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Set to trap a catfish

Eugene Hendrick displays some of the catfish traps he’s built.

When this Brantley, Alabama native wants a fish fry, he grabs one of his fish traps and heads to the river.

Story and photo by Ben Norman

Several years ago, Eugene Hendrick decided he would try his hand at fishing with wire fish baskets.  But he had very little luck.

“One day I was checking my wire fish basket and when I pulled one up, someone had thrown a wooden slat box trap over my basket and they had become entangled,” says Hendrick. “His trap was full of fish and I had nothing in mine.  I had my measuring tape on my belt and so I measured the dimensions and decided I would build one of my own.  The first box I built was the same dimensions as the one tangled in mine.  I soon realized that this box was too big and bulky and I could catch just as many fish in a smaller scaled down version.”

After much experimenting, Hendrick settled on a box 14 inches square and 4 feet long with a built-in bait box with double throats or muzzles.  “These are what the catfish go in to get into the box but the limber slats close up and prevent the fish from getting out,” he says. “I build all of my traps with either red oak or white oak strips.  I actually like red oak better because it is tougher wood and retains the bait odor longer.  I use galvanized staples, as I found they are better than nails or screws.”

Hendrick is a well-known sign painter in Crenshaw, Covington and Coffee counties area. Those who know him well know that he is quite a perfectionist especially when it comes to painting signs or building fish traps.  Hendrick says when he sells someone a fish trap he likes to give them a lesson on where to place them and how to use them before they leave. 

“I like to use an old head from a V8 motor for an anchor and about 50 feet of green nylon cord attached to the trap,” he says.  “I construct a simple three-prong grab hook that I can throw out and draw across to snag the line so I can retrieve and pull the trap up to the boat.  I like to fish my traps in water that is 10 to 12 feet deep.” 

Hendrick says it is a fallacy that you can’t put them on sandy bottoms, but you do have to check them more often to make sure they don’t sand in. “For bait, I recommend spoiled cheese that I purchase at Ron Smitherman’s Bait Shop in Clanton.  Although I think cheese is by far the best, some people have good luck with cotton seed meal cake, rotten cabbage, lettuce, bananas and other produce.”

Hendrick says after much experimentation, he builds a small bait box to put his cheese in that slowly oozes downstream and attracts the fish.  He also says rather than having a small door, he builds his traps so that one complete side can be removed to facilitate baiting and fish removal.

“I fish my traps year-round but the best time I have found for catching catfish in a trap is October to April.  If you fish them in the summertime, you need to check them every day, but you can get by checking them once or twice a week in the winter.”

Most Alabama counties permit the use of wire fish baskets after you purchase a tag for each basket.  But state law requires you to have a commercial fishing license to use a slat basket in the public waters of the state.

“I keep my muzzle tapered down to 4 inches and I have caught fish that would weigh seven pounds that were able to get through the muzzle,” says Hendrick.  “I have caught close to 100 pounds in my traps on occasion.  They are constructed in a way that game fish can escape through the required one and one eighth-inch gap between the slats.  I recommend being a good conservationist and if you catch more fish than you can use, release them back into the river and catch them again another day.  And everyone knows a needy family that can use catfish.”

Hendrick invites anyone interested in purchasing his traps to contact him at 334-303-9389 or at Hendrick Signs, 673 Elba Highway, Brantley.  He charges $60 for a single trap and $50 for two or more traps. Contact your local game warden if you have questions about fishing with fish traps.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: Food for thought

We Southerners love our food.

But now, according to recent studies, it seems that the cuisine for which the South is famous is leading Southerners to an early grave.

Not long ago it was reported that anyone who wants diabetes should move South and start eating. According to a 2017 study, the highest adult obesity rates are in the South, with Alabama and Arkansas tied for third place (West Virginia and Mississippi were one and two, respectively). And in another study, Alabama ranked right up there with West Virginia with the highest percentage of folks with diabetes.

