Cynnie James shares memories of cooking experiences, recipes

Photo by Ann Cipperly

On a sunny morning, Gumbo is simmering on the stove at Cynnie James’ country home that flows into many rooms with a large living room in back overlooking the woodlands and a lake. Her home provides spaces to entertain her entire family for special occasions and to host Bible studies. The dining room, living room and kitchen offer buffets and tables for beverages and meal service.

Cynnie has a large family with five children, 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She has two daughters, Leslie, who lives with her, and Mally.

Her son David Jr. “Sandy” is married to Lee Lee, while Michael is married to Breezy, and Cooper’s wife is Jo Ellen. The sons run the family business, Castone Co., founded by their father, the late David James Sr.

Cynnie says she grew up with one foot in Mobile, her father’s home, and the other in New Orleans where her mother’s family lived. Cynnie was born in New Orleans and spent most of her childhood in Mobile. After her parents divorced when she was a teenager, Cynnie and her mother moved to New Orleans.

Growing up, her family had cooks. “I thought food arrived at the table,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t know about going to the grocery store and cooking.”

Cynnie met David when they were students at the University of Alabama. She has an interesting story of how they met. While she was dancing, he cut in and said, “Marry me, Baby”, and she said yes. He told her he had seen her pass by in a car, and if he ever saw her again, he swore he would ask her to marry him.  They were married 57 years.

When they got married, Cynnie admits she could not cook one thing.  “Our first meals were tuna fish and chow-mein noodles from a can,” she says. “David never complained and always said how good it was. My first try at a normal meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans, was a disaster. I called my mother, gran and aunt for advice.”

When Cynnie realized she was going to be cooking every day, she decided to learn how.

After David graduated from Alabama, they moved to Auburn for him to teach at the high school for one year. David then went to work at Opelika High School in 1960. They moved to Opelika where she had neighbors who were good cooks and taught her.

Cynnie experimented with her Raspberry Smart Tarts, which were so popular that she decided to enter them in the Pillsbury Bake-off. As she anxiously waited to hear from the company, she finally received a letter from Gold Medal Flour. She had sent the recipe to the wrong company. She entered the cook-off the following year, but the company had changed its focus.

They moved across from the A&P in Opelika, which Cynnie loved since she could walk across the street for groceries.

Cynnie and David became good friends with Bobbie and Fob James Jr. when they in his grandmother’s house a block away.  Fob started his business, and when David wanted to have his own company, Fob made it a branch of Diversified Products. Later, David’s company, Castone, went on its own.

“We are not related,” says Cynnie, “but we are very close friends. Bobbie took me to Bible studies at Miriam James’ in Auburn and introduced me to Jesus. ”

When the three sons were at Lee Academy, Cynnie was asked by the head master to chair the committee to find a chef and manager for the school cafeteria.

“In the midst of my search,” she says, “the Lord made it clear to me that I was to take the job myself. I prayed day and night for a plan. I took the plan before the committee and was hired.”

At first, her sons said they were going to be so embarrassed, but it turned out to be one of the happiest times. She named the cafeteria “The General Store,” and it was an immediate hit. With only one assistant, Earle Vickers, she fed up to 400 people a day. Student helpers received free food.

She put flowers on the tables and played Christian music.

“My lesson for the year,” she says,  “was there is no greater joy than to be in the center of God’s will. My 24/7 job was never a heavy load or drudgery, but rather a delightful interlude in my life.”

The family lived in a large two-story house on Fourth Avenue, and after the children were grown, Cynnie and David moved to the Beauregard community. They completely redid the house and added on rooms.

They enjoyed travel, having a hunting camp in Union Springs and a beach home where she enjoyed preparing seafood dishes. David generally grilled wildlife at the camp.

A couple of years ago, Mally requested her mother’s recipes. Cynnie found an attractive notebook where photos and recipes could be inserted. She made one for each of her children. She has written special memories to each one along with the recipes.

The cookbook is a great idea and will be treasured by her children.

Cynnie is still adding to the book, as she enjoys getting into her kitchen to cook and create delicious meals like Gumbo and Meringues she serves with ice cream and blueberries or a sauce.

Following is a sampling of recipes from her book. Clip and save these for creating wonderful meals for your family.

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at


Vegetable oil
2 cooking spoons of all -purpose flour
2 medium or large sweet onion, chopped
Few chopped celery tops
10 cans (original) stewed tomatoes
3 Tbsp. thyme
6 whole bay leaves
Salt and seasoned pepper to taste
1/4 -1/3 bottle of Zatarain’s file
2 lb. thinly sliced okra
5 lb. shelled and de-veined shrimp
2 lb. crabmeat
Cover bottom of extra large heavy pot with cooking oil. Add a couple of cooking spoons of flour; cook on medium heat for a light brown roux.
Add onions and celery tops; sauté lightly.
Mash or lightly blend tomatoes; add to pot.  Add 2 “blenders-full” of water.
While bringing to a boil, add seasonings and mix thoroughly. Cook on low boil for about 10 minutes then add okra.
Continue cooking for at least another hour, stirring regularly all the way to the bottom of the pot (mixture has a tendency to stick and burn!).   You may add water if too thick. Taste and see!
Add shrimp. Bring to a boil again and cook for 15 minutes, stirring.  Turn off heat, then add crabmeat, gently distributing throughout. Let it rest and cool for full flavor! Remove bay leaves before serving. Then enjoy a perfect pot of Gumbo.

