Randolph Grad Surprises Her Friends, Family
Of all of the people I have featured over the last 20 years, I can safely say I know Dacia Cook the best. She is one of the busiest people I know but she is allowing me, her mother, to share a glimpse of her life this week. Those who have stayed in touch with her over the years may find some surprises in this story. Those who know her, but have not kept up with her, will think I manufactured this information in order to fill the page.
Although she had always loved our small town, while in her late teens and early twenties she was sure her future home would be in a major city where she could enjoy the culture and lifestyle that wasn’t available in our area. It was her plan to marry one day and have two children but our plans aren’t always God’s plans.
Her post high school journey began with the pursuit of a degree in music education. After a year at Houghton College, she realized this was not the direction she wanted to go. A job in the cash office at Sam’s Club revealed an interest in working with numbers she never knew she had, which lead her to earn a business degree. Her 24th birthday was celebrated with a move to Rochester enabling her to begin her new position as assistant manager of the Henrietta Sam’s Club. Within two years she was making another move, this time to Maryland, allowing her to work at two different Clubs. It was in this state where she met and married Clarence Cook, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, causing her life to take a 180-degree turn.
From her first visit to the 1835 farm house with its three fireplaces, where Cook’s grandfather was born and his great-grandfather died, she was enthralled with its history. The bricks used to build the house were made onsite. The timber used in the house and barn, as well as the stone in their foundations, were cut from trees and rocks found on the property. Many original stone walls bordering the fields are still standing.
Years before, as a teenager, the young farmer learned of his grandfather’s intentions to demolish the house. After getting permission to repair it and with the help of family and friends, the 18-year old began the two-year project of gutting and rebuilding the interior of the structure.
As a new bride, she admired her husband’s passion for the farming industry and after a short time, she also caught the fever. Many changes and adaptations happened over the course of the first few years due to love, maturity and circumstances. She was soon fully embracing the lifestyle into which she had married, something that was quite amazing to her friends and family. She now owned her very own polka dot barn boots.
She made the decision to leave the world of retail in order to be home with her family on holidays and weekends and did not return to work after the birth of their second child. The stay at home mom began taking courses with the goal of returning to the workforce as an elementary teacher after her children were in school. The original plan for family size fell by the wayside. Not only did the family grow to seven members, but it happened rather quickly.
The Cook Kids have an abundance of grandparents with one set of grandparents and a set of great-grandparents living within a mile of their home. Another set of great-grandparents and a great-great-grandmother live within 10 miles and then there’s my husband and me. Baylee 11, Clay 10, Evan 7, Christian 5 and three-year old Kylee are all named after family members. Clay happens to be named after three men, as he has IV at the end of his name.
The mother of five had no interest in cooking when she was younger but that changed once she had to provide meals for her family. This may have been partially due to the nearly 3,000 giant chocolate chip cookies she baked to raise money for a trip to France and England when she was in high school. Although it may have been said in jest, she once expressed her desire to marry a man who could cook and clean or who could afford to hire someone to do both jobs.
“My mother bought me a cookbook when I was single, but I thought the recipes were weird. Now I use it all of the time,” she says. “My husband taught me a lot about cooking which is his way, not necessarily the way of the world. I had to learn my own way. I would prefer to bake a cake than cook dinner, but you can’t eat cake for dinner.”
The family’s 70 chickens provide all of the eggs used in their meals. Other than venison, all of their meat is raised on the farm.
“The good thing is, we know what has gone into them and that they were treated well with a good life. We try to be humane with the butchering process. The hardest part is I’ve known this animal, looked into its eyes, talked to it and fed it.”
Nearly all of their produce is grown in the enormous garden. Each child helps in some way with gardening, be it planting, mulching or harvesting the crop.
Cook helps his wife with much of the prep work for canning, especially when she is making sauces or jellies. As a team, they recently put up 10 quarts of spaghetti sauce and 57 jars of salsa. The pantry shelves and every nook and cranny throughout the kitchen and dining room hold Mason jars filled with a colorful assortment of vegetables, fruits, jams and meat. More than 80 quarts of green beans and several pints of dilly beans have been processed this year with more to follow. A combination of50 pints and quarts of whole and dill pickle spears have been preserved. Not only was the garden’s bounty of tomatoes used in spaghetti sauce and salsa, some were made into chili sauce, pizza sauce and tomato juice and some were canned as is, while several fresh tomatoes were given away.
