Upbringing provides foundation for cooking

Rosalyn Finnegan (right) with sister-in-law Geri Owens in a kichen debate.

Jimmy Owens was in touch to recommend his sister, Rosalyn, as "a wonderful cook and very entertaining. We say she is like a Martha Stewart times 2."

Name: Rosalyn Owens Finnegan

Age: 58

Residence: Charleston

Family: Husband, Jimmy

Occupation: Chief cook and bottlewasher

Q. You grew up on a farm in rural Bamberg County. What do you most remember about "country cooking"?

A. I grew up on a farm right outside of Denmark on the Little Salkehatchie River. My mother's family has been there since 1735. Needless to say, if you lived in the country, you had a garden and we had a big one. This meant that most all of our food, fruits such as figs, peaches, apples, melons and pears and many varieties of vegetables, all came from our farm, with the exception of meat. My daddy was a big hog farmer but thank goodness, butchering ended before I was old enough to know what was happening. We had a log cabin type fowl house and stable, a smokehouse, dairy or ice house and a windmill. We fished from our pond and the Little Salkehatchie.

There were always homemade biscuits (I loved raw biscuit dough and butter), but the older I got the more I recall thinking "Oh no, not chicken again or butterbeans, peas, squash, or okra, etc. Yuk!" Even though my mother was a great cook, sometimes that little hamburger and fries from anywhere in town tasted better. Thank goodness, my palate developed somewhat. But, let's just say my mother made sure we never got up from the table hungry. There was always a plenty.

Q. Your brother says your mother was a great cook, but that you didn't really pick cooking up until later in life. When and what was the eventual spark?

A. I did not appreciate good cooking, of course, until I realized I couldn't cook. Even after traveling and eating in many restaurants, not until I lived next door to Ann Green did I really become truly facinated with food. She was an enthusiastic cook and we had much fun together in the kitchen. My mother didn't really cook with fresh herbs and many spices so I wasn't really familiar as to exactly what would enhance the flavor or this dish or that, but Ann, along with perhaps a glass of wine, brought out the adventure in cooking. Ann grew fresh herbs on her balcony and cooked with wine. Things all new to me. My mother would always send Ann her canned fig preserves, the best ever, and her canned pears. Those, too, were the Martha Stewart days and I was totally facinated with her food preparation and presentation. My family called me "Little Martha" for a while. I liked everything to be just right, the food, flowers, music, the whole show. I soon realized that's hard to do all the time so, they don't call me that anymore.

Q. Describe a dish or two you make that people tend to compliment and that represents your style.

A. As far as having a dish I call my own, I'm not sure if there is one. I would have to say that each time I prepare a meal for my family I probably don't do anything ever the same. I'm always adding a little something new. ... But I will say that when I finally mastered my mother's macaroni and cheese, I knew I had arrived. Even our grandchildren always ask for Ra Ra's mac and cheese. It's very custardy and cheesy. I also do a pretty good fruitcake, so I've been told.

Q. Tell us the fruitcake story. Your brother says it's a good one.

A. The fruitcake story is special and brings me to tears just to think about it. Of course growing up I remember my granny and my mother and her sisters all getting together to bake fruitcakes. This had to be done before Thanksgiving because that is when it was first served during the holidays. It was a big to-do and I soon learned why. My mother had a massive stroke in 1997 and was paralyzed on her right side and had very little speech but her mind was as sharp as a tac. Both my parents came to live with my husband and me and only a year and a half later my daddy passed away. Wishing to bring back some special memories for my mother, I decided it was time for me to try and bake her fruitcake.

My mother's only cookbook was one she received when she and my daddy married. She kept all her recipes usually stuffed in the book so I knew I would find it. Well, I looked over and over but to no avail and each time she would shake her head and point to the book. Finally, I gave it to her and she went right to the index and written in pencil which had faded ever so much was scribbled just the ingredients on the dotted lines. No instructions whatsoever. Well, after a frustrating day of trying to communicate and realizing that this recipe was not going to be interpreted by me to suit my mother, she just butted right in and started pointing to the things needed and before long she was flouring fruit and digging into the batter with her hands. It was so thick it had to be turned using your hands. So much was involved in this recipe, I invited my brother and his wife and we all participated in my first fruitcake. Between my husand, my brother, his wife and Mamat, we made two fruitcakes and were totally exhausted.

Q. If you had a food-related "bucket list," what would be at the top?

A. Jimmy and I spent some time in the Keys a few years ago. Dining tables were placed outdoors on the white sand and palm trees all about, torches and a gorgeous sunset and wonderful lobster. Lobster is probably my favorite seafood. I want to to that again, anywhere, anytime. Good food, though, is all around us ... we just have to find it, make it our own in some way and enjoy the time and be thankful.

"One of my father's favorite summer desserts."


1 Duncan Hines Angel Food Cake mix

1 to 2 (14-ounce) cans condensed milk

1/8 to 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 pint heavy whipping cream

Dash of sugar for whipping cream

Fresh lemon slices or candied lemon for garnish


Prepare Duncan Hines Angel Food Cake mix by directions. Let cool. When cooled, slice in to 3 layers.

Mix the condensed milk and lemon juice. Beat whipped cream until peaks form and add a little sugar.

Spread the condensed milk and lemon mixture thick onto each layer along with fresh whipped cream. Top with layer of whipped cream and fresh lemon slices or candied lemon.


1 whole chicken (pat dry for better browning)

Lemon-herb seasoning

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons chopped garlic

4 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup pearl onions or shallots

2 medium yellow squash, cut into chunks

2 medium zucchini squash, cut into chunks

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon curry powder

Salt for chicken and vegetables

Cooked white or saffron rice for serving


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Gently lift skin from breast side of chicken (don't tear) as far as you can with fingers. Generously shake lemon herb seasoning under skin along with 1 tablespoom chopped garlic. Inside cavity of chicken generously sprinkle lemon herb seasoning and remaining garlic. Rub chicken with olive oil or butter. Sprinkle more seasoning all over chicken. Roast 20 minutes in a roasting pan.

Remove from oven and add wine and vegetables to the pan. Continue to roast another 45 minutes, depending on weight of chicken. Let chicken rest. Then place on bed of white or saffron rice along with vegetables.


11/2 pounds candied pineapple (yellow)

11/2 pounds candied cherries (red)

3 quarts chopped fresh pecans (see cook's note)

1 (15-ounce) box golden raisins

10 eggs at room temperature

1 pound butter at room temperature

2 cups sugar

5 to 51/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 (1-ounce) bottle vanilla extract

1 (1-ounce) bottle lemon extract


Cook's note: "I remembered only a couple years after my mother's passing that she always measured the pecans by pouring them into a quart jar."

Prepare 2 large tube pans by greasing pans with butter and lining with wax paper. Chop pineapple and cherries into small pieces. Toss pineapple, cherries, nuts and raisins lightly with a little of the flour. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream eggs, butter and sugar together. Start adding flour slowly until well incorporated. Add vanilla and lemon extracts. Start alternating fruit and nuts. Hands work best here. When all is mixed well, scoop up and pour evenly around in tube pans patting lightly as you go. Bake in 225- to 250-degree oven until light golden brown, a couple of hours. ("At this point I just keep checking pans to judge by the color of the cake, light golden.")

Cool completely on a wire rack before turning cake out of pan. To store, wrap cakes well in waxed paper and then in cloth and keep in a cool room. Cakes also freeze well.