By Ann Cipperly
After years of wonderful family gatherings with tables covered in delicious dishes, Carol Duncan decided to preserve the cherished memories in a cookbook with photographs and recipes. While it took her two years to collect pictures and recipes, the result is a book that everyone in the family treasures and will be passed down for generations.
Inspiration for the book occurred when Carol’s mother, Sara “Pete” Higgs, passed away suddenly in August 2019.
“Mama was the center of our lives and her loss was devestating,” Carol said. “I thought I had to do something. I thought about writing a cookbook that wouldn’t have just Mama’s recipes but would have recipes from both sides of her family. It was a good way to deal with my grief.”
While Carol grew up in Auburn and learned how to cook from her mother, she also learned a great deal about cooking from both of her grandmothers who lived in south Alabama. She would visit one set of grandparents on their farm, where she sat on the front porch shelling peas with them during summer. There would be southern favorites for Sunday dinners with two meats and vegetables fresh from the garden.
Although her paternal grandmother “Mimi” didn’t enjoy cooking as much, she enjoyed making gourmet food creations using marzipan for fun projects. At Mimi’s antebellum home, Carol would sit in the kitchen for hours watching the cook, Rachel, prepare fried chicken and blackberry cobbler.
Carol has many wonderful memories surrounding food with her grandparents and her mother, who cooked a lot of dishes from south Alabama, such as fried cornbread.
When Carol was 5 years old, her grandmother gave her a book called “Mudpies”. The “recipes” were how to make mudpies and mix in materials from the yard, such as leaves. Later, she had an Easy Bake Oven and baked cookies and made candy.
While in grammar school, she would find a recipe for something her father liked. She enjoyed cooking for her parents.
“It was a way to show love,” Carol said. Carol still shares her delectable dishes with others.
After high school, Carol graduated from Auburn University with a degree in education and received a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Alabama.
When Carol met her husband, Bobby, she was introduced to a more formal style of entertaining. Bobby’s parents, the late Molly and Billy Duncan, enjoyed entertaining and hosting lavish cocktail parties.
After Carol and Bobby married, they lived in several places before returning to the area. When they lived in Mobile, Carol learned how to prepare seafood and Cajun/Creole dishes, which have remained favorites.
Carol taught school in Auburn for a few years, then she heard about the United States Personal Chef Association in 2002. She attended a seminar in Atlanta to learn how to organize her business. She was a personal chef for 13 years. After she retired as a chef, she taught culinary arts at Auburn High School for three years.
Carol then taught restaurant workers kitchen safety and sanitation for ServSafe for several years. She retired a few years ago. Bobby works in construction for MIHADA.
Being retired gave her more time with their three sons and families. Jay and his wife Amy have two sons, Jack, 7 and Gaines, 5; Will, who is single; and Miles and his wife Caroline have a 2-month-old daughter, Alice. They all live in Birmingham. Growing up, the sons didn’t have much interest in food, but now they enjoy cooking.
Carol enjoys cooking for her children and her grandchildren. The grandchildren make popsicles and fun foods.
When the family gets together, they all cook together and share recipes. When they go to the beach, each one takes a night to cook. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, they all bring a dish. On Christmas Eve, Carol will host a cocktail buffet and make shrimp and grits, and everyone will bring one or two dishes.
With everyone in the family having a love of cooking, Carol was determined to finish the cookbook featuring their recipes. While there are several online companies that help assemble a cookbook, Carol went with Create Your Own Cookbook.
She sent text messages to everyone in the family saying that she needed their recipes. Her sister, Cindy Pugh, is also a good cook and shared 10 of her recipes. Most of the recipes in the book are her mother’s, and some are amusing, such as “The Pete”, which is chilled boxed wine and ice poured into an Auburn stadium cup.
Carol went through pictures and scanned them on her phone and then uploaded them to the cookbook website. “The fun part was finding the photos of family,” Carol said. “There is a photo of my family on vacation on the cover, and every page has a photo of a family member or members. The ones of Mama are funny.”
One of Carol’s favorite photos is of her with her mom, and sister and one grandmother’s cook, Rachel. Having so many photos made the cookbook more expensive, but it was important to her to have those. With this expense, Carol doesn’t make any money on the cookbook sales.
She typed the recipes and added notes, including when her mother made the recipes. Most of the recipes are her mother’s, and she tried to include funny stories with each one. She said she believes the stories behind the recipes are important. Bobby’s mother’s Whiskey Cake that she made every Christmas is also in the cookbook.
Proofreaders were three of Carol’s close chef friends. They talked every day and encouraged her. They also shared a recipe. Now, they are talking about the four of them doing a cookbook together.
Once the book was ordered, Carol was able to pick the type she wanted, which included hardbound, spiral cookbook and digital. She picked all three. There is also an app that has the recipes with a list of ingredients that is helpful while grocery shopping.