Zucchini, yellow summer squash and cucumbers and sweet and ornamental corn, potatoes and pumpkins make up the rest of the garden. The sweet corn is canned and frozen. Pumpkin is canned for use in quick bread and pies. Over 500 jars are processed each year. Meats and venison are done when they become available making canning a year-round process. Four freezers hold the remainder of the family’s annual food supply.
The bulk of the farm work is done by Cook and his father and his newly retired grandfather still assists with milking the cows. Even though there seems to be plenty of help, this farm wife has found herself doing jobs she never dreamed she would or could do. Some happen in emergency situations. Other times she is in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on whose prospective is taken. Either way, it is quite amazing to me to learn that my daughter helps with emergency births, steer and pig castrations and the butchering of chickens, turkeys, rabbits and pigs as well as a cow and a deer.
“I am doing things I never imagined I would do,” she says while grinning. “I’m the nurse to his doctor.”
Farm families don’t get Sundays off and even though this busy mother isn’t caring for animals on Sunday mornings, she is up and out of the house early as she serves as organist for two churches. She has been the music director for Vacation Bible School for the last several summers at one of the churches.
“I like numbers so I do accounting for the church and PTA,” she says. “It keeps my brain sharp.”
She enjoys playing in a harp ensemble and until recently was part of a community band and flute choir, but no longer has time to participate in them. She has given piano lessons and hopes to pursue this again when she has more time.
“Everything I do is centered around kids but it’s fun for me. If my kids want to get involved I take it on by finding out the details of what they need. It’s all about learning. That’s my life right now, taking kids to lessons, sports and 4H,” she says. “The 4H thing is new to us and that has taken a lot of my time right now and I’m now venturing into middle school mom.”
With her two oldest kids, she recently spent eight days at the county fair caring for the three pigs, three steers and 27 rabbits they had taken for 4-H projects. Dad joined them whenever he could find a few spare hours.
Mrs. Cook shares some of the recipes she uses to feed her family, most made with meat and vegetables grown on the family farm.
“We like to do ‘farm dinners,’ where everything served comes from the farm and point this out to our children hoping they will have a love and appreciation for the farm. The Blueberry Salad works great for summer picnics. The base for Sausage Soup started with a recipe on the back of the gravy mix and morphed into my thing. It is so simple and is good comfort food in cold weather.”
The Cheeseburger Meatloaf, Peach Pie and Oven Beef Cakes recipes came from Nan, Clarence’s grandmother and because this mother “cooks for an army” she recommends splitting the meatloaf recipe in half for a smaller family. She does not add the bacon called for in the recipe. Oven Beef Cakes is Nan’s creation but she uses a cast iron skillet that is transferable between the oven and stove top.
“Nan is an excellent pie baker and is brilliant in the kitchen. It has taken me many years to perfect her Peach Pie and I don’t even know that I have perfected it yet,” she says. “I listed the chicken version of the Pot Pie recipe, but I have made this using turkey, beef and rabbit too. I just change the bouillon flavor to match the meat. This is my go-to recipe when taking food to someone. Cut recipe in half for an average family size.”
Clarence often made Potato Candy with his mother to take to the fair. She still uses it for bake sales. He makes this very rich candy for his family on occasion.
“My mother used to make lasagna with Italian sausage and sauce made from scratch. One day she put together this quick version and everybody loved it, so she never went back to the original lasagna recipe.”
32 oz vanilla yogurt
16 oz whipped topping, thawed
6 oz instant vanilla pudding mix
1 qt fresh blueberries, reserving a few for garnish
Combine yogurt, whipped topping and pudding mix. Set aside a few blueberries before folding in the rest. Place the reserved berries on top. Cover. Chill for at least 3 hours.
1 lb bulk sausage, cooked
4 pkgs country gravy mix (sausage flavor)
Chopped fresh vegetables, cooked (onion, carrots, cauliflower, celery)
2 c shredded cheddar cheese or to taste
Salt and pepper
Mix gravy according to directions on package. Add cooked sausage and cooked vegetables. Stir in cheese until melted.
