Whatley Family Celebrates Easter with Traditions, Good Food

Debra Whatley and her family are sharing their Easter traditions and favorite recipes. Pictured are, from left, first row, Ward Whatley, Marileta Stone, Libby Burch with miracle baby Jake, and second row, from left, are Elizabeth Whatley, Mary Kathryn Whatley and Debra Whatley.


Easter is Debra Whatley’s favorite Christian holiday, and she prefers it over Christmas, as it is not as commercialized. At Easter, her four children and their families gather at Debra’s country home in Beauregard for a festive celebration luncheon.

“I feel like we can celebrate the true meaning of Easter, which is Christ’s death and resurrection, without so much secular celebration that Christmas entails,” she said.”

Debra grew up in the small town of Pine Apple in the Black Belt, while her late husband, Alex Whatley, was a native Opelikan. Debra and Alex met on a blind date on Valentine’s Day when they were students at Auburn University. They were both from large families with good cooks. Debra and Alex were married for 40 years before he passed away from ALS.

Three books have been written on the Whatley family history. Simeon Whatley, who was born in 1810, and his wife, Catharine Lazenby, settled 10 miles south of Opelika in what is now the Beauregard community. Simeon fathered 13 children and became the patriarch of one of Lee County’s oldest and largest families.

Alex’s father, uncles and grandfather owned Dairyland Farms, which was located where the Auburn Mall is now. Along with cows and a dairy, there were spacious barns where parties were held.

After Alex and Debra married, they founded the Whatley Construction Company, which is now operated by their son, Edward.

They have four children. Edward and his wife Elizabeth have four children as well — Kate, Anne Stephens, Margaret and Ward — while Libby and her husband Mike Burch, who works for an earth science firm in Columbus, Georgia, have one child, Jake. Mary Kathryn owns the Tart & Tartan Bakery in downtown Opelika. Walter, who worked for Samaritan’s Purse for several years and traveled to more than 30 countries, now resides in Birmingham and works for a consulting firm.

Debra’s mother, Marileta Stone, moved in with her three years ago from Pine Apple. She was a home economics major in college and enjoyed cooking. The Homecoming Potato Salad was served for a huge homecoming at the school in Pine Apple. The ladies would make the same recipe.

Debra said one of her most cherished Easter memories with Alex and their children was when they went to Europe on a spring break trip with Lorna and Don Roberts several years ago. There were about 20 people on the trip, and they realized that they did not have transportation to a church service on Easter. Don led a worship service in the lobby of their hotel.

“It was a very meaningful Easter,” Debra remembered, especially now that both Lorna and Don have passed away.

Other favorite memories were attending Easter sunrise services in Pine Apple and later with Alex at Garden Hills in Opelika she said. They attended the Holy Week luncheons, which Debra has continued to do.

When their children were young, Debra held Easter egg hunts using real eggs that they dyed. She would have a golden egg, and divided the children by age groups, with some in the backyard and another group in the front yard. One year, Walter received a real lamb and Marty Kathryn received a bunny, which Debra said was a fun Easter for the family.

Now that the children are grown, everyone goes to their own churches on Easter before meeting at Debra’s house for lunch. Sometimes more extended family and friends are invited for Easter lunch.

While Debra said she enjoys entertaining, she didn’t develop an interest in cooking until after she and Alex married. They lived across the street from Merle Whatley, who was a good cook, and she taught Debra how to cook a roast and other dishes. Her cooking skills quickly improved.

All the children were active in sports, church or school activities. Debra would have two slow cookers with chili or spaghetti sauce simmering all day. She would freeze dishes ahead and always tried to keep a dish if she needed one for a bereavement.

The Whipping Cream Pound Cake is one of her favorite cakes to keep in the freezer. It is Mary Kathryn’s favorite and the first recipe she learned how to cook.

When Mary Kathryn was growing up, she would help her mother bake family recipes for tailgates and other times when the family entertained in their home. To assure these favorite family recipes would not be lost, Mary Kathryn and Debra assembled them into a cookbook for family members.

After she graduated from Auburn and was working in Atlanta, Georgia, as a CPA, Mary Kathryn could hardly wait to get home at night to bake, as she found it relaxing. It was the most enjoyable part of her day.

She moved back home to Opelika to be closer to family, while working remotely as a CPA for the Atlanta firm. Mary Kathryn soon realized she wanted to change careers and open a bakery to continue her family’s tradition of gathering around delicious food. She felt downtown Opelika would be the perfect location for the Tart and Tartan Bakery.

A few years ago, Mary Kathryn and Debra visited Portugal and took a class on making pastry tarts called pastel de nata. Debra has been making cream cheese pastry tarts for many years to serve at showers and teas. She helps at the bakery by making casseroles.

As Mary Kathryn celebrates the second anniversary of her bakery opening, she is creating southern desserts served at family reunions and church dinners, as well as Easter cakes and other confections.

