When finishing up last week's column, I felt a little flash of anxiety: I had no pending recipe requests to work with for this week's column.
But I know people like to read about food in Sunday's paper and I also knew that something would come to me. It always has.
Then the answer came to me plain as day, in a bittersweet kind of way.
On the Friday before Christmas, I drove up I-26 to Harleyville to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alma Collier. Miss Alma, as she was fondly called, became my friend through this food column, to which she faithfully contributed to over the years. She was sending recipes, by snail mail, of course, before I even took over writing the column in 2003.
When she found out that her daughter, Vanessa, and I knew each other, it only strengthened the bond that was forming between us.
Now, I never meet most of the people I regularly communicate with through the column. But somehow, food and recipes are so personal that I've feel like I get to know folks surprisingly well over the course of our exchanges. And it was that way with Miss Alma.
We actually didn't meet face-to-face until one year she invited me to stay with the family at camp meeting. I felt so honored to be asked.
So I drove to her house, and we rode by ourselves to the camp. In this relatively brief time, she told me how she met her husband, Vance, and ended up in Harleyville. She was proud to be a Charlestonian, though she obviously found a home in Harleyville. She served 12 years on town council and was its first female member.
She also was proud of earning a pharmacy degree as a young woman - not boastful, mind you - but it was clearly an achievement for a woman of that era.
As the pastors said during her service, Miss Alma was always at the ready with a hug for family and friends. She radiated love, especially to her children.
I will miss seeing those hand-addressed letters in my mailbox from her and will miss reading her nice notes that accompanied the recipes.
The letters felt like a real investment of her time and energy, and a glimpse into her soul. It makes me sad for that kind of communication slipping away. Emails are just not the same.
I still have pecans from the Colliers' tree in my freezer. However, the jars of goodies she put up and gave to us are long gone. Once again, food proves to be one of the greatest expressions of caring.
So in honor of Miss Alma, I searched the newspaper's archives for a few of the recipes that she shared with this column over the years.
This much I'm sure of: They're eating better on the other side since Miss Alma went through the gates.
Here is a recipe she tried and liked from the cookbook "Favorite Recipes of America."
Yield: 4 servings
2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup vegetable oil
11/2 pounds ground beef
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green pepper (optional)
1/4 clove garlic, chopped
11/4 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon salt
11/2 cups cooked rice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Slice eggplants in half; scoop out and chop some of the pulp. Heat oil in skillet. Add eggplant pieces, beef, onion, green pepper, garlic, Tabasco sauce and salt; saute until eggplant is lightly brown. Toss with rice to blend all ingredients. Stuff eggplant halves with filling. Place stuffed halves, skin side down, in greased baking dish. Bake in 375-degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with lemon juice and serve.
Alma also liked and shared Brenda Jordan's biscuit recipe from the Ridgeville Cookbook (Baptist Church). She told me she was able to cut the recipe in half successfully.
Homestyle Sweet Potato Biscuits
Makes about 2 dozen biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
21/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
5 to 7 tablespoons buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter and shortening until well-blended. Add sweet potatoes and enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Lightly knead dough about 20 times. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet 12 to 15 minutes or until biscuits are light golden brown. Serve warm.
Who's got the recipe?
A friend who is going meatless in 2014 asked for good vegetarian chili recipes to jump-start the new diet.
Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Features Editor Teresa Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-4886.