Tamra Wilson

WFAEats Contributor

Tamra Wilson’s mother hated to cook and take-out in their small Illinois farm town was Dog ‘n’ Suds or Dairy Queen. Somehow Tamra escaped the pre-packed world of boxes and cans to win the Betty Crocker Award in high school. She learned about the greater food world through travel, imitation and (what else) the big orange Betty Crocker Cookbook. She’s a writer at heart and recently published her first collection, Dining with Robert Redford & Other Stories. The Wilsons have lived in North Carolina since 1979.

Favorite Flavor: maple

Who would you most like to have dinner with? Robert Redford

Most Exotic Food I Ever Tasted: Squid cooked with the ink sac. The dish, served in a bowl, resembled a boiled tire. There is probably a name for this; I call it “never again.”

What can you always find in your fridge? Open bottle of Chardonnay, skim milk, leftovers, farm-fresh eggs, home-canned zucchini relish and more leftovers.

If you got to choose your last meal, what would it be? Lobster. I did not go to the University of Southern Maine for nothing.

Best kitchen gift ever received: A handwritten cookbook my Dad made for my grandmother in 1936. The personal notations are priceless.

Most Memorable Kitchen Disaster: Unbeknownst to me, our oven was on the blink when I baked a red velvet cake for a church potluck. Not realizing the inside of the cake was raw (trust me on this), I iced the cake and took it to the picnic where people oohed and ahhed about the unusual “pudding.” After the meal, a large Labrador retriever leaned across the table and gobbled what was left, thus ending further questions about the recipe.

Krispy Kreme

What’s the secret to longevity?

If my mother is the model, we need to eat more doughnuts and bananas. My mother Enid McElroy lived to be 93 averaging a banana a day, plenty of high-test coffee and pastries by the box. Her favorite: doughnuts, or “doughnies.” She would eat them religiously. She would buy them glazed, powdered or jelly-filled and feign dismay that the rest of us wouldn’t join her sweet-toothed binges.

“Aren’t you going to eat these? They’re going to waste.” Then she’d reach into the doughnie package for seconds.

Mylbra’s Fruitcake

Dec 19, 2013
suzannelong / flickr

Mylbra Tilley was one of those “aunts” (no relation), who flitted in and out of our house on a whim. My mother, who didn’t veer far from recipe basics, sometimes took cues from Mylbra, who scoured the newspaper and friends’ suggestions for new recipes.

In fact, her homemade fruitcake, inspired by a newspaper clipping, shouted “Christmas” for years at our house. Rather than the store-bought doorstop-cakes from the grocery store, this one was delicious.

Tamra Wilson

One of the best stories I’ve ever written contained a recipe. “The House of Nits” was a fictionalized version of one week in July when our father was away on business and our mother left to attend a cousin’s funeral in Ohio. Helen, our next-door neighbor, was asked to keep an eye on my brother and me.

I was ten years old and had just taken knitting lessons. Helen, an accomplished seamstress, had never learned knitting, so we made a deal: if I taught her how to knit, she would teach me how to sew. She was a good teacher. I have been a sewer, and a knitter, ever since.

bookgrl / flickr

Fish square on bun, tartar sauce, buttered corn, Jell-O cubes. Bread, butter, milk.

Welcome to school lunch, any Friday in 1963.

Menus, published every week in the Shelbyville, Illinois, newspaper, gave a heads up on what was for lunch at the school cafeteria. Teachers would know when to ditch the lunch line. Children, if they were able to read a newspaper, would know when to bring a sack lunch from home.

My brother and I would read menus as if divining the future for a particular week.

bengarland / Flickr

If you have friends who garden or have access to too much produce, you may be the recipient of their gleanings. Co-workers, acquaintances, neighbors come bearing bags from their bounty.

Thanks to so much rain the bounty is higher than average. The current “drop” involves summer squash. This game works something like tag. The dropper tags you with veggies and you, the dropee, are “it.”

Sometimes the veggies turn up unannounced on your door step. Sometimes they come with a warning on the phone: I’m bringing some squash by.

Awaken To Bacon

May 30, 2013
cookbookman17 / flickr

History tells us Bacon's Rebellion was an armed revolt in 1676. A rash of Indian attacks and other issues motivated an uprising led by Nathaniel Bacon against Gov. Berkeley, Lord Proprietor of the Carolinas. Seems the governor had misjudged the wrath of the settlers.

For some time now, another bacon rebellion has been under way: bacon fans vs. healthy eaters. If pop culture is any judge, the rebels may be gaining the upper hand.

Rebecca D'Angelo

I bumped in to Nan Chase at the Blue Ridge Book Festival last May. The Asheville author was discussing her book, Eat Your Yard.

Riding the crest of the Eat Local movement, she has produced an attractive, helpful book to help backyard farmers. But instead of ripping out the sod to grow squash and beans, Nan takes an aesthetic approach—mix food-producing plants into the landscape.

A Story With Morels

Apr 3, 2013
Wikipedia Commons

  Few things excite me more than morel mushrooms. Hunting them is a rite of spring where I come from. My hometown, Shelbyville, Illinois, holds a mushroom festival Spores ‘n’ More, with a contest and auction. That’s serious mushrooming.

There’s something about that delicate nutty taste, the crispy-fried texture that makes my mouth water. Morels are the epitome of eating local, in season. If they were available every day, I wouldn't care so much.

Flickr/Selbe B

When I clean the refrigerator, I always find two things in the butter/cheese drawer - one is a tiny container of Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread. This particular sample expired July 5, 1996. It’s accompanied by a packet of Savora mustard from Argentina, vintage 2000.

Tamra Wilson

Recently I shared a cookbook that my Dad gave to his mother at Christmas 1936. The old book is an endearing collection of hand-written recipes and clippings from magazines and newspapers.

The first recipe I tested was a dish clipped from a 1936 newspaper - "Pepper Chuck Steak," subtitled "Brookfield Sunday Dinner." The silhouette illustration drew my attention - a skier tumbling down a slope, obviously falling for this dish.

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