2 c shredded cheddar cheese (I use a little less)
1/2 c mayonnaise
2 T Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 c bread crumbs
2/3 c ketchup
2 lbs ground beef
10 slices bacon, cut-up, optional
4 T mustard, divided
4 T brown sugar, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire Sauce, bread crumbs, ketchup, 2 T mustard and 2 T brown sugar. Mix with ground beef. Spread in lightly greased 9“x13” baking dish. Combine remaining mustard and brown sugar and drizzle over entire surface. Bake 30-35 minutes.
Oven Beef Cakes in Gravy
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 c milk
2/3 c coarse cracker crumbs
1/4 c onion, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
11/2 lbs ground beef
2 T butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all ingredients, except for beef and butter. Mix in ground beef, combining well. Melt butter in large oven-proof skillet or baking dish. Form beef mixture into patties, about 8 patties. Try to arrange in baking dish so patties do not touch each other. Bake 35 minutes. Remove patties from baking dish.
1/4 c flour
2 c milk
3 beef bouillon cubes
1/4 tsp salt
Stir flour into drippings in skillet (If using baking dish, transfer drippings into large skillet). Scrape to remove brown particles that may stick to pan. Add all ingredients. Cook stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil and bouillon cubes are dissolved. Mixture will thicken to form gravy. Return meat cakes to skillet. Spoon gravy over, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
Nan’s Peach Pie
Makes one, 9-inch pie
6-8 peaches (roughly)
§ c tapioca
¢ c sugar
1/3 c cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
Small amount of sugar
Peel and pit peaches. Combine tapioca, sugar and cornstarch and gently mix by hand with peaches. Add more cornstarch if there is a lot of juice but not more than a cup total. Let chill in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Prepare crust. Put peach mixture into crust. Add top crust, then flute edges. Make slits in top crust. Use pastry brush to brush egg over pie crust. Once crust is completely covered, sprinkle lightly with sugar. Cover edges of crust. Bake for approximately one hour, or until crust is golden. Uncover edges of crust for last 15 minutes. The middle should not be runny.
Chicken Pot Pie
20 oz (approximately) vegetables (I use my own carrots, peas, corn, green beans and/or potatoes. Thaw if using frozen.)
2/3 c butter
2/3 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3¢ c chicken broth (I use bouillon)
11/3 c milk
5-6 c cut up cooked chicken (turkey, beef or rabbit may be used by changing bouillon flavor)
Melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Cook until bubbly. Stir in broth and milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Stir in chicken and vegetables. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line ungreased 9” x 13″ dish with pie crust. Put chicken mixture in pie crust. Add top crust, then crimp edges together. Bake about 35 minutes, or until golden brown.
1 1/3 c lard or shortening
4 c (approximately) flour
2 tsp salt
8-10 T cold water
Cut shortening into flour and salt. Mix well, then add water, a little at a time. May not need the whole amount. Roll mixture into 2 balls. Press one ball into bottom of pan and up sides. Roll second ball for top crust between two pieces of parchment paper. Lay over vegetables. Crimp crust together.
10 lasagna noodles cooked al dente
2-10 oz jars traditional Prego Spaghetti Sauce
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 T parsley flakes
1/3 c parmesan cheese
8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
Spread one cup of sauce in 9-inch by 13-inch glass pan. Mix the rest of sauce with prepared ground beef. In a separate bowl, combine ricotta, egg, parsley flakes and parmesan cheese. Layer half noodles in bottom of pan. Spread with half of ricotta mixture. Sprinkle half mozzarella cheese over top. Cover with half of meat sauce. Repeat layers. Cover with foil that has been sprayed with baking spray. Set on cookie sheet and bake in 350 degree oven until hot and bubbly. May be assembled in advanced and refrigerated. Bake 15-20 minutes longer if refrigerated.
1 very large heaping T leftover mashed potatoes
2 lb confectioners’ sugar or more
Combine a small amount of sugar with mashed potatoes. Continue adding sugar a little at a time. It will become a liquid in the beginning. May take more or less sugar. Continue adding sugar until it is the consistency of pie crust. Roll into rectangle to a little less than 1/4-inch thickness. Spread a thin layer of peanut butter over entire rectangle. Roll-up jelly roll style, starting with wide side. Slice with thread into 1-inch slices.