Like so much that is Southern, our eating habits can be traced to our history. For about as long as there has been a South, culinarily speaking, a good part of the population has had to get by on the poorest cuts of meat and the most forlorn vegetables.

So Southern cooks set out to make the bad at least taste better. What they accomplished has been nothing short of miraculous.

For proof, I refer you to the late Ernest Matthew Mickler’s 1986 classic book, White Trash Cooking, a loving tribute to what southerners can do with traditional staples like fat pork, corn meal, molasses, garden greens, Ritz crackers, Cool Whip, Velveeta and whatever else happens to be handy.

This sort of cooking and this sort of eating has survived almost intact in the rural South or among rural Southerners who moved to cities like Birmingham and Montgomery. But rather than take our eating habits as an indication of how isolated and unsophisticated the deep South remains, I contend that what we cook and consume is just one more bit of evidence of just how cosmopolitan southerners actually are.     

Consider my buddy Jim, who taught Southern history at one of our fine Southern Universities. A scholar recognized both at home and abroad, Jim was invited to lecture at the University of Vienna.

As a gift for his hosts, Jim carried cans of Vienna Sausage to pass around. The sausages were a big hit, as was Jim’s explanation of how Vienna was properly pronounced (“Vi – eeee – nah”).

Now I don’t know, or really care, how Vienna would rank among healthy cities in Europe. And from what Jim tells me, the Viennese don’t know or care either. They enjoy food fixed the way they like it fixed.

Same as down in Dixie.

“Foodies” in places like New York City and San Francisco can go on about experimenting with ingredients and approaches, but we can match ‘em with dishes like “Uncle Willie’s Swamp Cabbage Stew,” “Freda’s Five-Can Casserole,” and a “Kiss Me Not Sandwich” (White Trash Cooking, pp. 11, 41, 73).

As for discovering that most of the cities in the Southern heartland are not healthy places to live well, if you can’t have it all, I’d rather have mine with “Ham-Lama Salad” and some “Soda Cracker Pie,” thank you very much.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living.  He can be reached at

Social security: How the retirement rules work for you

Retirement doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone. Some people plan to retire and never work again. Some people plan for second careers in occupations that wouldn’t have adequately supported their families, but they do the work for pure enjoyment. Some people, whether by design or desire, choose to work part-time or seasonally to supplement their retirement income.

Retirees (or survivors) who choose to receive Social Security benefits before they reach full retirement age (FRA) and continue to work have an earnings limit. In 2017, the annual earnings limit was $16,920 for those under FRA the entire calendar year. In 2018, it is $17,040. If you earn over the limit, we deduct $1 from your Social Security monthly benefit payment for every $2 you earn above the annual limit.

In the calendar year you reach FRA, which you can check out at, you have a higher earnings limit. Additionally, we will only count earnings for the months prior to FRA. In 2017, the limit was $44,880. In 2018, it is $45,360. In the year of FRA attainment, Social Security deducts $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above the limit.

There is a special rule that usually only applies in your first year of receiving retirement benefits. If you earn more than the annual earnings limit, you may still receive a full Social Security payment for each month you earn less than a monthly limit. In 2018, the monthly limit is $1,420 for those who are below FRA the entire calendar year. The 2018 monthly limit increases to $3,780 in the year of FRA attainment.

Once you reach FRA, you no longer have an earnings limit, and we may recalculate your benefit to credit you for any months we withheld your benefits due to excess earnings. This is because your monthly benefit amount is calculated based on a reduction for each month you receive it before your FRA. So, if you originally filed for benefits 12 months before your FRA, but earned over the limit and had two months of Social Security benefits withheld, we will adjust your ongoing monthly benefit amount to reflect that you received 10 months of benefits before your FRA, and not 12.

