Cooking for a crowd

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 17, 2007

Some are blessed with large families and must learn the fine art of feeding and pleasing a hungry crowd. For Demopolis resident Sandra Harris, feeding a crowd with specific tastes is her job.

Although she only has three children of her own, Harris has the daunting task of pleasing the palates of 300 Demopolis High School students each day. Prior to working as the cafeteria manager for the high school for the last 16 years, Harris worked spent 14 years working at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

She the majority of her knowledge about cooking and nutrition to the late Anne Mason Pendergrass, who was the dietician at BWWMH for many years. One skill she learned is how to cook meals for a variety of tastes.

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For example, patients with certain conditions cannot eat certain foods, and this must be taken into account when making their meals. Similarly, the state has certain nutrition guidelines that cafeterias must follow for their students.

Another skill is the ability of taking a recipe meant to feed a single family and making work for large groups of people.

For many years, Harris relied on the taste buds of fellow DHS staff member Coach Shamrock to test out her new recipes before she made them for the students.

Harris said most nutrition plans now try to cut out excessive fats, sugars and sweets. They encourage using more spices to enhance flavors without adding unnecessary fats. This is also something she does in her own cooking.

For example, in her red velvet cake recipe, which she uses for the Valentine&8217;s Day meal at the high school, she adds more cocoa powder to bring out the flavor instead of overpowering it with sugar.

Another practice of hers is to try recipes out on her family first. Her husband, Thomas, says she still cooks like she would for eight or more people. Her three children, Thomas Jr., Trymaine and Shatoria are all grown.

Fortunately, Harris said, her home always has friends and family over for her to cook for.

Harris was raised by her aunt and uncle in the Jefferson community. She remembers her uncle teaching her how to cook. She remembers that one of his specialties was pound cake.

Her favorite meal to cook, Harris said, consists of fried chicken, collard greens and corn bread.

When asked if there was ever a recipe she had trouble with, Harris said her first few attempts at making a dessert known as &8220;yum yum cake&8221; for the hospital were a disaster. Each time she made it, she said it looked more like pudding than cake.

Eventually, however, she started to experiment and cut down on the amount of milk until the cake came out perfectly.

When she is not preparing meals at school or at home, Harris said she is glued to the Food Network, watching one of her favorite cooks: Paula Dean.

Buttermilk Pound Cake

4 cups Gold Medal plain flour

3 cups sugar

3 sticks Blue Bonnet margarine

5 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking powder

teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Sift flour twice. Mix dry ingredients together. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Alternate mixing in flour mixture and buttermilk. Pour mixture into a bundt pan. In a convection oven, bake on 300 degrees for one hour, 10 minutes. In a conventional oven, bake on 350 degrees for one hour.

Cook&8217;s note: This is my favorite recipe. The longer you whip the batter, the fluffier the cake will be.


In the Oct. 13 edition of The Times, a recipe by Mary Jean Goldman in the article &8220;A sweet specialty,&8221; should have read:

Dutch Apple Pie


1 box (15 oz.) Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box.


6 cups thinly sliced peeled Granny Smith apples (6 to 8 apples)

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 stick margarine

1 small egg, beaten

extra sugar

Lightly flour pastry board (or wax paper) and unroll one pie crust. Roll it out a little thinner, because it is really a little too thick. This also helps to smooth out the edges. Place in a 9-inch glass pie plate. Layer half of the sliced apples in pie plate over crust. Mix brown sugar, white sugar, spices, flour and salt together in small bowl.

Sprinkle half of this mixture over apples. Scatter pats of margarine over this. Add the rest of the apples and repeat processes. Finish using all margarine. Sprinkle lemon juice over apples.

Roll out other pie crust thinly and cut in strips to place over apples. Layer about five strips over those diagonally. Fold edges under; trim if necessary. With pastry brush or spoon cover top and edge of pie with beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar over this, as it will give the pie a nice glaze.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes. After 30 minutes place a piece of foil over top and take off last 10 minutes.

Kelli Wright is the staff writer for The Demopolis Times. She can be reached at