Cookbooks from the heart

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 10, 2007

Carolyn Nelson’s cookbooks are more than just recipe collections. They are a compilation of memories and inspirational sayings that she has collected throughout her life, not to mention some fabulous dishes.

Beginning in the 1970s, Nelson decided to publish the recipes she had collected over the years. When she approached her husband, James, with the idea he was skeptical.

Her first cookbook, &8220;Carolyn’s Country Cooking,&8221; came out around Thanksgiving, and within two weeks, the sales from the books had paid back the loan.

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Since her first book, Nelson has published another cookbook in each decade, including &8220;Down Home Cooking with Country Leftovers,&8221; &8220;Cooking and Remembering the Olden Days&8221; and most recently, &8220;Recipes to Remember: Sharing Food and Memories from Carolyn’s Kitchen.&8221;

Nelson is working on another cookbook, which will include recipes that cater to people with diabetes and other health issues. Nelson said she has four brothers with the condition, and it has made her whole family more conscious of their health.

She remembers her grandparents, who were called Big Mama and Big Daddy, always having dessert at dinner.

Nelson said that she enjoys baking the most, and her favorite things to bake are cookies, yeast breads, pies and cakes.

She remembers her first baking experience when she was about 10 years old.

At that time, Nelson remembers, there were no electric mixers and everything had to be mixed by hand. She also remembers her mother leaving her to cook in the kitchen on her own.

Nelson also remembers that after she made the cake for her father, he told everyone she was a better cook than her mother.

Since that time, Nelson has continued to cook and make recipes of her own, which she says she loves to experiment with.

Nelson has also raised one son, Rob, and now has two grandsons, Andrew and Jared. Unfortunately, this means she hasn’t had any girls to pass along her baking secrets to.

One of her happiest memories, Nelson said, is baking fresh cookies and watching her son eat them right out of the oven.

When her son was in college at Samford University, Nelson said he would come home every weekend and get a load of goodies to take back to school with him.

Her favorite part of the cooking process, she said, is seeing how much people enjoy the things she makes for them.

When she was younger she would pull up her chair to the counter and watch her mother and her grandmother cook. If she’s not making something for her family, she said, she is baking up something special for her friends and neighbors.

When she isn’t baking in the kitchen, Nelson said she is working on more cookbook projects.

The following recipes have yet to be published and will be included in her next cookbook, which will also have stories and sayings drawn from time spent with her grandchildren.

Mexican Layered Taco Dip

My favorite dip! I got this recipe from my daughter-in-law, Natalie. She prepares it for birthday parties and other special occasions. Her mother, Diane, and I make pigs of ourselves every time Natalie serves it at the boys’ parties.

1 medium can refried beans

1 8-oz. carton sour cream

1 package taco seasoning

1 small can chopped green chilies

sliced black olives to taste

1 jar salsa

grated cheddar cheese to cover

diced tomatoes (enough to sprinkle on top)

sliced Jalapeno (as many as you like arranged on top)

Spread beans in bottom of dish or serving tray with at least one inch sides. Layer ingredients in given order. Taco seasoning may be mixed with the sour cream or sprinkled over it. Serve with tortilla chips.

Crock Pot Macaroni

This is the recipe that I gave out at West Alabama Preparatory for our Sunday dinners. About 20 crockpots of macaroni and cheese would arrive at the cafeteria in time to start serving at 11 a.m. Our menu when serving this usually consisted of baked chicken and gravy, green beans, fruit salad, macaroni and cheese, rolls, tea and assorted desserts.

1 12-oz. package macaroni

3 large eggs

17 ounces (I 12-oz. and 1.5-oz. can) Carnation evaporated milk

2 1/4 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted

8 ounces shredded medium cheddar cheese

16 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese

4 to 6 slices cheese to cover top

Grease 5 or 6 quart crockpot or spray with Pam. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Do not overcook, it will continue to cook in crockpot and will not absorb milk if overcooked. Drain well. Beat eggs with whisk or beater. Add both kinds of milk, salt, pepper, butter and both kinds of cheese. Stir into macaroni. Pour into crockpot and cover with slices of cheese. Place cover on crockpot. Cook on low 3 to 4 hours. Serves 18.

Cornucopia Salad

This is one of those strange sounding salads that you will probably not want to try, but just go ahead and test it. I think you’ll be surprised.

1 head iceburg lettuce, torn into pieces

1 small green bell pepper, diced

1 cup frozen green peas, thawed, uncooked

1 8-oz. can sliced water chestnuts ,drained

3 large bananas, tossed in lemon juice to prevent darkening

1 6-oz. package dried cranberries or raisins

1 cup chopped pecans (can substitute walnuts or salted peanuts)

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

3/4 cup chopped green onions, tops only

10 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled


2 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1/3 cup sugar or Splenda

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

In 10′ x 14′ X 3′ dish, layer salad ingredients in order listed, stopping after the nuts. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and let stand for five minutes. Spread dressing over top of salad, covering completely. Sprinkle cheese, green onion tops and bacon over salad. Cover and refrigerate several hours before serving. Serves 18.

Kelli Wright is a staff writer for The Demopolis Times. She can be reached by e-mail to