together, then whisk in flour, salt and sugar. Finally whisk in melted butter.
Stir creamed corn into milk and egg mixture until well blended.
Pour into buttered baking dish.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until pudding is firm and golden brown.
Pinkeye Purple Hull Peas
2 to 3 qt. bags frozen pink eye peas (I get mine from Opelika Farmers Market.)
3 whole smoked turkey wings (6 pieces)
1 Tbsp. bacon drippings
4 pods whole okra
In a big boiler pot, fill with water ¾ full and add turkey wings. Boil over medium/high heat for 40 minutes until water has turned cloudy and decreased by 1/4.
Add peas and bacon drippings. Salt to taste. Cover slightly with a lid and let peas boil until just tender, about 25 minutes (You may need to add a cup of water. Broth should always cover peas.)
Add okra and turn heat to simmer. Let cook until okra is tender. Taste and make salt adjustment if needed. Discard the wings (makes a great dog treat, just be sure to remove all bones), and remove okra to the side, for someone who likes it. Serve in a pretty vegetable bowl.
Country Cured Ham (Bone-in)
5-8 lbs. ham with bone in
¼ cup apple or pineapple juice (optional)
2 large brown paper grocery bags, unused
Preheat oven to 350.
(I usually ask my bagger at the grocers to give me 2 large brown paper bags as I am checking out.)
Place one bag inside the other. Place ham inside the bags and place in a roasting pan with sides. Pour the juice inside the bag toward the rear. Fold the bag closed several times, best to fold under, and you can secure with an old wooden clothes pin, but I do not.
Position oven racks just like using an oven baking bag. Place in oven that has been preheated to 350. Cook 30 minutes per lb. or until center of ham, not near the bone, registers 170 on meat thermometer.
Allow to rest until you can handle easily. Carve and place a large platter. Transfer drippings to a heavy bottom stock pot or skillet. Add 1 cup of juice and ¼ cup brown sugar, mix well and let this reduce over medium heat. Pour sauce over ham or serve alongside.
3 cups chopped yellow squash
3 cups crumbled cornbread
10.5 oz. can cream of chicken or celery soup
1/2 cup diced celery
1/3 cup diced onion
1 stick butter, melted
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp. pepper
Pinch of salt
Cook squash in boiling water until tender, drain well. Place squash in a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Once well combined, pour into a lightly greased 9×13 pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until somewhat firm to the touch in center.
If you are a cheese lover, you may add ¾ cup extra sharp cheddar cheese.
8 Layer Yellow Cake with Chocolate Fudge Filling
Needed: 4 (9-inch) round cake pans
Flour cooking spray
4 rounds of parchment paper
2 boxes Duncan Hines Classic Butter Golden plus 1 extra egg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
With electric mixer, follow cake box instructions and add 1 extra egg, to cake batter. Divide cake batter among the four pans. I do this like dealing cards; each pan gets a cup of batter until all the batter is used up. This way the layers are more uniform.
Cook per directions on box. Make sure when a toothpick is inserted that it comes out clean. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes or more, until pans are easy to handle.
Remove cake from pans, leaving parchment paper on bottom of each layer, and place on cooling rack until cool enough to cut the layers.
Cut each layer in two. Leave the layers together until you are ready to start assembling the cake. While layers are still cooling, make the fudge filling.
Chocolate Fudge Filling
1 ½ sticks butter, melted
2 cup granulated sugar
3-5 Tbsp. Hershey’s cocoa powder (your preference as to how much cocoa)
2 tsp. vanilla
Mix butter and sugar over medium heat in a double boiler or in a heavy bottom pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved; add cocoa powder and stir. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
Mixture will be like a thick syrup. Spoon onto and spread between cake layers and some on top.
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 box powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp. cream or milk
Mix butter and cream cheese well. Add in cocoa, powdered sugar and vanilla. Use cream or milk to make it easier to spread. Spread frosting over cake and refrigerate.
Second Fudge Icing Choice for 8 Layer Cake
2 cups (4 sticks) butter
3/4 cup clear Karo syrup
13 oz. evaporated milk
5 Tbsp. Hershey’s cocoa powder
6 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Melt butter in large boiling pot on medium heat.
