Surrounded by family photos and mementos from trips, 87-year-old Joan Bennett recalls early marriage years in Opelika, raising her four children and her love of travel that has taken her to over 40 countries. While she doesn’t cook much anymore, Joan had a love of cooking and created cookbooks with handwritten favorite recipes for each of her four children.
When she was a child, Joan’s family moved to Opelika from Dadeville in 1944. She met her husband Luther, who moved from Roanoke with his family in 1939. They were married when she was 19 years old and Luther was 20. In August, they will be married 68 years.
Luther worked at the Opelika Gas Company before opening his own business, Bennett’s Appliance Store, in Five Points in Opelika.
Joan recalls in those early marriage years there were few places to shop or dine in downtown Opelika, but a grocery store on 8th Street would deliver.
The Bennetts dined at Andy’s and The Chicken House, which was located at the corner where Southern Union is now. At the restaurant, they enjoyed fried chicken and a simple lettuce salad with thousand island dressing. Marguerite and Gus Barnes operated the restaurant.
Joan became friends with Marguerite Barnes, as she was the lunchroom manager when Joan was secretary at Northside Elementary, which is now Martin Elementary.
“The students were served a full southern meal,” remembers Joan. “They had a meat, vegetables, salad, rolls and dessert. They were not served any fast food.”
Joan enjoyed cooking for her family. After working all day, she came home and prepared a full meal from scratch. There were no microwaves. “In the early years,” says Joan, “I prepared for eight, as we always had to be prepared for one or two extra friends.
“I lived in a time when the ladies played bridge and had teas,” adds Joan. “We used our fine china, crystal and sterling silver. Now younger people entertain very informally. It is different, and they live a more relaxed life.”
When their children were growing up, the Bennetts would take them camping for two weeks during summer. Luther built a small trailer for their station wagon to pull. The trailer was large enough to carry a large tent, sleeping bags and a portable two-burner gas stovetop that Joan used for cooking meals outdoors.
The family traveled to Lake Martin, the mountains, beach and historic sites, including in Washington, D.C.
When her four children left home, she made a cookbook for each one with favorite recipes and “bits of wisdom to live by.” These cookbooks are now worn.
The Bennetts have three sons and one daughter, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, with one on the way. Mike Bennett and his wife Debra live in Opelika, Kevin Bennett and his wife Ann reside in Opelika, Al lives in Chattanooga and daughter Lisa Anne and husband Mike Milhorn are in Kingsport, TN.
Joan had a love of traveling. After the children grew up, the Bennetts purchased a motor home. They traveled to Maine and Key West. They took mopeds to the mountains to ride. Over the years, they had three motor homes, ending up with a huge bus size, as they traveled to 47 states.
The Bennetts also took trips abroad provided by an air-conditioning company whose products were sold at the store.
Joan remembers on a trip to England she was looking out the window and saw a lady walking her dog. She wished she could meet her and go to her home for a cup of tea to talk to her about life in England.
When they returned home, Joan saw two ladies on a Montgomery television station reporting on the Friendship Force Club and home hosting. The group was formed under the Carter administration to foster friendships in different countries by visiting in homes and experiencing the culture and foods. Members were home hosted for one week on each trip abroad.
While Luther was not interested, Joan joined and traveled the world. Mrs. Guy Thompson went on a couple of trips, and Eloise and Forney Renfro joined them for a trip to Wales. Joan recalled that the guests always took their hosts out for a meal, but in Wales the family wanted them to prepare a meal.
Joan made Martha’s Party Casserole and salad, while Eloise prepared a dessert with cookies, whipped cream and strawberries.
The homes the group stayed in were varied. She enjoyed dining on the variety of dishes prepared in homes. The families would show them places of interest. In Norway, they stayed at the elegant home of someone who had been president of the banks. The food was a lavish spread.
In Russia, the home was modest, and the family served cabbage and potatoes with little meat. The family had a very old car that broke down at times. The group was told the family would be in debt for eight months for hosting them.
Joan visited the Middle East and Cuba. When they went to Cuba, they had to first fly to Cancun and then to Cuba.
When the Friendship Force visited countries, the mayor and city officials would meet them. In Jordan an official invited them to his home, which was filled with antiques, and they served elaborate dishes.
The Bennetts hosted many guests from other countries in their home in Opelika. They would take guests on tours of the area and to Callaway Gardens and the Little White House. She would serve fried chicken, barbecue and other southern favorites.
Joan found people to be wonderful everywhere she traveled. She took photos, including pictures of the food that now fill about 24 scrapbooks.
On her travels Joan visited over 40 countries and 47 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. She would bring Christmas ornaments back for her grandchildren.
When Luther and Joan both had health issues, the traveling ended in 2006.
“I was never afraid traveling,” she says, “but now I would not want to go overseas.”
With the children grown and Luther in Arbor Springs with knee problems, Joan finds cooking is a different experience now.
With their home too big without children, the Bennetts moved to Hamilton Gables near Tiger Town. “We have made wonderful friends here,” she says. “Almost every day we see friends, and we take care of each other.”
For special events, her children host the family now and prepare the meals. Her recipes are being carried on by her children and grandchildren. Her daughter-in-law, Ann Bennett, had copies of her cookbook made to give each of her three sons.
A sampling of Joan’s recipe collection follows, including some from her friends. Look over the recipes and try a few for your family this week. Some might end up in your family’s cookbook of favorites.
Marguerite Barnes’ Seafood Casserole
1 cup shrimp
1 cup crabmeat
1 cup oysters, optional
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup English peas
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. chopped onion
Breadcrumbs for topping
Mix all ingredients together, except breadcrumbs. Pour into a greased casserole. Top with breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees.
