Sharon Cargile’s love of cooking led to careers in food service

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By Ann Cipperly

Sharon Cargile has had a love for cooking since she was a little girl in her mother’s, grandmothers’ and aunts’ kitchens watching them preparing meals. Her passion for cooking led her to co-own restaurants, serve as a church hostess, become director of  food services and work as district manager for franchise restaurants.   
When Sharon was growing up in Demopolis, her maternal grandparents’ house was separated from her home by a small path.  Her grandmother kept Sharon and her siblings in the afternoons and weekends when her parents worked.  During the summer months, Sharon spent time with her paternal grandmother who lived about 35 miles away and had a love of cooking as well.
Sharon was also influenced in cooking by her Aunt Delores, “Aunt Larcie”, as Sharon would call her. She  lived with them while her husband was serving in the military.  Then, Aunt Larcie and her husband lived with Sharon’s grandparents for a few years.
“Everybody on both sides of my family were good cooks,” says Sharon. “It was a family heritage. On Sundays we would go to my maternal grandparents. I grew up with 19 cousins that were like brothers and sisters.
“My grandmother made biscuits every day,” remembers Sharon. “When I got my first Easy Bake Oven, she would give me some of the dough. I would play with it until it turned gray, baked it,  and my Dad still ate it. My Dad knew when I was 4 years old that I had a servant’s heart.”
Her father’s  family was smaller,  but since her grandmother was the oldest of 11 and her grandfather the oldest of 12, there were many homecomings and reunions with lots of homemade dishes. 
 By the time Sharon was 10,  she was making huge meals. Her family encouraged her.
Although she has a major in economics and a minor in marketing from the University of Alabama, most of Sharon’s work experience for the last few decades has been in hospitality and restaurant management.
One of her favorite positions was serving as church hostess at Trinity United Methodist Church in Opelika. “I loved cooking for them,” she says. “It was not a job.”   She prepared large Wednesday night suppers and luncheons for Brown Bag Bible Study among many other community outreach meals.
A few months ago Sharon received an offer from Jones Petroleum, a fuel company that branched out to add Dunkin Donuts, Subway,  Dairy Queen, Little Caesar’s and Burger King with their service stations.  Sharon  is the district manager over franchises for Opelika, Auburn, Valley and LaGrange.
In her off time, Sharon enjoys living down the street from her daughter, Meredith, her husband, Adam, and 1-year-old baby, Broughton.
Since Sharon lives near downtown, she can walk to shops and restaurants, as well as the First United Methodist Church where she a member. She especially enjoys her Sunday school class.
Sharon enjoys entertaining and having people over. “I used to be nervous having trained chefs over to eat,” she says, “but it is all  about loving what you do.”   She plans the meals and prepares as much as possible ahead of time.
She feels a person doesn’t need a lot of kitchen tools and pans to cook. She has downsized and prepares meals with one set of  cookware,  cast iron skillets and glass bakeware.
“Food is comfort and love,”  says Sharon. “When you take the time to make a dish for someone, it  is a way to show people how much you care about them and love them. I love cooking and want people to enjoy the food. I love seeing someone take that first bite and smile.”

Cipperly can be contacted at recipes@cipperly.com.

Recipes:

Ezell’s Fish Camp Slaw
The Ezell family still owns and operates the old Fish Camp restaurant on the banks of the Tombigbee River in Lavaca. My waitress gave me this recipe 35 years ago. I’ve kept it a secret until now as many copycat recipes have appeared on the internet. I still have the paper she hand wrote the recipe on.
1 qt. hand cut cabbage (best if cut in long shreds rather than chopped)
½ cup sugar
½ cup Duke’s Mayonnaise-do not substitute
1 cup Whitfield’s sweet salad cubes
¼ cup finely chopped onion
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. coarse ground black pepper
Mix all above ingredients together. Slaw is better made the day before.