Most people understand that if they work while receiving benefits before FRA, their benefit may be reduced. What most people do not consider in their retirement planning is that we recalculate your Social Security monthly benefit at FRA to credit you for Social Security benefit payments withheld due to earnings over the limit. Explaining the earnings limit is another way that Social Security helps secure your today and tomorrow.

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

Rural health: Drones offer exciting promise in rural Alabama

A drone delivers medical supplies to the annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) in Wise County, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Tim Cox

Rapidly emerging new technologies offer a reason for excitement in caring for the health of Alabama’s rural areas.  Alabama faces a great challenge to provide adequate and quality health care for one of the country’s most unhealthy populations.  The use of drones (also called unmanned aircraft systems UAS) is one such promising technology that we need to be prepared to embrace and develop plans for using.

Military and smart phone technologies have played major roles in the rapid development of drone technology and capability.  Having the ability to inspect from above and move in straight lines offer many advantages that surface bound travel does not have.  This technology continues to advance at a rapid pace with drones getting faster, being able to carry heavier cargos, and travel greater distances without the cost of gasoline.  The futuristic city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is even considering the use of passenger-carrying drones that are manufactured in China.

Zipline, a Silicon Valley-based company, has been transporting medical supplies and life-saving blood to and bringing back specimens for laboratory testing from dozens of remote hospitals in Rwanda since October 2016.  Lighter air traffic allowed governmental restrictions to be much less restrictive in Rwanda than in the U.S.  Zipline has announced plans to work with state governments across the country to launch its medical drone delivery in the U.S.

This will not be the first such use of drones in the U.S.  Since July 2015, The Health Wagon and Remote Area Medical have partnered to provide medication delivery in the Appalachian area of Wise County in far southwest Virginia.

Drones are already being used for purposes in addition to health care in the U.S.  There is much promise for agricultural applications, including crop inspection and treatment.  Package delivery, search and rescue activities, aerial photography, parking lot and other security monitoring, damage surveying, and firefighting are only a few other examples.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Birmingham office, two waivers allowing the use of drones in Alabama have been approved.  These waivers allow for drones to be used for weddings, parties, other events, boating and water sports, video production, construction, construction inspection, roof inspection, agriculture, surveying, mapping, and other such applications.  No health-related services are being provided.

Safety and legal concerns appear to be the major obstacles.  Safety issues involve birds and areas with heavy airplane traffic.  There are a number of legal issues, including that of personal privacy.

Alabama’s leadership and other stakeholders involved in the future use of drones in providing health-related activity are encouraged to start preparing for the use of this promising innovation.

Dale Quinney is executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association, 1414 Elba Highway, Troy, 36081.

Alabama snapshots: Gone fishin’

Jeff and Laiklind fishing in Cullman. SUBMITTED BY Janice Casey, Cullman.

SUBMITTED BY Michelle Burnham, Brewton.

Earl Reed “Gramps” and Karl Taylorson just shy of Gramps’ 96th birthday. SUBMITTED BY Emily Taylorson, Seale.

3-year-old John Curtis trout fishing with his daddy, David, below Smith Lake Dam. SUBMITTED BY Brenda Landers, Cullman.

Iris’ first fish, caught at Little River in Dekalb County. SUBMITTED BY Mike Elkins, Gurley.

Rusty and (baby) Rhett fishing at a pond in Burnt Corn. SUBMITTED BY Rusty Salter, Daphne.

Avery Menefee fishing at sunset. SUBMITTED BY Heather Menefee, Pine Level.

Mason Hodges caught “the big one” in his PawPaw’s pond and now it’s mounted on his bedroom wall. SUBMITTED BY Tim Tuggle, Danville.

Submit Your Images! August Theme: “First day of school” Deadline for August: June 30. Submit photos online: or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124. Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.

Restoring the roar on Lake Guntersville

Photo by Chris Denslow

By John N. Felsher

After more than 30 years of absence, boat races will return to the largest lake in Alabama when the Guntersville Lake Hydrofest comes to the northeastern part of the state on June 22-24.