Martha’s Party Casserole
On our visits to families overseas we normally took them out for one dinner. My family in Wales wanted to eat something we make in American. This is what I made off the top of my head.
8 oz. thin noodles
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. lean chuck or ground round
Two 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 cup cottage cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. minced green pepper
1/3 cup minced green onions
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
Early in day, cook noodles in salted water; drain.
Sauté ground beef in butter until cooked. Add tomato sauce; set aside.
Combine cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream. Add peppers and onions.
Place layer of noodles in a 2-quart casserole. Top with cheese layer, another layer of noodles. Pour melted butter over noodles. Top with meat mixture.
Place in refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight. May be frozen.
Bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Cook longer if frozen. Serves 8.
Sue Blackmon’s Swiss Hamburgers
Serve with hamburger buns.
2 lb. ground beef made into hamburger patties and browned in a skillet. Place in a baking pan.
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. mustard
1/4 cup vinegar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup catsup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup chopped onion
Combine sauce ingredients. Pour over hamburgers in baking pan. Bake uncovered at 350 for about an hour.
Stuffed Summer Squash
3 medium yellow squash or zucchini
3 Tbsp. chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups soft breadcrumbs
1/3 cup minced parsley
Salt and pepper
Cook whole squash in small amount of boiling salted water until barely tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.
Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Arrange shells in greased shallow baking dish.
Sauté onion in butter until tender. Stir in breadcrumbs, parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Spoon into shells. Top with Parmesan cheese.
Bake in 350 oven 20 minutes or until hot. Makes 6 servings.
Mary Ann Dorsey’s Orange Sauce for Pound Cake
3 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. grated orange rind
3 Tbsp. undiluted frozen orange juice
1 cup sour cream
Cream butter with sugar. Add orange rind, juice and sour cream. Serve over pound cake slices.
Loma’s Baked Crumbled Drumsticks
1 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste
24 drumsticks, skinned
In a large bowl, combine sour cream, lemon juice, garlic, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Add drumsticks, tossing to coat.
Let chicken marinate covered for 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
2 cups ground saltines
2 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme or 2 tsp. dried
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Black pepper to taste
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sweet paprika
Combine all crumb ingredients together in a shallow bowl. Roll drumsticks in crumb mixture, shaking off any excess. Arrange them 1-inch apart on buttered baking sheets.
Unsalted butter, melted
Lightly drizzle melted butter over drumsticks. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 1 hour or until they are golden brown and tender.
Joan’s Oven Chicken
1 chicken, cut up
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
Salt and pepper chicken. Place chicken in baking pan. In small bowl, melt butter, lemon juice and vinegar. Pour over chicken.
Bake uncovered at 350 for an hour or until done. Turn occasionally as it is cooking.
Good served with buttered noodles, corn on the cob or English peas, slaw and toasted barbecue bread.
Easy and Good Coconut Pie
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup coconut (I use 1 can flaked coconut)
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 deep dish unbaked pie shell
Whipped cream, optional
Beat eggs and add sugar. Blend in milk and coconut. Add butter; pour into pie shell. Bake at 325 until firm in center.
Can top with whipped cream when cooled, if desired.
Frozen Ice Cream Balls with Salted Peanuts and Fudge Sauce
Roll generous-sized balls of vanilla ice cream in chopped, salted peanuts; freeze.
Serve ice cream balls with chocolate syrup with a little peanut butter stirred in that has been warmed.
Pork Chop Casserole
I went away to Brenau University, a girls’ college in Gainesville, Ga. One course was home economics. My teacher taught us to cook sauerkraut and this pork chop casserole. I still make it.
Salt and pepper
1 cup water
Salt and pepper pork chops and brown in a skillet. Set chops aside. Add water to skillet and sizzle.
Grease casserole dish. Add the following vegetables for the number of servings you need.
1 layer sliced potatoes
1 layer sliced onions
1 layer sliced carrots
1 larger sliced potatoes
Salt and pepper each layer.
Place pork chops on top of vegetables. Pour water from skillet over top.
Cover with foil. Bake at 350 to 400 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.
Grandmother O’Brien’s Grape Sherbet
Dissolve 1 cup sugar in 2 cups hot water. Add 1 cup canned crushed pineapple, juice of 3 lemons, 1 cup bottled Welch’s grape juice and 1 can sweetened condensed milk.
Mix well and pour into two refrigerator trays and freeze until firm, stirring occasionally as it freezes. Serves 6.
My Grandmother’s Pancakes
My son, Mike Bennett, makes these for his grandchildren.
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1 heaping Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups sifted flour, divided
1 heaping Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 stick butter, melted
Whip egg in a bowl; add milk, salt and sugar.
Mix in 1 cup sifted flour. Then take remaining 1/2 cup and add baking powder and sift into mixture.
Beat in melted butter.
Use batter for making pancakes.
Will keep covered in refrigerator but better used when prepared.
Grease a 10-inch iron skillet and place in a 450 degree oven to get hot.
2 cups Martha White self-rising corn meal mix
1 cup buttermilk or more
When well mixed, pour into hot skillet. Bake 14 to 20 minutes or until brown.
Easy Baked Beans
16 oz. can pork and beans with tomato sauce
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tsp. mustard
2 Tbsp. catsup
2 or 4 Tbsp. breakfast syrup or brown sugar
2 slices bacon
Combine all ingredients except bacon slices. Place in a greased 2-quart casserole and lay bacon slices on top. Bake uncovered at 350 for about 30-40 minutes. Make 4 to 6 servings.