Meringue Shells
6 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp.  cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
With electric mixer beat egg whites until frothy; add cream of tartar.  Continue beating at high speed until whites form soft peaks. Add sugar, a little at a time. Add vanilla and continue beating at high speed until meringue looks glossy and stands in very stiff peaks.
Spoon meringue with a teaspoon onto a paper lined oven rack or cookie sheet. Shape into little “nests”.
Bake for about 2 hours at 200 degrees. Turn oven off, but leave oven door shut until the next morning.
Serve with a scoop of your favorite ice cream and topping!
(Make meringues on a sunny day. Rainy days tend to make them gummy.)

Raspberry Smart Tarts
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. ice water
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Raspberry jam
Cream butter, sugar, flour and vanilla. Add ice water. Add pecans. Divide dough in half, wrap in Saran wrap and refrigerate until stiff.
Roll dough out thin on a floured board, and cut into small circles.  Place on cookie sheet. Bake in slow oven at 350 until lightly browned.  Cool on rack.
Spread jam between two cookies until all are used.  Set aside until ready to glaze.
1 stick butter
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Small bit of milk
1 beaten egg white
1 or 2 drops red food color
Melt butter in medium sized pot. Add sugar and vanilla and stir.  Add milk until consistency is thin enough to pour. Stir in egg white (this makes them shine). Stir in color until icing is a pale pink.
Drizzle over cookies until completely covered (on rack so extra icing drains off).
Use spatula to place in cupcake papers, which have been “cut” down.

Hotel Pontchartrain “Mile-High Pie”
1 baked homemade pie shell
Blue Bell Ice Cream:  1 pt. vanilla, 1 pt. chocolate, 1 pt. strawberry
1 dozen egg whites
Dash of cream of tartar
Granulated sugar to sweeten
1 tsp. vanilla
Layer 3 flavors of ice cream into pie shell. Cover tightly with plastic, then foil; freeze until solid.
Beat egg whites until stiff, adding a dash of cream of tartar. Add enough sugar to sweeten and vanilla.
Just before serving, remove wrappings, heap thick meringue “a mile high” onto top of pie leaving soft “peaks.” Be sure to seal sides of the meringue to the crust so the ice cream doesn’t melt!
Brown in pre-heated hot oven at 450 degrees until perfectly and evenly browned.
Slice and serve with homemade chocolate sauce drizzled on top.

Cynnie’s Red Beans and Rice
1-2 lb. bag of small red beans
Small about of oil
1-2 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 pkg. Conecuh or Eckrich link sausage, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse beans well.  Place in large bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight.
Next day, brown sausage and onions in large pot with Wesson oil to keep from sticking.  Rinse and drain beans, Add drained beans to sausage mixture and generously cover with water 3 or 4 times as high as the beans.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Bring to boil, then cook covered over medium heat for an hour or two, stirring occasionally until the desired consistency is reached.
Serve over rice, with hot sauce on the side. Serve with a salad for a hearty meal.
To cook the rice, boil long-grain rice on medium-high for 18 minutes. Pour in colander and rinse with extra hot water. Cover with paper towel. Place on top of a pan with a little water to steam on low heat until ready to serve.

Chili for a Crowd
Cut ingredients in half for smaller amount
3 lb. ground round or sirloin
2 medium sweet onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 envelopes of dry Lipton onion soup mix
2 large “cooking” spoons chili powder or to taste
10 cans original stewed tomatoes lightly blended
10 cans Bush’s chili beans (preferably red kidney chili beans)
Brown meat, onions and pepper in a large heavy pot until done.
Add remaining ingredients (plus a quart of water) and mix well.
Simmer on stove for an hour. Turn heat off. Let chili rest for a little while.
Serve with crackers and butter.

Vegetable Soup
Cut recipe in half for a smaller pot of soup
3 lbs. ground sirloin     \
3 medium-large sweet onions, chopped
Vegetable oil
10 cans (original) stewed tomatoes
3 Tbsp. ground thyme
Salt and seasoned pepper
6 whole bay leaves
3 Tbsp. file
Large bag frozen cut green beans
½  small cabbage (sliced thin)
Large bag frozen tiny butter beans
Large bag frozen shoe-peg corn
Handful of angel hair thin noodles
Brown meat and onions in small bit of vegetable oil in a large heavy pot.
Place tomatoes (2 cans at a time) in blender, and lightly blend. Add blended tomatoes and 2 or 3 blenders (or more) full of water to beef.
While bringing to a boil, add seasonings and mix thoroughly. Boil mixture on medium for about 30 minutes.
Then add green beans and cabbage and cook for another 30 minutes. Add butter beans and cook another 30 minutes. Lastly, add corn and cook until soup is the desired consistency.
Five minutes before soup is done, add noodles.
Be sure to stir the soup regularly in order to prevent it sticking to the pot and burning. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Stuffed Tomatoes
12 medium tomatoes
1 lb. medium hot sausage
2-3 medium sweet onions
10 small yellow summer squash
10 small zucchini squash
1 stick butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Plain breadcrumbs
Melted butter
Scoop out insides of tomatoes  (put aside to use later in soups or casseroles). Place tomatoes in large greased pan.
Brown sausage and chop into small crumbles. Drain on paper towels. Set aside.
Finely chop all vegetables, and place in large frying pan with butter.  Lightly sauté   (don’t want to lose the crispness).  Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Add cooked sausage and mix thoroughly.  Stuff mixture into tomatoes and bake for about 30-40 minutes in 400-degree oven.  Last 10 minutes sprinkle breadcrumbs on top with a drizzle of butter.  Cook till lightly browned.


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