Bless Your Spoon — Burke Christian Tours

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, January 25, 2024

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Climbing aboard the premier, luxury passenger motorcoach, I plopped down in a comfy reclining seat. Gazing out the oversized windows on each side of the bus I thought, Now, this is the way to go! With a fleet of over 55 motorcoaches, Burke Christian Tours opened the door to their deluxe Provost wheels. Luxury road travel might be the ultimate trip of a lifetime, so sign me up!

But this column is about food. I’ll begin by telling y’all about partaking of a green party punch, a recipe straight out of a 1960s cookbook — maybe ’50s — served at Christian Tour’s open house in Maiden.

The Burke family has been ladling the frothy, lime party punch out of a clear glass punch bowl for years now. The faded, typed recipe stays taped to the inside of the hospitality kitchen’s wooden cabinet door. But one slurp of the cold, frosty beverage and I understood why folks were gulping it down. The thirst quencher was seriously good! If there’s ever to be a Burke family food history cookbook, the lime slushy has earned a place in it. To this day, guests still rave about it.

While there, I came across a table with a stack of books for sale, so I picked one up and thumbed through the pages. Written by Bob Terrell, the book portrays the extraordinary life stories of Nancy and Udean Burke, the founders of Christian Tours. Talking aloud to myself, I said, “I want this book.” The girl standing behind the table must have heard me. With what could have been prophetic insight, she responded, “Well maybe you’ll win one!”

And with a little divine intervention, that book was mine! Lo and behold my name was drawn in a raffle. I won a copy! And it had to be the work of the Divine as the book had my name all over it, entitled “Plenty More in the Pot.”

Winning the book was an example of how the Spirit leads, gifting me another story to share with folks. And I credit the Spirit who prompted me to get up early and drive to Maiden on a day so cold I could see my breath despite frigid temps and projected freezing rains.

In the book, of interest to me were many accounts of the extraordinary means by which Udean’s family provided for themselves.

“We traded hens and eggs for staples at the store. Mom would have us catch a hen and take it and a dozen eggs to the store. She’d say, ‘Get me five pounds of sugar and some vanilla flavoring and some salt and pepper. And if anything’s left over, you can buy some two-for-a-penny candy.’”

Udean also shared what was considered “good eating” back then.

“Charlie and I caught rabbits, skinned them, salted the meat down and sold them for 50 cents a rabbit at the store. The store then sold the meat to folks in town who liked rabbit stew. That was good eating, and a lot of folks, town folks as well as country people, like rabbit stew. When we caught a possum, Dad always took it to the shine boy at the barber shop. He loved baked possum ringed with sweet potatoes.”

Held in the massive garage, home to the fleet of luxury coaches, the open house offered plenty of folding chairs to hang out. Guests listened to some fine bluegrass gospel sounds arranged by The Cockman Family — recent inductees in the 2023 Bluegrass Hall of Fame. On stage, the band’s tight harmonies and music were delivered by John Cockman, and his five musically gifted kids — Caroline, John, Billy, David and Ben.

Mama, Jane Cockman, a gifted pianist who taught piano, snagged a chair on the front row, singing the words to every song right along with her family. Musical gifts were handed down to John and Jane’s talented grandchildren, as well — the beat goes on. Music runs deep in the veins.

But the Spirit had more to show me that morning. During a break, I wandered over to where the band’s CDs were being sold. John’s family cookbook, “The Callie King Cockman Family Cookbook,” called out to me and of course, made the road trip back home with me.

The book forward really captured the sentiments of their family — “Good food has always been a major ingredient of happy times.” The cookbook is an unsung testimony to the matriarch of the Cockman family — Callie King Cockman. Often called Collie, she was an expert homemaker and cook. Her husband was a Methodist preacher, and everywhere the couple moved, Callie shared recipes with ladies at the churches. Over 65 years, her tin recipe box was plumb full of cards.

John Cockman’s sister, Margaret Cockman Kitchel, a publisher in Knoxville, Tennessee, took the box home, compiled her mother’s recipes and published the book. Many extended family recipes are included — those who wanted to include a recipe. Reading the cookbook forward, my soul was warmed to see how the family has memorialized their esteemed mother. Callie is the hero for her selfless service and love for her family. One food story that sticks out in John’s memory was the time when someone asked his mother for the “best I’ve ever had” recipe for banana pudding. Callie was happy to oblige, saying “Sure, it’s on the side of the wafer box.”

John’s mamma didn’t make it past third grade, but she was smart, helping out working in a cotton mill. And she loved to cook. John shared a treat all the Cockman children enjoyed throughout the years.

“Mama used to fix up a special treat after the supper meal. She would break open a biscuit in her saucer, sprinkle sugar over it and pour coffee laced with milk on it. Then we would eat it with a spoon. This special treat was called a “soaky.”

I read the entire cookbook cover to cover and noted plenty of favorite recipes. But the best recipe instruction came after the index on the final page. Typed in the middle of a blank, white page were three, bold black words in which we all should simmer — “Love One Another.” I’m always amazed and grateful at how the Holy Spirit leads and informs us.

