By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Are you full yet?
I know that I am stuffed if you’re reading this paper or seeing it online about 4:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Today is the day of feasting and family. It is a time to reflect on blessings and fellowship with those you love.
Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday behind Independence Day. Both days are centered around food, family and fun (football).
Notice I put food first? As a man who once stood 348 pounds, I love eating. And I’ve been blessed to lose 125 pounds while still enjoying some of the best food the world has to offer.
I come from a family of great cooks like my great-aunts Rean, Liza, Mag, Willie Jo and Net. They all specialize in different types of spaghetti. Then I grew up with my mom, Alma Marie Sellers, creating delicious meals on a regular basis. She would do Mexican, Italian, Asian and of course soul food.
As I grew up and expand my horizons, I encountered masters of the kitchen through my job at The Millington Star. My church family has gotten into the act over the years, feeding me like I’m the guest of honor at a Biblical feast. With so many to choice from, I wanted this Best Sellers’ List to be a tribute to the women in my life who have made my stomach smile over the past 37 years. To be eligible, you must be family or adopted family. And I must have enjoyed the item or meal on more than one occasion. Before we countdown the 10 best, here are my honorable mentions: Candy Justice (Seven-Layer Dip), Brenda Morgan (Cutie Mom’s Pumpkin Spice Bread), Sue Moore (Ms. Sue’s Strawberry Cake), Anne Allen (Ms. Anne’s Barbecue Chicken Quarters), Ruth Montgomery (Toasted Tacos), Rachell Montgomery (Fried Catfish), Carolyn Bahm (Hummingbird Cake), Chris Gordon (Ms. Chris Strawberry Banana Pudding), Nina Hale (Nina’s Christmas Treats) Tricia Hale (Slow-Cook Roast Beef), Trina Newsome (Spicy Chicken Wings) and Mary Hale (Mary’s Cakes).
10. Ms. Mary’s Rum Cake (Mary Redmond)
Moist, flavorful and saturated in top-notch rum, this cake is one of my favorite parts of September. My former co-worker first introduced this dessert to me about a decade ago. It was her gift to me for my birthday. It was wonderful. She made it in a bundt cake style. Loaded with nuts and … rum, this cake is unique with that Ms. Mary flair. The cake is like a mixture of California sunshine and Southern comfort.
9. Sister Boyd’s Soups
My godmother loves to plant in her garden. She also enjoys shopping. When you combine the two, we get awesome chili, spaghetti and soups at the Church of Christ at Ridgegrove. The wife of our Minister Gerald Boyd, Sister Boyd is the main person in charge of our Wednesday night meals for Bible Study. She heard that I was pretty good at cooking, so she summoned me one evening to assist her in making one of her soups. We collaborated on some spices and sauces.
Over the years my godmother has perfected her craft. It’s the right amount of spicy and the sauce is rich. The bold flavors still manage to allow the vegetables to maintain their taste and texture. The meat is a mystery until you lift the lid. Some of the notable guest stars in the soups have been deer, chicken, ground beef, roast beef and more. We look forward to winter at church because we know it is Sister Boyd Soup time. And each is one-of-a-kind.
8. Mama Rita’s Meatloaf
Before this lady became my mother-in-law, I was invited to her church as a guest of her lovely daughter, Ruth. I came for the special Father’s Day service. United Fellowship Church was going to honor all the men for their roles as father figures. Part of the day was the women serving us lunch.
Of course Ruth performed the honors for me. As I sat across from her dad, Rickey, he was getting to know the man who was dating his daughter. But our conversation started to dwindle as the food hit the table.
With the beautiful plate full of food in front of me, I went for the meatloaf first. As Mama Rita’s meatloaf introduced itself to my taste buds, in one motion I reached toward the counter where the pan of meatloaf rested. I started cutting on the final piece. As I retrieved another slice, I felt the heat of a death stare in my direction. It was Pops. He looked like he wanted to fight me over the meatloaf.
The meatloaf was so good I was ready for war. Ruth jumped in and said, “Daddy, we got some more put up.” War was avoided that day.
7. Sister Greer’s Lemon Glazed Cake & Coleslaw (Cheryl Greer)
My dearest Sister Greer, she does not like the spotlight. But I often shine a light on her giving nature. She’s a mechanic, counselor, legal advisor and a master chef. She can cook anything, but her two specialties that will literally make me threaten my fellow church members are her lemon cake and coleslaw. The Lemon Glazed Cake is a homemade delicacy. It is so moist and once it is pressed down, it returns to regular form. Pressing it down is fun because you will get the sugary glaze all over your hands. Best way to end one of our church’s meals.
Then on Wednesday night, we normally have hot dogs and smoked sausages. Sister Greer’s Coleslaw is not too far away. Her homemade slaw is sweet, creamy and robust.
I use her coleslaw like Frank’s Red Hot. I put that slaw on everything.
6. Madea’s Ham & Biscuit
My great-grandmother created magic in her home for generations. I was blessed to taste her cooking before her passing in 1990. I ate meals fresh off the farm from veggies to meat. I saw my Madea kill the chicken and fry it up.
But the best meal I was able to enjoy from my Grandma Alma was made while I took a nap. I woke up to the wonderful aroma of Southern biscuits and smoked ham. My Mom warned my Madea to give me a large portion. She save her five-year-old grandson a large biscuit that could cover an entire slice of ham.