“The day I finished the book I was so pleased that I also finished a needlepoint Christmas stocking for a grandson,” Carol said. “I finished both in the same day. When I decided to do this, it seemed it went on forever.
“I can’t describe the feeling. I wanted to accomplish something. It was significant to finish the cookbook and stocking in the same day. Then, I was so excited to get the book in my hands and give it to my children. I am so proud that I finished it.”
If you are interested in getting a copy or creating one with your family filled with photos and recipes, go to the cookbook website, www.createmycookbook.com/ store/how/ 328406_343913 _1590164369.
The featured recipes are a sampling from Carol’s family cookbook.
Our friends Lolly and Bob Steiner visited the Chicago Ritz Carlton years ago and returned home with this fabulous appetizer. It’s almost as pretty to look at as it is delicious.
3/4 lb. smoked salmon, chopped
3/4 lb. raw Wild Salmon, chopped
2 Tbsp. capers, drained and chopped
2 Tbsp. shallots, minced
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, minced
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Small amount of ketchup to bind
1/2 cup sour cream
2 boiled eggs, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh chives, finely minced
Water crackers to serve
Mix both salmons capers, shallots, parsley with a little ketchup and lemon juice adding salt and pepper to taste. You don’t want a lot of ketchup just enough to bind the ingredients.
Mound on top of a platter and then top with sour cream, chopped boiled egg and chives.
My sister Cindy Pugh makes this for all family gatherings, It’s a favorite.
28 oz. can whole tomatoes
2-3 jalapenos, seeded
¼ cup pickled jalapenos
¼ cup pickled jalapeno juice
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp. fresh minced garlic
1 Tbsp. canola oil
Put all in a blender or food processor. Once it’s processed, add the juice of a half of a lime and 1 Tbsp. canola oil. Process for another 10 seconds.
Let sit in fridge at least eight hours. Jalapenos are tricky — if you have hot ones, two is enough. If not, you may want to leave the seeds and membranes in them. Enjoy!
South Alabama Fried Cornbread
This is the cornbread that Gaga, Aunt Ethel and Mama made. Mama always used Adams Extra Fine Cornmeal or Adams Extra Fine Cornmeal.
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup hot water
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. canola oil
Preheat oil in black skillet on stove top till hot. Mix cornmeal, salt and hot water and use a tablespoon to drop into hot oil Cook until golden brown then flip and finish cooking on other side. Drain on a paper towel.
Yield: serves about 4
Pete’s Chicken Salad
This is Pete’s famous chicken salad. I shred the chicken if I’m making sandwiches, and I dice it a little larger if serving it on a tomato slice. I always make it the day before we will eat it so the flavors have time to blend.
2 chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
6-7 green onions, finely minced
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
Duke’s mayo, enough to bind
Salt and pepper to taste
Roast chicken breast with salt, pepper and olive oil.
Allow chicken to cool, then shred or dice.
Mix with remaining ingredients and let sit in refrigerator overnight.
Sun Dried Tomato Salad Dressing
I use sun dried tomatoes in oil and drain. I prefer Duke’s Mayonnaise. This was Lynn Thillman’s grandmother’s recipe, and it’s our favorite. This would be a good dip for veggies. This is fabulous over a wedge salad.
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. Italian dressing
Mix all ingredients and store in fridge. Toss with salad greens. Yield: about 1 1/2 cups
Creole Shrimp and Grits
I have been serving this for our Christmas Eve dinner for as long and I can remember. I use five minute grits, never instant. My favorite Andouille is Jacobs from La Place, Louisiana. I order it and sometimes gift it to friends, It’s very smoky but not very spicy. If you prefer a spicy Andouille get Conecuh, Savoie’s or Ragin Cajun.
1-2 lb. medium shrimp, peeled
1 ½ cup grits
1 lb. Andouille sausage, cut into bite size pieces
28 oz. can whole tomatoes, cut up with a knife
1 stalk celery, sliced
1/2 large onion, diced
4 large garlic, minced
5 green onions, sliced
Olive oil to sauté sausage and shrimp
Onion salt, to taste
Slap Yo Mama Seasoning, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sauté shrimp in olive oil and set aside. Sauté sausage and set aside.
In the fat that’s left in the pan, sauté celery and onion and add garlic during the last minute.
When the onion is translucent, add tomatoes and seasonings.
Simmer for 20 minutes.
In a medium saucepan bring 6 cups of water to a boil then add grits and cook until done. Season with salt and pepper.
Add grits, sausage and shrimp to tomato mixture.