“Lake Guntersville has a long history of boat racing with many world records set on these waters,” says Katy Norton, the president of the Marshall County Convention and Visitors Bureau in the town of Guntersville. “Races have been held on the lake since the lake formed in 1939. We had annual boat racing events all the way through 1986. Because boat racing had such a history on the lake, we felt it would be a great time to bring the races back during the state bicentennial celebration.”

After the qualifying events on June 22, two types of craft will race across the waters for the next two days. Sometimes called “NASCAR on the Water,” H1 Unlimited hydroplanes propelled by turbine engines producing more than 3,000 horsepower can hit speeds exceeding 220 miles per hour as they race around a two-mile oval course. These powerful boats can throw “roostertails,” or streams of water that can reach 60 feet high and a football field long.

“This is the first year that we’ve brought the boat races back to Lake Guntersville since 1986 and this will be the first time we’ve had the H1 Unlimited Hydroplanes here since 1969,” Norton says. “We’re really glad to see this type of event come back to Lake Guntersville.”

The famed Miss Budweiser, the boat that won the 1969 races, will be on static display. Normally, people who want to see this historic craft must travel to a museum in Seattle, Wash., but for three days, people can climb aboard it on the shores of Lake Guntersville and take photos of themselves at the controls.

Guntersville Lake Hydrofest will kick off another season of H1 Unlimited hydroplane racing in the country. Drivers only race these craft in five cities. Besides Guntersville, the smallest venue on the circuit this year, the boats will race in Detroit, San Diego, Seattle, the Tri-Cities area of Washington state and Madison, Ind.

“We’re the smallest community by far that’s going to host the races this year, but that’s a testament to the quality of the lake and the history we have here with boat racing,” Norton says. “It’s our goal to make this an annual event and bring back boat racing to the lake as part of our summer activities.”

Drivers in smaller hydroplanes will also race against each other in front of the crowds gathered along Sunset Drive on the lake shoreline in the town of Guntersville. These “Grand Prix World” hydroplanes measure about 24 feet long and 12 feet wide. With 1,300-horsepower engines, they can hit speeds topping 170 miles per hour.

When not watching the boats zoom across the waves, people can participate in many other activities on shore. Wakeboarders will give demonstrations on the lake. Vendors will offer food and refreshments. Children can enjoy visiting a special area and activities set aside just for them. Besides Miss Budweiser, people can also see static displays of various boats among other events and activities on tap for the three days of celebration.

“People don’t want to miss the opening ceremonies, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 23,” Norton says. “The National Guard will do a water jump, parachuting into the water. We’ll also have some flyovers.”

At 7 p.m. that Saturday evening, a country music concert will be held at the Lurleen B. Wallace pavilion. Rising star Suzi Oravec will open, followed by the headliner, A Thousand Horses, a band known for its hit song “Smoke.”

Norton said she expects to see more than 20,000 people come to hear the roaring engines and enjoy the other festivities in a town normally with a population less than half that size. Some people might come a few days early to fish the famed bass lake that spreads across 69,100 acres and stretches 75 miles along the old Tennessee River channel. Others may simply relax before the big event or partake in some other recreational activities available in the area. For area information, see

“We expect people to come from all over Alabama, across the Southeast and from many other states,” Norton says. “We’ve had calls from people coming from as far away as California and Washington. Some people will come a few days early to enjoy the lake and the area before the races begin and stay through the weekend. This should be a major economic boon to the town of Guntersville and the surrounding area.”

For schedules, event maps, ticket information and other details, see or the event page on Facebook. People can also call the Marshall County CVB at 256-582-7015.

Photo by Chris Denslow

Reaching out: Army veteran teaches long-range, precision shooting

James Eagleman, (left) Director of Training for the Barbour Creek Shooting Academy, gives some instruction to Colton Simpson (right) before Colton fires the rifle at a target a thousand yards downrange. Photo by John N. Felsher

You’re going to shoot this rifle at a target a thousand yards away today and hit it,” proclaims James Eagleman, the director of training at the Barbour Creek Shooting Academy just outside Eufaula.