Turtleback Cookies
The original Turtleback was a secret family recipe from Traeger’s Bakery in Demopolis. My brother’s first grade teacher at Demopolis Academy, Mrs. Carolyn Nelson, took a stab at duplicating that recipe by using a spice cake mix. Many believe it’s better than the original scratch recipe from Traeger’s. If you make these cookies, go ahead and make copies. Everyone will want this recipe, I promise!
Cookie:
1 box Duncan Hines Spice Cake Mix
2 eggs
½ cup oil
1 cup chopped pecans
On medium speed of mixer, beat together the cake mix, egg and oil.
Scoop 1 oz. at a time and roll into a ball. Lightly press the bottom of the dough ball into the cup of chopped pecans. Place the dough ball onto a greased cookie sheet pecan side down.
Continue process to make about 24 cookies. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool completely and spread icing on top.
Icing:
1 stick Land of Lakes butter
½ cup light brown sugar
3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
5 Tbsp. cream or evaporated milk
Bring butter and brown sugar to a boil and simmer 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add confectioner’s sugar and cream. You want it to be somewhat thin. May have to add a little more milk or cream. Spread quickly as icing hardens fast.
I usually drop one dollop on top of each cookie and let is spread itself. You may sprinkle a few more pecans on top, if desired.

Honey Mustard Dressing
1 qt. Duke’s mayonnaise
¾ cup honey
½ cup Creole mustard
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. yellow mustard
½ tsp. salt
Mix above ingredients with whisk until smooth. Do not use a blender or food processor. Store in container and refrigerate minimum 4 hours before serving.

Ranch Dressing
1 qt. Duke’s mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ cups whole milk
¾ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 ¼ tsp. garlic powder
½ Tbsp. onion powder
¼ Tbsp. fine black pepper
¼ Tbsp. salt
Hand whisk above ingredients. Pour into glass container. Best served after refrigerated 24 hours.

Salmon Puppies
This recipe was given to me at a recipe sharing party by Mrs. Ann Cagle from Theodor in 1984. I still have it on the original recipe card and have shared this recipe probably 50 times to lovers of salmon croquettes. It’s definitely a keeper! Mrs. Ann also shared that her husband loved these served with pinto beans, rice and tomato gravy and cornbread. I made this meal for my daddy with a lettuce wedge and my homemade 1000 Island Dressing. Kenneth Broughton said, “That’s the best man meal ever!” So, this combo has been served together many times and always enjoyed.
15 oz. can salmon
1/3 cup finely chopped green onion
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 egg, beaten
½ cup flour
Drain and clean salmon. Reserve 2 Tbsp. of the juice.
Mix salmon, beaten egg and onion well. Stir in flour. Mix baking powder
and salmon juice together. Add this to the salmon mixture. It will be sticky. Drop by heaping Tbsp. into hot oil like you would a hushpuppy. Fry until golden brown.

Southern Iron Skillet Cornbread
Grandmaw Gibbs’ recipe for a No. 5 Cast Iron 8.5 inch Skillet
1 cup White Lily self-rising cornmeal
½ cup White Lily self-rising flour
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup whole milk
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp. Crisco
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix all ingredients except Crisco into a batter that will pour easily.
Heat Crisco in skillet until smoking. Quickly pour cornbread batter into smoking skillet and immediately place on middle rack of preheated 400 degree oven. Bake 30 minutes.

Chicken and Dumplings
Mama Mattie Williams, my paternal great grandmother, taught me to make chicken and dumplings. You can make a chicken pot pie with the leftover dumplings by simply placing some warmed chicken and dumplings in a pie crust, maybe add a few peas and carrots and chopped boiled egg on top. Cover with other crust. Seal edges. Bake in 325 degree oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let rest for about 15 minutes before serving.
Chicken:
3 quarts chicken bone broth
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 small packet of Goya Ham Flavored Concentrate (found in the international food section of your grocery store)
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Simmer above until tender and remove chicken from broth.
Dumplings:
2 cups self-rising White Lily flour
½ tsp. salt
½ cup Crisco
½ cup whole milk
Blend above well. Shape into ball. Place on floured surface and roll thin. Cut into strips. Drop into your simmering broth. Drop the dumplings into the rolling boil quickly and gently stir to keep from sticking. Reduce heat and cook 10 minutes.
2 cups heavy cream
Add 2 cups heavy cream. Pull apart the thighs and return to your dumplings. Simmer another 30 minutes.