Garnish with green onions. Yield: serves 6
Katy’s BBQ Sauce
Bobby’s sister, Katy Melton, and a friend, Claire, created this recipe while their husbands were in law school. It’s everyone’s favorite and it great with chicken or pork. Katy recommends using Lea and Perrins. Fresh lemon juice is always best but when making large batches of this we use bottled.
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce
2 tsp. celery seed
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup yellow mustard
6 Tbsp. lemon juice
Tabasco to taste
Mix all ingredients in a sauce pan and whisk until blended. Simmer for just a few minutes. Yield: about 3 cups
Molly, Bobby’s mother, made this and loved it. I had never even heard of it, but now make it all the time.
3 lbs. whole chicken
2 – 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
2 celery stalks, diced
2 bell peppers, diced (I use red)
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Simmer whole chicken in water with salt and pepper until it’s done. Debone chicken and reserve.
Sauté bell peppers, onions, and mushroom in olive oil until tender crisp.
Add garlic and sauté for 1 more minute.
Add crushed tomatoes and a little stock along with the remaining seasonings and red wine.
Simmer for 1 hour. Add shredded chicken.
To serve, toss with cooked spaghetti and top with grated Parmesan. Yield: serves 4 to 6
Corn, Zucchini and Tomato Casserole
This is one of my favorite side dishes in the summer when zucchini, tomatoes and corn are at their peak. I often make a half of a recipe for just the two of us.
3 cups fresh or frozen corn
5 small zucchini, matchstick pieces
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh dill, minced
2 Tbsp. melted butter, unsalted
3-4 vine-ripened tomatoes, 1/2 inch slices
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
In a 13 X 9 ovenproof baking dish combine the corn, zucchini, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, dill and melted butter.
Toss to coat the vegetables.
Cover vegetables with tomatoes and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, combine Parmesan and Panko.
Sprinkle the mixture over the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.
Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. Yield: serves about 6
Bobby’s mom Molly Duncan made this fabulous cake every Christmas. This cake is amazing and is Molly’s legacy!
2 envelopes of gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup whiskey
1 cup sugar
6 eggs, separated
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 cups whipping cream
3 packages of lady fingers, split
Soak gelatin in cold water then add hot water to dissolve. Add whiskey.
Beat egg yolks until thick then add sugar slowly.
Add lemon juice and stir in gelatin and chill for a short time.
Whip the cream and fold it into the egg mixture.
Beat egg whites and fold them in.
Line sides and bottom of a springform pan with lady fingers.
Pour mixture into pan slowly and when it’s half full, put another layer of Lady Fingers on top of filling.
Finish filling cake batter then top with another layer of lady fingers.
Chill in refrigerator overnight. Yield: one cake to serve 10
Sausage and Mushroom Ragu Over Grits
Our friends Lynn and Mark were visiting weekend from St. Louis, and she made this fabulous dish for us. Lynn and I met at a United States Personal Chef Conference in Philadelphia in 2007 and have been close friends ever since.
2 Tbsp. canola or olive oil (divided use)
8 oz. spicy turkey Italian sausage, casings
1/2 onion, small dice
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
14 oz. whole tomatoes, diced or cut up with removed scissors
1 1/2 cup water (for grits)
1 cup old-fashioned grits
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
Add 1/2-1 Tbsp. oil to a skillet and when it’s hot. Add the crumbled sausage. Sauté till brown then remove and reserve. Add remaining oil to pan and sauté onion until it’s translucent. Add mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
In a saucepan bring chicken stock and water to a boil and whisk in grits. Reduce and simmer for 20 minutes or until grits are done. Add salt and pepper, cream cheese and butter to grits. Serve sausage mixture over grits. Yield: serves 4 to 6
Roasted Tomato Soup
Heida Olin, a friend, shared this recipe with me a few years ago. I use an immersion blender to puree it. You can also serve the sauce with pasta.
Roasted Tomato Sauce:
3 lb. Roma tomatoes, cored and halved
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced into chunks
4 large garlic, peeled, left whole
1 1/2 tsp. thyme, dried
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
Roasted Tomato Soup:
Roasted tomato sauce, recipe above
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. basil, dried or Italian seasoning
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup half and half
Balsamic vinegar to taste, or sherry vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
For roasted tomato sauce, toss all ingredients in a large bowl. Spread the mixture in a single layer on large rimmed baking sheet; make sure to place the tomatoes cut side down.
Roast 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the carrots are tender. The top of the tomato skins will get very brown.
Using tongs, peel the tomato skins. Let this mixture cool slightly on the baking sheet.
Transfer all, including the juice, to a blender and pulse until it is the consistency you like it.
Roasted Tomato Soup
Heat the sauce and chicken in a medium saucepan. Rub the dried basil between your palms and into the sauce. Add sugar.
Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat to low before adding the half-and-half. Serve with a dollop of pesto, if desired.
Yield: about 3-plus quarts