More used to shooting shotguns at ranges less than 40 yards, I looked out the window of the shooting house incredulously. I couldn’t even see the target more than a half-mile away, but I would trust James with my life. We served together in Korea in the 1990s.

I knew him as Corporal Eagleman, but he retired from the Army as a master sergeant after serving 26 years on active duty, much of it as a sniper or sniper instructor. When I sat down in the shooting house at the range, the “corporal” was most definitely in charge of his former commander. With a little instruction, I did hit the target a thousand yards away, although James did most of the calculations and setup. I just pulled the trigger.

“Barbour Creek Shooting Academy is a long-distance shooting facility,” says Mark Simpson, the owner. “We train clients how to hunt and shoot animals ethically at long range. We are one of the few ranges where people can shoot rifles out to a thousand yards or more and certainly one of the few that offer all the amenities that we do.”

Simpson ran car dealerships for 38 years before selling the dealership as he planned to retire. He bought a 1,000-acre plot of land on Lake Eufaula and started building a long-range rifle shooting facility for personal reasons.

“I started building this facility for my friends and family,” Simpson recalls. “I had been shooting long distance for more than a decade, but I got my advanced training from James. One day, I talked James into coming down to see it. When he got here, he says, ‘We have to make this into a shooting academy.’”

The academy opened in 2017. Most students stay at a lodge on the property that can comfortably sleep up to six people. Guests can also stay at an A-frame cottage on the Chattahoochee River, which flows into Lake Eufaula, or in the town of Eufaula. Some people stay at the nearby Lakepoint Resort State Park. People who stay on the property receive all meals included in the price.

The academy offers two shooting courses, a basic and an advanced course. Each course lasts two days. People could stay all week, taking the courses back to back or take one course now and return at a later date to take the second one. 

James Eagleman, the director of training at the Barbour Creek Shooting Academy, and Mark Simpson, owner of the academy, congratulate Madeleine Hackett on the shot she made. The academy teaches long-range rifle shooting.
Photo courtesy of Barbour Creek Shooting Academy

“The course is partially based on what I taught in a U.S. Army advanced sniper course,” Eagleman says. “Our focus is not just on shooting, but on long-range hunting. In the civilian world, people don’t need to know how to be a sniper, but hunters need to know things like shot placement, bullet selection, terminal performance and other things to make a quick, ethical kill on a game animal. Level 2 is more of a wind reading and advanced hunting course. We go into a lot of hunting-type shooting positions and what to do if the equipment fails in the field.”

Clients can bring their own firearms, but while under instruction, they must use guns and ammunition provided by the academy. After completing the courses, the clients can practice with their own rifles. Simpson lets some graduates put what they learned into practice by hunting hogs on the property. In Alabama, people can shoot feral hogs all year long without limit on private property.

“When we started the academy, one of the first things we discovered was that most people who come here with their own guns find out quickly that they probably have the wrong equipment,” Eagleman explains. “In Level 1, we stress proper equipment selection. All of our school guns are 6.5mm Creedmoor hunting rifles, which are phenomenal guns for long-range shooting. In addition, all of our guns have suppressors on them so we can sit in our air-conditioned shooting house and talk without putting headphones on.”

Mark and James also build their own high-end custom hunting rifles. They also developed and sell their own brand of 6.5mm and 7mm ammunition.

“The guns we sell, BC-1400s, are designed for long-range hunting with minimal recoil so people can make ethical shots at long range,” Eagleman says. “These rifles weigh less than 10 pounds with a scope and are capable of killing game out to 1,400 yards. We test each one by shooting it for accuracy out to a thousand yards. If the rifle doesn’t meet our requirements, we don’t sell it.”