Edward and Elizabeth met in their freshman year at Auburn and married after they graduated. Elizabeth, who grew up in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, has a love of cooking for their four children. Elizabeth lets the children help make Easter Resurrection Rolls. The children also paint designs on wooden eggs.

Elizabeth has carried on an Easter tradition from when she was growing up. For the egg hunt, each of the eggs have a number. Once the hunt is over, everyone checks the numbers to see what they are receiving, which includes gift cards, stickers or other fun gifts.

Walter is sharing a recipe for Lobster Bisque, his favorite recipe that he made frequently while living in the Bahamas. At the end of a workday, he would head to the water with his snorkel in hand. There were several coral heads nearby which attracted lobsters, and he would gather a couple to make the bisque on weekends from a recipe a neighbor gave him. It was served at a party with guests from the U.S., Bahamas, Australia, Japan and Colombia.

When the family gathers to celebrate Easter at Debra’s lovely home in a country setting overlooking a pond, they are especially thankful for baby Jake, who is a miracle baby that was born with heart defects and other problems. After four surgeries and being in the hospital for 83 days, he is doing well.

While there will be plenty of good food on the menu served at a beautifully set table, Debra is thankful for being able to celebrate the resurrection of Christ surrounded by her family, remembering treasured traditions and memories.

Easter Resurrection Rolls

Elizabeth Whatley

When making these rolls with children, tell the following with each step.

• Unrolling the crescent rolls represents the “cloth” they wrapped Jesus in.

• The marshmallow represents Jesus in white being pure.

• Dipping in melted butter symbolizes embalming oils.

• Rolling in cinnamon and sugar represents the spices to prepare the body for burial.

• Wrapping the crescent roll around the marshmallow is the tomb.

• After baking, the marshmallow disappears, representing the empty tomb.

10 oz. can refrigerated crescent dinner rolls

8 large marshmallows

1/4 cup butter, melted

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a parchment or silicone liner. Open the crescent roll package and separate the rolls into eight triangles.

In a small bowl, whisk together cinnamon and sugar. Dip each of the marshmallows in the melted butter, then roll in cinnamon sugar mixture.

Place a marshmallow in the middle of each dough triangle, then roll the dough tightly around the marshmallow, pinching to close all of the seams.

Place the rolls on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the rolls cool a few minutes, and then let the children pick a roll to open up. The marshmallow will have disappeared.

Honey Dijon Glazed Pork

Debra Whatley

2-3 lb. boneless pork loin

¼ cup honey

2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp. black peppercorn, crushed

¼ tsp. thyme

½ tsp. salt

Use broiler pan. Line with foil. Spray rack.

Combine glaze ingredients. Brush over roast several times.

Cook at 325 degrees for 1 hour. Brush again with glaze.

Bake 30 additional minutes or until temperature reaches 160 degrees. Let roast rest a few minutes before slicing.

Stuffed Eggs for Easter

Libby Burch

1 dozen eggs, boiled and peeled

4 Tbsp. pickle relish

3 Tbsp. mayonnaise

Stuffed olives, halved

Cut eggs in half. Put yolk in small bowl.

Mash yolk with fork. Mix with relish and mayonnaise.

Place mixture in whites.

Garnish each with half an olive.

Homecoming Potato Salad

Marileta Stone

5 lb. cooked, diced potatoes

2 tsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. salt or to taste

½ cup chopped onions

1 cup chopped sweet pickles

1 1arge jar chopped pimento

5 hardboiled eggs, chopped

1 ½ cups mayonnaise

Sprinkle sugar and salt on potatoes after cooking.

Toss all ingredients gently with potatoes. Chill until ready to serve.

Mary Ann’s Bean Casserole

Mary Kathryn Whatley

1 or 2 cans green beans

4 Tbsp. butter

¾ cup chopped onion

1 can sliced mushrooms

2 Tbsp. flour

1 carton sour cream

½ tsp. salt

½ cup slivered almonds

Cracker crumbs mixed with melted butter

Bring beans to boil and drain; set aside.

Melt 4 Tbsp. butter in skillet; add onions and mushrooms.

Cook until onions are transparent. Add flour and stir until smooth.

Add sour cream while stirring; add salt. Add beans and almonds.

Pour into baking dish; cover with buttered cracker crumbs.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Twice Baked Potato Casserole

Elizabeth Whatley

4 medium sized russet potatoes (about 2 lbs.)

1 Tbsp. oil

½ cup sour cream

¼ cup salted butter

½ cup sour cream

½ cup milk

6 slices bacon, chopped and fully cooked

2 cups (about 4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese, divided

4 green onions, sliced

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

2 tsp. fresh chopped parsley, optional

Wash and scrub potatoes. Rub a bit of oil on the outside of the potato. Poke potatoes 3-4 times with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes until potatoes are fully cooked. Cool until easy to handle.