Strawberry Congealed Salad
My mama’s sister, Myrtle Mae Yelverton, tore this recipe off the back of a Dream Whip box back in the 60’s. She made this especially for my daddy every holiday that we gathered at Grandmaw’s house. Now, all the brothers and sisters on my mama’s side are in heaven. My cousins and I try to keep us together for the holidays. Everyone thought this recipe was a goner until I walked in one Thanksgiving and surprised the family. After some happy tears, we all enjoyed as we laughed with shared memories around several card tables and dining tables set throughout my cousin’s home.
Base:
6 oz. strawberry Jell-O gelatin dessert (large box)
2 cups boiling water
10 oz. frozen strawberries
11 oz. pineapple, not drained (small can)
1⁄2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Topping:
1 5⁄8 oz. Dream Whip (mix as directed)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1⁄2 cup powdered sugar
1⁄4 cup Jell-O gelatin, mixture (reserved)
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla
Base:
Mix Jell-O and water. Set 1/4 cup aside.
Mix rest with strawberries and pineapple.
Pour into a baking dish and refrigerate.
Topping:
Mix Dream Whip as directed.
Combine remaining ingredients and fold into Dream Whip, cream cheese, powdered sugar, reserved Jell-O mixture, and vanilla. Spread this topping evenly atop the Jell-O mixture and refrigerate. May add nuts on top. Aunt Myrtle placed perfect pecan halves on hers.

Sweet Potato Dumplings
Great served with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel syrup. See shortcut note at the end of the recipe.
2 to 3 good size sweet potatoes
1 can crescent rolls
1 stick Land of Lakes Butter, melted
1 ¼ cup water
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. Karo syrup
½ tsp. cinnamon
Place sweet potatoes in pan with ¼ cup water. Cover in foil and steam in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop potato from skin and mash. Add cinnamon to the potato mash.
Unfold crescent rolls. Scoop a heaping Tbsp. or more onto center of triangle. Roll up and place in greased 13 x 9 Pyrex baking dish. Repeat process for all crescents. Pour melted butter over crescent rolls.
In a saucepan, boil water, sugar and syrup for 12 minutes while stirring constantly. Sprinkle with more cinnamon, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
Shortcut Note: Mrs. Dene Bence shared this recipe with me using a quick tip! Instead of sweet potatoes and crescents, she used the frozen yam patties and Grands Flakey Layer biscuits. Pull apart the biscuit, place a yam patty between the two layers and press together. It looks like a big sweet potato ravioli! Place in Pyrex dish same as above and cover with the butter and sugar water mixture and bake. It is quick and easy!

Baked Garlic Cheese Grits
6 cups chicken bone broth
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 finely chopped green onions
1 packet Goya ham flavored concentrate found in the international section of your grocer
2 cups regular grits
1 cup heavy cream
4 oz. cream cheese
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter
1 cup grated smoked Gouda
French’s Crispy Fried Onions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 4-quart casserole dish.
Bring broth, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in grits and whisk until completely combined. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the grits are thick, about 8 minutes.
Add the heavy cream and cream cheese and stir. Gradually stir in the eggs (best if you temper eggs with grits first).
Add Gouda and butter, stirring until all are combined. Pour mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with the French’s Fried onions bake for 45 minutes, or until set.