All vets and first responders who enroll in the classes receive a 15 percent discount. Wounded warriors can take the instruction for free, but must pay for their food and lodging. For more information, see or call 334-845-0000.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Can solar work for my home?

Solar installers work high off the ground, on steep roofs and must drive fasteners through the roofing. This is a job that requires specialized training. Source: MariaGodfrida,

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessan

Q: I’m hearing a lot about solar power as an efficient option for homes today. Can you tell me some of the basics about solar energy and whether it’s something I should pursue?

A: Solar can provide energy for your home in three ways:

Passive solar is a way to capture the sun’s heat directly, often through south-facing windows and dark-colored stone floors that can store heat.

Solar water heating systems typically have panels on a roof that collect solar energy and a pump that circulates heated water for storage in a water tank.

Photovoltaic (PV) systems also collect solar energy through a panel, but the PV panels actually convert the energy into electricity.

I suspect you are referencing PV systems, which have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. PV technology has improved, costs have dropped and financing offers are abundant.

PV panels are usually installed on a roof in an array. The panels generate direct current (DC) power, which is then channeled through an inverter that feeds electricity into the home, back to the electric grid or to a battery system where it is stored for future use.

Several factors go into calculating how cost-effective it would be to install a solar power system for your home. Once you’ve done your research, you can use the PVWatts Calculator (at  to estimate how much production and value a PV system on your home could yield.

An easier path is to find a qualified solar contractor to provide an estimate for a PV system. Look for contractors that are certified with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). Your local electric co-op may also have a list of recommended solar contractors.

When you call contractors, they will typically ask several questions to determine if your home is a good candidate for solar. If it is, they will likely be able to provide an estimate. In order to complete an estimate, the contractor will need to determine the size of the system, which will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your current and anticipated electricity needs
  • Roof area, orientation and pitch (15 to 40 degrees is ideal)
  • The amount of sunlight your home receives per year
  • The amount of shade, dust, snow and/or other factors that can block sunlight

If your roof will need replacing in the next few years, you’ll want to do that before installing solar panels, so be sure to include that expense when calculating the overall cost.

There may be federal, state and utility tax credits and rebates available to offset the price of the equipment and installation. You can find links to these resources on my website at

If the estimate you receive includes all the factors we’ve mentioned in this article, it should give you a fairly accurate idea of your return on investment. It’s also a good idea to get multiple estimates if you can, and to review the estimate with your electric co-op to ensure the electric rate and metering arrangements are correct.

Before you make a final decision, consider the following questions:

• How does the investment in a PV system compare to upgrading the energy efficiency of your home? Efficiency upgrades can sometimes yield more bang for your buck and make your home more comfortable. A home energy audit can help you answer this question.

• Is there a better way to invest in solar energy? Many co-ops offer community solar programs, which can produce solar electricity at a lower cost than residential systems.

Investment in solar systems or energy efficiency upgrades to your home can help increase the resale value. Recent reports show that the presence of a PV system can raise a home’s resale value to an average of $15,000.

I hope these tips help you determine if a PV system is right for your home. Remember, your local electric co-op can be a great resource, so reach out to them if you have any additional questions.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on solar energy for your home, please visit:

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to for more information.

Recipes to treasure

Heirloom recipes are valuable because they’ve been “kitchen tested and eater approved” hundreds of times over. Any recipe that gets made repeatedly and gets passed down is undoubtedly a method that works and that results in something delicious.

BY Jennifer Kornegay  | Food/Photography by Brooke Echols

Handing down favorite recipes is a worthwhile pursuit that’s about sharing something more than good food.

When we talk about family heirlooms, we’re often referring to jewelry, fine china or maybe granddad’s coin collection. But an heirloom, as Merriam-Webster defines it, is anything that is “something of special value handed down from one generation to another.” And that “value” isn’t necessarily monetary. What are warm sentiments worth? How about a bite that brings back a flood of fond memories? Can you assign an accurate appraisal for the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from preparing and serving that dish everyone has always loved (and getting it just right)?