Add Karo syrup, evaporated milk and cocoa. Stir and mix well with a big wooden spoon. Add sugar. Heat on high and bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down (stirring constantly). Reduce heat to medium and boil 2 minutes more.
Remove from heat; add vanilla and beat with mixer on high until thick and creamy. Working quickly, spread on first layer and add next layer (remember to remove each parchment paper as you go) and continue until you have all 8 layers iced. Use remaining icing to cover top and sides.
If icing starts to harden, simply place the icing pot into a larger pot of hot water. Add a couple of tablespoons of evaporated milk and mix well.
Cherry’s Squash Casserole
12 medium yellow squash, cooked and drained
½ cup Dean’s French onion dip
3 heaping Tbsp. sour cream
3 eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp. (heaping) Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 cup Parmesan grated cheese
3/4 cup Mexican blend grated cheese
1/2 cup Gruyere grated cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp. Morton’s Natures seasoning
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes (dried)
Buttered cracker crumbs
Wash, trim and slice squash. Place in boiler and cover with water. Add 2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until squash is very tender. Drain well.
Preheat oven to 350. Spray casserole with Pam and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine onion dip, mayo, cheese, cream and seasonings. Taste to make sure that you have enough salt. Add beaten eggs and cheese. Incorporate well using a spoon to mix. Add slightly cooled squash (about 1-2 cups) to sauce and stir well. This will temper the sauce so that you don’t end up with something like scrambled eggs. Add remaining squash, mixing well.
Cherry’s Broccoli Casserole
My son Blaine’s favorite!
1 large bag frozen broccoli spears
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
10 ½ oz. sour cream
1 ½ – 2 cups sharp or extra sharp Cheddar cheese
1 sleeve premium saltine crackers, crushed into small bits
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
Morton’s Nature Seasonings
Steam or boil thawed broccoli spears. Do not overcook. Rinse with cold water. Drain.
Using paper towels squeeze as much water out of spears as you possibly can. In a 9×13 casserole dish coated with nonstick spray, smear a Tbsp. of both cream soups on the bottom of dish, then a layer of spears. Do not mix the cream soups together.
With a tablespoon, put dabs of each cream soup over the broccoli spears followed by dabs of the sour cream, season each layer to your taste as you build with salt/pepper and seasonings, finish each layer with a dusting of cheese. Build layers to the top; add buttered cracker crumbs as the last layer.
Bake at 350 for about 45-50 minutes or until bubbling on sides. I cover my casserole with aluminum foil for the first 30 minutes to keep the cracker crust from getting too brown.
*If you like a crunch, add some slivered almonds, walnuts or pecans to each layer or sliced water chestnuts. Can easily be adapted to a full meal by adding 1 cup cooked rice and 2 cup cooked shredded or cubed chicken or ham.
Grandma Smith’s Squash Pickles
10 cup small to medium sized squash, washed and sliced thin
2 large yellow or white onions, halved then sliced thin
2 large red bell peppers, washed and sliced into thin slivers
1 Tbsp. plain salt (not iodized)
In a non-reactive glass bowl or plastic tub, place squash, onions and peppers. Sprinkle salt over these. Using your hands toss and mix until you feel the salt is well distributed. Put a piece of plastic film over the top and refrigerate over- night or at least 6 hours. Drain into a plastic sieve. Set aside.
Have on standby 6 to 8 (½) pint sterile jars with flats and rings. Into each jar, place 2 or 3 black peppercorns.
In a large stock pot combine the following:
2 ½ cups cider vinegar
3 cups white sugar
2 tsp. celery seed
2 tsp. mustard seed
Mix and bring to a hard boil while stirring to help sugar dissolve without burning on the bottom of the pot. Add to this the squash mix. Stir and bring back to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and with a slotted spoon, pack jars with squash mix. Leave headspace of about 1” from top and with a ladle, fill with the hot vinegar mixture (still leaving 1” at top).
Place flats on jars and screw rings on but not tight. Process these in a hot water bath for about 8-10 minutes.
Remove and allow to seal. Screw rings down after you hear that familiar pop. Store sealed pickles in a dark cabinet for a few weeks before opening to eat or gifting to friends. Chill before serving. Remember to refrigerate after opening.
*If you like your pickles hot, then by all means add a couple of hot peppers without the seeds or stems into the mix.