The advantage of knowing how to cook

website - southern styleBy Randall Franks

When I was growing up the one talent both my parents stressed I acquire was learning to cook for myself. Perhaps it was their foresight that it would not be easy to find women in my generation willing to dedicate themselves totally to cooking, cleaning and raising children or perhaps it was my mother’s independent spirit as someone who was before her time.

My mother began operating her own restaurant when she was in her 20s. Needless to say she was a career woman long before I entered her life. I think she knew that women in my generation would be entering the workforce and spending more time in the workplace.

However, with my arrival and due to some of my unforeseen health issues, she left the business world to look after me until my health improved enough for her to work again full time.

As I grew I helped out all I could. One of my chores, once she returned to work, was to help with evening meals. I learned to cook a variety of dishes from Hungarian goulash to Southern style meatloaf. My favorites were the sweets, pineapple upside down cake, pecan and sweet potato pie, which of course barely made it to the table.

When I was around 13 years old I had the opportunity to solo on my very first holiday meal — turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato yams with marshmallows, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, slaw and pumpkin pie. Of course, like any good teacher, she quietly coached and helped with some of the odd jobs like peeling potatoes, grating the cabbage and carrots, opening cans and getting the turkey started soon enough to be done by meal time. If you do not take that thing out of the freezer the day before you’ll be having fried Spam instead.

I was also in charge of setting the holiday table with our finest linens, bone china, crystal glasses and silver ware. These were always reserved for special occasions and guests.

I will never forget my excitement as the meal was set on the table and the guests arrived. The image looked like it could have come right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I am pleased to report that everyone said they enjoyed the meal and the portions evidenced that. As far as I know there were no late night visits to the emergency room so I guess you can say the event was a success.

I also may have been inspired to pursue this endeavor by the fact that my brother’s wife could not boil water. They spent many evenings sitting around our table.

As an adult these lessons have served me well, and while cooking is no longer what one might call a passion for me, I do know how. As long as food is available, in the absence of someone desiring to cook, I won’t starve. I am sure that will be plain to see as I develop an ailment, which afflicts many of my kinfolk, dunlap disease. My belly dun lapped over my belt. Bon appetite!

(Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night” now on WGN America. His latest CD release, “Mississippi Moon,” is by Crimson Records. He is a member of the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame. His latest book is “Encouragers I: Finding the Light.” He is a syndicated columnist and can be reached at

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