One of life’s greatest blessings — food — it nourishes our body like the Spirit does nourish our soul.

And the blessings of a Father’s love — why, there’s plenty more in the pot.

Christian Tour’s Lime Punch

• ¼ cup real lemon juice

• 2 cups sugar

• 1 large can pineapple juice

• 1 box Jello lime

• 2 cups boiling water

Mix all ingredients in a gallon ice cream container. Finish filling container with water and freeze. How to serve: Put frozen container in microwave for 5 minutes to defrost. Transfer over to big container and beat frozen punch until it is slushy. Put in punch bowl and add ¼ bottle of ginger ale.

Baked Chicken with Buttermilk Gravy

• 1 stick margarine

• 1 cup buttermilk

• 1 chicken, cut up

• Flour for rolling chicken

• Salt and pepper

Melt margarine in a long Pyrex dish. Dip chicken in buttermilk, one piece at a time, then flour; put in the Pyrex dish. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. To the buttermilk, add more to make one cup. Pour over chicken. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Then eat. (Jerldean Hudson)

Ring a Ling Salad

• 2 10-ounce packages fresh spinach

• 2 pimentos, cut into rings

• 1 small Bermuda onion

• ½ cup salted nuts

Egg Dressing

• ¼ cup salad oil

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• ½ tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. sugar

• 1/8 tsp. pepper

• 2 eggs, boiled, chopped

Remove stems and any coarse leaves from spinach; wash and dry leaves well. Tear into bite-size pieces. Arrange with pimentos and onion rings in salad bowl. (If made ahead, cover and chill.) Before serving, add peanuts. Toss with egg dressing. For the dressing, combine oil, lemon juice, salt, sugar and pepper together in a jar with a tight-fitting cover. Shake well. Just before serving, add the eggs, and shake. (Camilla Hudson)

Cornbread Salad

• 2 cups cornmeal

• ½ cup flour

• 2 tsp. sugar

• ½ cup oil

• 2 eggs

• 2 cups buttermilk

• 1 cup tomatoes, chopped

• 1 cup onion, chopped

• ½ cup sweet peas

• 1 cup green pepper, chopped

• ½ cup sweet pickles, chopped

• 10 strips cooked, crumbled bacon

Dressing

• ½ cup mayonnaise

• 1 tsp. sugar

• ¼ cup pickle juice

For the cornbread, mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, oil, eggs and buttermilk together. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Crumble the cake of cornbread. Layer in bowl using ½ of crumbled cornbread. Then add ½ of each of the other ingredients using bacon last. Makes 2 layers. For the dressing, mix and pour over salad. (Treva King McKenzie)

Baked Root Vegetables

• 4 potatoes, cubed

• 2 beets, cubed

• 1 sweet potato, cubed

• 4 carrots, chopped

Place in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 425 for 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft. (Jennifer R. Cockman)

Glorified Rice

• 1 cup cooked rice

• 1 cup crushed pineapple with juice

• ¼ to ½ cup English walnuts, chopped

• Mini marshmallows

• ½ pint heavy cream, whipped and sweetened with powdered sugar

While the rice is hot, my sister-in-law Eileen Evans adds several marshmallows to melt and sweeten the rice. Let cool. Add the pineapple, walnuts and additional marshmallows. Whip the cream, sweeten fold into the rice mixture. Cover and refrigerate. The ingredients can be varied to suit your taste — add even more whipped cream. Add additional sugar if needed. This dessert was always included at family “get-togethers” (Joan Evans Cockman)

Mama’s One Layer Sweet Cake

• 1 cup flour

• ½ cup sugar

• ½ cup milk

• 1 egg

• 1 tsp. vanilla

Icing

• ½ cup sugar

• 1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a greased, floured cake pan. Bake in 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. The icing is made by boiling the sugar and water until thickened. Spoon over cake. Mama made this recipe throughout all the children’s growing up years. (Callie King Cockman by Virginia Cockman Speaks)

Molasses Cake

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 cup shortening

• 1 cup molasses

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 cup hot water

• 3 eggs

• ½ tsp. each ginger, cinnamon

• ½ tsp. each salt, soda

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and molasses. Dissolve soda in hot water and let cool. Add water, flour, ginger, cinnamon, soda and salt to the creamed mixture. The batter will be thin. Pour into a large rectangular baking pan and bake at 275-300 degrees for about 45 minutes or until done. Mama made a mixture of molasses and something else to pour over the top of the cake. When it was cool, she would cut the cake in half and stack one part on top of the other. Daddy always bought 2 or 3 gallons of molasses from a neighbor who raised the cane and made a run of molasses every fall. It was fascinating to watch the horses circle round and round the grinder while the juice was squeezed from the long stalks of cane. Then the juice was put in a large vat with fire under it and boiled until it became dark, sweet and sticky molasses. (Ellen Cockman Lineberry and Shirley Lineberry Lednum)