Slice potatoes in half and scoop out potato into a bowl. Save skin from one potato. Mash potatoes with a potato masher. Add butter and sour cream. Stir in milk, about half at a time using enough to make the potatoes creamy, adding more if needed.

Set aside ½ cup of cheese, a few Tbsp. of the bacon and a few Tbsp. of the green onion for the topping. Fold remaining into potatoes.

Chop the reserved potato skin and add to mixture. Add salt and pepper, adding more if needed.

Place mixture in a greased baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and bacon. Bake uncovered in a 375-degree oven for 25-30 minutes until heated through.

Top with remaining green onions and freshly chopped parsley.

Whipping Cream Pound Cake

Debra Whatley and Mary Kathryn Whatley

1 cup butter, room temperature

3 cups sugar

6 eggs

3 cups cake flour, sifted

½ pt. heavy whipping cream

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

1 tsp. butternut flavoring

Mix butter and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time.

Alternately add flour and whipping cream. Add vanilla, almond and butternut flavorings.

Pour into greased and floured cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Tip: Do not preheat oven.

Sunshine Salad

Marileta Stone

1 pkg. orange Jell-O

1 cup boiling water

½ cup ice water

1 can crushed pineapple

Pinch salt

2 medium carrots, grated

Place gelatin into a small mixing bowl; stir in boiling water. Stir until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in water, pineapple and salt. Add carrots.

Pour into 8-inch square pan. Chill until firm.

Easy Baked Rice

Libby Burch

1 Tbsp. butter, melted

1 cup rice, uncooked

1 can onion soup

1 can consommé soup

Garlic salt

Mix ingredients together except garlic salt and place in casserole dish.

Sprinkle top with garlic salt.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Angel Biscuits

Debra Whatley

5 cups flour

¼ cup sugar

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup shortening

1 pkg. dry yeast

2 Tbsp. warm water

2 cups buttermilk

Melted butter

Sift dry ingredients; cut in shortening.

Dissolve yeast in warm water and add to buttermilk. Add to dry mixture and mix well.

Roll dough ¼ inch thick. Cut into desired size.

Dip biscuits in melted butter and fold over.

Let stand 1 ½ hours before baking.

Dough can be refrigerated overnight. Allow to rise for 3 hours if refrigerated.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Makes about 36, depending on size.

Lemon Pie

Debra Whatley

This is low-calorie but tasty.

1 large sugar-free instant vanilla pudding

2 ½ cups skim milk

1 tub Crystal Light

12 oz. fat-free Cool Whip

2 small graham cracker crusts

Beat pudding and milk until fluffy.

Mix in Crystal Light. Fold in Cool Whip.

Pour into crusts and chill.

Chocolate Pound Cake

Marileta Stone

This is a good recipe to make when you need a dessert, as the ingredients are ones that are generally on hand. Marileta said this was her favorite since she lived in the country and couldn’t always get to the store for other ingredients to bake a cake.

1 cup Crisco

3 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 Tbsp. vanilla

1 cup milk

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

3 Tbsp. cocoa

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Beat. Sift together dry ingredients. Add alternately with milk. Tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Silverpoint Lobster Bisque

Walter E. Whatley

4 lobster tails

2 Tbsp. butter

1 tsp. olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 tsp. fresh chopped thyme

1 tsp. fresh chopped tarragon

1 tsp. chicken bouillon powder

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. fresh cracked black pepper

½ tsp. cayenne pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

3 Tbsp. flour

1¼ cups dry white wine

4 cups lobster stock

¾ – 1 cup heavy cream

Garlic butter ingredients:

2 Tbsp. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt, pepper and cayenne, to taste

Lobster stock: Bring 5 cups of water and 1 Tbsp. salt to boil in large stock pot. Add lobster tails, cover, and boil for 5 minutes. Remove lobster tails and let cool slightly. Remove meat from shells.

Return lobster shells and juices to water in stock pot. Simmer for at least 15 minutes to draw flavor out of shells.

While stock is simmering, dice meat and place in refrigerator.


Heat butter and oil in large pot. Sweat onions, carrots, celery and fresh herbs. Cook until soft. Season with bouillon powder, salt and peppers. Stir in 4 cloves minced garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Mix in tomato paste. Sprinkle over flour and cook for several more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in wine, simmer and reduce to half. Stir in lobster stock, reduce heat and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid has thickened slightly and flavors have blended, about 30 minutes.

Take off heat, transfer mixture to blender and blend until smooth (can also use immersion blender). Return to medium-low heat and stir in heavy cream.

Garlic Butter Lobster Meat:

Melt butter in skillet. Sauté garlic and add in lobster meat.

Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Sauté about 1 minute to warm lobster meat.

Mix ¾ lobster meat into bisque and serve in bowls. Top bisque with remaining lobster meat and extra tarragon.


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