Greek Scalloped Potatoes
10 Russet potatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 qt. heavy cream
4 yellow onions, julienned
2 eggs, beaten
4 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp. white pepper
2 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. Thyme
1 tsp. Greek seasoning
1 stick Land of Lakes butter, melted, divided
1 cup fine shredded Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
Blanch potatoes 10 minutes and cool immediately. Caramelize onions in ½ stick butter.
Spray 13 x 9 Pyrex dish with pan spray. Pour ½ stick melted butter in dish. Layer potatoes and onions in dish. Sprinkle with cheese.
Mix eggs, cream and seasonings together and pour over potato, onions and cheese. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes in 300 degree oven. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes at 325 degrees.

Caramel Candy
Great Grandma Mason’s woodstove recipe
This recipe was included with a woodstove purchased by my maternal great grandmother in the late 1800’s. Over the years, my mama and my Aunt Deloris perfected it using a gas cooktop. I’ve done it on an electric cook top before, but it is so much easier with gas.
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups water
3 1/8 cups sugar
17 oz. Pet Milk (one large and one small can)
1 ¼ sticks butter
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, chopped
In a large, heavy Dutch oven, spread 1 1/4 cups sugar. On medium heat, brown sugar. Don’t stir until you see the first bubble appear and start stirring from the bubble and gradually stir until the sugar is melted, brown and transparent. If it starts to brown too quickly, turn down the heat! This is why gas burners are recommended. You can control better.
As soon as it starts to become transparent, add the water. Don’t panic! It will harden, but just leave it alone. It will melt.
While this is melting and cooking down, mix the 3 1/8 cups sugar and Pet milk in a two qt. microwave safe glass measuring cup. Heat on high for 5 to 7 minutes. Don’t boil; just heat.
The mixture in the Dutch oven should cook approximately 6 or 7 minutes on high. Watch and you will notice a change in the size and shape of the bubbles. When the bubbles are very hard and fast, add milk and sugar mixture from the microwave. Stir constantly. When it starts to boil rapidly, add the butter. Keep stirring constantly until it cooks down. (You will see why you need a large Dutch oven as it will boil over if not watched carefully even in a large pot!)
Reduce heat after butter has melted and mixture begins to boil again. Cook, stirring often, until a firm ball is formed when dropped in water (248 degrees on candy thermometer). Remove from heat and add vanilla. Add pecans. Beat with large spoon until it can be dropped by spoonful onto waxed paper and continues to hold its shape. Don’t get discouraged! You must beat and beat. I use my mix master sometimes, and it works but don’t add pecans until later if you do.
If you want to use as caramel cake icing, bring the candy mixture to the soft ball stage (234 degrees on candy thermometer). It is by far the best caramel cake icing I have ever tasted.

Red Beans and Rice
This recipe was given to me by my good friend, Myra Reagan, from Gadsden. It is a tried and true recipe from Mrs. Prudence Hilburn, born and raised in Piedmont and passed a year ago in Gadsden. I suggest everyone Google Mrs. Prudence and gather some of her best recipes. This is the only way I make rice now.
1 lb. dried small red beans
4 quarts water
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped green pepper
3/4 cup chopped celery
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. salt or to taste
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. dried whole thyme
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1/2 tsp. dried whole oregano
1 lb. smoked Polish sausage, cut in 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Oven Rice
Sort and wash beans. Place in 6-quart Dutch oven. Cover with water 2 inches above beans; let soak overnight.
Drain beans. Add 4 quarts water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook uncovered 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Melt butter in large skillet. Add onions, celery, green peppers and garlic. Sauté until tender. Add sautéed vegetables and next 6 ingredients into beans; cook uncovered 1 hour, stirring occasionally and adding additional water, if needed.
Bake sausage at 350 degrees for 20 minutes; drain well. Stir sausage mixture into beans mixture. Cook uncovered 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Stir in parsley. Serve over Oven Rice.
Oven Rice
1 1/2 cups uncooked regular rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped celery
1 1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
1 1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped green pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
Dash ground red pepper
Pinch of white pepper
Combine all ingredients in a 2-quart baking pan, stirring well. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until all liquid is absorbed.

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