Whatley family continues tradition of tailgating at Auburn games

Photo by Ann Cipperly

By Ann Cipperly

The Whatley family has been tailgating for generations. Debra Whatley, left, and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth, are getting ready for another tailgate on the Plains for Homecoming. They are pictured with Elizabeth and Edwards’ daughters, from left, Anne Stephens, Kate and Margaret. The Whatleys’ tailgates have included taking a whole pig to Arkansas games.

For generations it has been a tradition for the family of Debra and Alex Whatley to tailgate at Auburn games, whether it was his father and uncles hosting a barbecue for the team at Dairyland Farms or Alex cooking a pig all night for an Arkansas game.

Debra and Alex’s grandchildren have over 150 relatives who have graduated from Auburn University. The first to graduate from Alex’s branch of the Whatley family was his uncle Wallace Whatley, born in 1898, who graduated from API in 1917 at age 19. Wallace’s twin brother, who was Alex’s father, graduated in 1920. Debra also has many Auburn graduates in her family.

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.

Every fall during the football season in the 1950s, they hosted the entire Auburn team for a huge barbecue with Brunswick stew. This was the beginning of the Whatley tailgates.

Debra and Alex have four children, Libby, Edward, Mary Kathryn and Walter, who all graduated from Auburn. When Libby and Edward were in junior high school, Debra and Alex began tailgating with Opelika friends at Auburn games.

When their children began attending Auburn, the tailgate grew in size. Debra and friends created themed menus, depending on the mascot.

Each couple planned the tailgate for the week and furnished the meat. Other couples would bring side dishes. They would substitute catfish for gator meat when playing Florida. Janet and Randy Bartlett, who were the owners of Cock of the Walk restaurant, would provide catfish and sides. Randy would also sometimes bring new recipes that he was testing for the restaurant.

The group served hot dogs at the Georgia game. Debra purchased chili from Mrs. Story’s Dairy Bar to serve with the hot dogs. Alex would take the grill over to the tailgate site the night before.

At a South Carolina game, they served chicken fingers, while a low country boil or gumbo was offered at an LSU game.

For morning games, Debra generally served breakfast casseroles, grits, grilled sausage, fresh fruit and biscuits.

When the weather turned cooler and at Alabama games, Debra took crock-pots filled with Brunswick stew and soups. She found the crock-pots continued to keep the food hot although they were not plugged into an outlet. Cheese Straws and Three Flavor Whipping Cream Pound Cake have been favorites for every tailgate.

When each of their children was a senior at Auburn, Alex would cook a whole pig all night in a pit they dug by the lake at their house. The next morning, he took the pig in a pickup truck to the tailgate site for the Arkansas game. Friends would help lift the rack holding the pig off the truck and place it on concrete blocks. They would pull the meat off and eat it with barbecue sauce made from Debra’s great-grandfather’s recipe.

Alex’s sister tailgates with them as well as Debra’s sister when she and her family are in town. Various cousins stop by to say hello and grab a bite. Alex and Debra’s four children and six nephews usually come by.

While Debra and Alex continue their tailgate, now their son Edward and his wife Elizabeth have started tailgating as well. Edward and Elizabeth met in their freshmen year at Auburn and married after they graduated. They have three children, Kate, 4 years old, and 2-year-old twins, Anne Stephens and Margaret.

While Elizabeth and Edward attend his parents’ tailgate, they mainly tailgate with a group of 19 couples. They use the Tailgate Guys to set up to keep it easy. The group rotates three couples for each game to host and be in charge of refreshments and provide bottled water.

The menus are simple and sometimes catered. They take tablecloths and decorations for a festive look. Last year when it was Elizabeth and Edward’s turn to host, she ordered chicken and picked up cheese and other ingredients to create a nacho bar.

Elizabeth, who grew up at Signal Mountain, Tenn., really loves to cook. For tailgating she plans dishes that don’t have to be hot or cold. She serves a fruit salad that is also good for brunch. The children like the Apple Dip, and she will bake Debra’s pound cake to take.

Edward and Elizabeth park at the Auburn Mall and take the Tiger bus to the stadium. Food is packed under the stroller or in a wagon that fits on the bus. While they have taken all three girls to the games, they generally take one or two. One problem taking the children is that they generally lose one or both shoes at the tailgate.

Debra, who is a talented seamstress, has appliquéd outfits for her granddaughters to wear to the games.

While Alex grew up in Opelika, Debra is from Pine Apple, Ala. They met on a blind date on Valentine’s Day when they were students at Auburn University.

Alex and Edward own Whatley Construction Company, and Debra and Elizabeth are homemakers.

Although her mother was a home economics major, Debra didn’t learn how to cook until after she and Alex married. They lived across the street from Merle Whatley, who was a good cook. “I would buy a roast and ask her what to do,” remembers Debra.

When the children were growing up, Debra’s cooking skills quickly improved. All of the children were active in sports, church or school activities. Debra would have two crock-pots of chili or spaghetti sauce going all day.

She freezes dishes ahead and tries to have something on hand if she needs a dish for bereavement. She also freezes dishes to take to the beach.

Now that it is Homecoming on the Plains this coming weekend, Debra and Elizabeth both will be cooking favorite dishes and getting ready to continue, once again, the family tradition of tailgating before an Auburn Tigers game.

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at recipes@cipperly.com.