I savored every crumb from the buttery biscuit. The tender ham melted on my tongue. My Uncle Bob watched me from the other end of the table in disbelief. “Mama, he ate all of that.”
Of course, it was perfection in a pan.
5. Mama Hale Dinner
The late matriarch of the Hale family was tough and fought for what she believed in. She promoted children and community. Mama Hale made Millington her home. Through her sons and daughters the community was blessed. Then it passed down to her grandchildren. Hale has been unleashed upon the Memphis area.
I was adopted by the family through Brian and Nina Hale. My introduction to the crew was made possible through their daughter, Brandi. And the bond was strengthened with their baby girl, Kelsey. I was blessed with a wonderful family to look out for me and provide for me. But I couldn’t image some of the best food I would ever eat was on the table, too. From great desserts to wholesome snacks, Mama Hale made sure I was fed. At a time when money was tight, Mama Hale would send a care package right on time. That basket normally consisted of homemade yeast rolls, fresh gravy, sauteed carrots, marinated green beans with bacon, hand-whipped mashed potatoes and tender beef or fried chicken.
Key ingredient in all of the items — love.
4. Grandma’s Greasy Spaghetti (Helen Baskerville)
The women I mention earlier about the spaghetti are the sister of my late Grandmother Helen. While they usually make a sweeter spaghetti, my grandmother brought a different approach to the meal. It was simple but magical. She wouldn’t pour off the grease after cooking the meat. She added her pasta, sauce and herbs. With her signature cornmeal-based cornbread, it was heartburn on a plate. But it was so delicious. As a teenager, I would call my grandmother with a request, “I want some Greasy Spaghetti, please.”
By that weekend she would tell my Mom, “Red, bring my grandbaby over. I got his Greasy Spaghetti ready.”
After her passing in 2015, I took a shot at making it. It was missing something — my grandmother’s special touch.
3. Grandma Minnie Special (Minnie Lou Johnson)
The Madea of my father’s family, Grandma Minnie was no stranger to the kitchen. As a child I though her Crisco canister held magic. She would place her hand into the canister and whip out creations like pound cake, fried chicken and biscuits. I thought even her vegetable medley, soup and water came out of that Crisco container. But the special consisted of slices of pound cake, pieces of fried chicken and biscuits placed in three separate baskets.
My sister Sha and I would surround our dad at the table. He would place one of each item on our plate. The chicken was the best fried chicken ever. The biscuits were moist and didn’t even need liquid for consumption. And the pound cake was sweet and fluffy. The three of us would eat the baskets empty, leaving nothing for my grandma or mom. The price of gossip.
2. Aunt V’s Potato Salad
I didn’t realize how blessed I was to work alongside my auntie for several years until she retired earlier this year. A woman of substance, style and spirit, she would bring me in lunch routinely while sharing life lessons. From her humor to her humility, I looked forward to talks with my Aunt V.
God sending her into my life on a regular basis has made me a better man and listener. The reason why I listen to her so well is that I was too busy eating to talk.
My Aunt V has that Midas touch in the kitchen. She can make beans, corn, broccoli, cornbread muffins and even white rice taste like it should be $30 on a menu. Then her meatloaf is rival to Mama Rita’s.
She makes pork so tender, folks think it is chicken. There are so many Aunt V items that could be ranked in the top 10.
But the food that best represents her overall catalog is her Potato Salad. Her secret recipe transforms potatoes into tender morsels of joy. She has a rich creamy sauce with freshly chopped veggies. Sweet and tangy are the final verdict from your taste buds. It is a labor of love and caring.
Aunt V is an artist in the kitchen. She cooks with her heart and soul. She prepares a plate with the person in mind. She separates hot food from cold items so you can enjoy. Her main ingredient of love can be tasted in every bite.
1. Mom’s Sweet Potato Pie
(Alma Marie Sellers)
Love is the common ingredient in every piece of food mentioned in this column. And the greatest love of them all comes from my mom. Growing up, I fell in love with my Grandmother Helen’s sweet potato pie.
My Mom always made a pretty good pie but in the early 1990s she embarked on a journey to perfection.
By 1994, the best dessert and sweet potato pie resided at 3629 Gowan Drive. My mom wanted to give her first-born son a homemade treat. Each test run would end with “Come here, baby, and taste this.”
My normal response was, “It’s good, Ma.” But one day I was summoned to the kitchen. My mom extended her fingertip covered in the sweet potato mixture. I ate the mixture off her finger and was speechless. Right then my mom knew she had the perfect sweet potato pie recipe.
My brothers and I love the pies so much, we dislike those who order them or try to take pieces out of our home. We barely shared the pies with our nephews, Kordell and Juwan. Now they are on the team to keep the pies in the house.
Mom’s Sweet Potato Pies are so good that people who don’t eat them will pay $20 for one.
The key to her pie is whipping it. She makes sure they are creamy and you can drink the mixture out of a cup.
Love is vital to the success of the pie as well. But for me the main ingredient still to this day is when she dips her finger into the mixture. I hear my mom’s voice calling me into the kitchen to come taste.
“Mom, it’s ready.”
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.