Papa’s Barbecue Sauce
Debra Whatley
1 qt. vinegar
1 small bottle Worcestershire
4 lemons
1 lb. butter
Black pepper
Combine all ingredients in large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for a while. Baste meat while grilling. Serve hot.

Brunswick Stew
Debra Whatley
1 hen
1 Boston butt
3 cans tomatoes
3 cans whole corn
3 bottles ketchup
1 bottle hot sauce
Worcestershire to taste
Juice of 3 lemons
Cook hen and Boston butt until done. Let cool and pull meat off bones. Add meat to a large pot with remaining ingredients. If too dry, add some chicken stock.

Gazpacho Salad
Elizabeth Whatley
1 1/2. lb. ripe, firm tomatoes, chopped or 1 pkg. grape tomatoes
2 small cucumbers, peeled, seed and diced
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup green apple, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup green grapes, cut in half
2 kiwi, peeled and diced
1 Bartlett pear, peeled and diced
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
Make the dressing first. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss to combine. Let salad sit 15 minutes before serving.
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 big pinch coarse salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine dressing in a jar and shake.

Marinated Vegetable Salad
Elizabeth Whatley
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasonings
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 pkg. Splenda or Stevia or sugar
Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake.
Cauliflower florets
Carrots, cut in small strips
Red pepper strips, cut in small squares
2 green onions, white and green parts
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
Sliced black olives
Broccoli florets and cherry tomatoes, optional
Combine salad ingredients. Pour dressing over vegetables and marinate overnight.

Crustless Spinach and Pesto Quiche
Elizabeth Whatley
10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup pesto (from a jar)
5 eggs, slightly beaten
Preheat oven to 375. Press the excess moisture from spinach. Combine spinach, 1 1/2 cups cheese, cream, pesto and eggs in a bowl and mix well.
Pour the spinach mixture into a 9-inch pie pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until set.
Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese over top; bake for 2 to 3 minutes longer or until cheese melts.

Sausage and Wild Rice Casserole
Debra Whatley
1 lb. bulk sausage
2 small cans mushrooms, drained (can use fresh mushrooms)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 box Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup (2 oz.) slivered almonds
Cook rice according to directions on package. Roll sausage into small balls and cook in frying pan. Remove sausage balls and put into large bowl. Sauté onions in sausage fat. Drain onions and mix with sausage and drained mushrooms.
In a saucepan on stove, mix in flour and cream until there are no lumps. Add chicken broth slowly and stir until smooth. Cook until thickened. (Will not be as thick as white sauce.)
Add remaining seasonings and almonds. Mix together and put into greased 3 qt. casserole. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Can prepare ahead and then bake. Also freezes well.

Clear-the-Cupboard Cookies
Debra Whatley
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup uncooked regular oats
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup crisp rice cereal
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans, optional
Beat shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; add sugars, beating well. Add eggs, beating until blended.
Combine flour and next 4 ingredients; gradually add to sugar mixture, beating aster each addition. Stir in coconut, cereal, vanilla and pecans.
Drop by tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets, lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove to wire racks to cool. Makes 4 1/2 dozen.

Baked Beans
Debra Whatley
16 oz. pork and beans
1 small onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 tsp. chili powder or to taste
3 Tbsp. syrup
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tsp. mustard
Bacon on top
Combine all ingredients except bacon in baking pan. Place strips of bacon on top. Bake at 350 to 1 hour or until bacon is cooked.

Heath Apple Dip
Elizabeth Whatley
Two 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 pkg. Heath toffee bits
4 green apples, sliced and/or graham crackers
Combine first four ingredients in mixing bowl. Mix until smooth. Chill for at least 1 hour. Serve with apple slices and graham crackers.

Cheese Straws
Debra Whatley
1 lb. grated cheese
1 cup shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. red pepper
1 Tbsp. salt
½ cup ice water
Blend cheese and shortening together. Combine flour with baking powder, pepper and salt. Cut in flour mixture as for pastry. Add water. Use pastry tube to form into straw. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Pimento Cheese
Debra Whatley
2 cups grated sharp cheese, room temperature
4 oz. pimento, drained
½ cup mayonnaise
Mix together and spread on crackers or bread.

Three Flavor Whipping Cream Pound Cake
Debra Whatley
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 brown eggs
3 cups cake flour, sifted
1 cup (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.
Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake at 325 for 1 hour 20 minutes. Tip: Do not preheat oven.

Layered Buffalo Chicken Dip
Elizabeth Whatley
3 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed (can boil with spices and garlic powder)
12 oz. bottle wing sauce
2 pkg. ranch dressing mix
Three 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese (can use light), softened
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
Celery sticks, corn or tortilla chips
Mix cooked, cubed chicken with wing salads; set aside.
Combine ranch dressing with cream cheese.
In a greased casserole dish, layer the cream cheese mixture. Then top with the chicken mixture. Cover top with mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Serve with celery sticks, corn or tortilla chips.

Spinach and Sour Cream Dip
Debra Whatley
10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
16 oz. container sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 pkg. Knorr Vegetable recipe mix
3 green onions, chopped
Combine all ingredients and chill 2 hours. Serve with fresh vegetables or corn chips.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Debra Whatley
10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, divided
1 pkg. Knorr Vegetable recipe mix
14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and chopped (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients except 1/2 cup cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. Spoon into greased 2-quart casserole. Top with 1/2 cup cheese.
Bake for 35 minutes or until dip is hot.


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