     These feelings and experiences are priceless and are yours for the taking when you save, use and share heirloom recipes. Holding onto recipe cards covered in your grandmother’s scrawling script or keeping your mom’s dog-eared cookbooks with notes in the margins and splatter stains on the edges is historic preservation at its purest.

     And you’re not just protecting remnants of the past, you’re reviving them. Our most basic needs often connect us in the deepest ways, and food builds bridges that transcend time and space. Every time you prep the ingredients and follow the steps outlined in an old recipe, you open an opportunity to remember and revisit family members who’ve done the same before. These are connections that surpass the tenuous relations many of us now have in the hundreds via social media “friends.”

     The next step is passing them along. It’s a way to reach out to current and even generations yet to come and hand them a heaping helping of yourself and of the heritage that has shaped who you are.

     If you don’t have an heirloom recipe collection, it’s never too late to start one. And you don’t have to dip only into your own gene pool. Borrow some of these oldies but goodies submitted by our readers and start your tradition today.

Cook of the Month: Gail Clark Sheppard, Arab EC

     Gail Clark Sheppard has been enjoying a simple yet super-sweet cake her grandmother used to make all of her life, and she believes her grandmother enjoyed it most of hers. “She may have come up with it herself, but I think she may have gotten it from her mother,” she said. “I know it has been in my family for more than 100 years.” The molasses cake was an easy yet satisfying treat that Sheppard’s grandmother often whipped up to feed her energetic grandkids. “She’d slice it up and put it in an eight-pound lard bucket and bring it out to us while we were playing,” she said. “And then she’d tell us not to bother her for a while!” That version was particularly special since its principal ingredient was also homemade. “My grandad and my dad farmed sugar cane, so they made their own molasses, and my grandma used that of course. Sometimes, she used it in place of sugar in other recipes too,” Sheppard said. The memories of fun family times now add their sweetness to the skillet anytime Sheppard bakes the humble cake. “I can remember how wonderful it tasted then, when she’d bring it out still warm to us as kids,” she said. “I love it to this day.”

Grandma’s Molasses Cake 

  • 1 1/3 cups molasses
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1½ cups flour
  • ¼-½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch iron skillet. Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Grandma Clark’s Dumplings

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup shortening

Mix milk and shortening with flour. Stir to make soft dough. Turn out onto floured surface. Knead dough a few times until stiff. Divide dough in half. Roll one half at a time until it is about the thickness of piecrust. Cut into strips about an inch wide and two inches long. Drop pieces one at a time into boiling broth.

Grandma dropped her dumplings into the broth at the side of the pot, while holding the ones already cooking back with a spoon. She did not stir the dumplings while they cooked. They cooked uncovered until she got all the dough in the pot. Then she covered them and cooked them about 15 minutes. This recipe makes a large pot of dumplings.

Gail Clark Sheppard

Arab EC

Jam Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda or baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter (no substitutes!)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup jam (any kind, but preferably homemade blackberry with the seeds in and nothing used but sugar and berries to make the jam)
  • 1 cup dates, chopped
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped (cook’s preference)
  • 1 apple, grated

Sift flour, salt, and baking soda or powder together, reserving 1/4 cup of the flour to mix with the nuts, dates and raisins. Cream together the sugar and butter. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Combine buttermilk and jam. Add alternately with combined dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Flour the fruit and nuts and stir them into the batter. Stir in the grated apple. Bake in 3 greased, 9-inch cake pans in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until cake tests done. Turn out onto racks to cool before frosting. NOTE: If a spicier cake is desired, sift 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon allspice, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves with the flour, salt and baking powder.

Brown Sugar Icing:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

In a deep, large kettle melt the butter over high heat until it just starts to boil.

Add the brown sugar. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Don’t boil longer than two minutes and stir constantly while it is boiling. Add the milk and splash of vanilla and return to a boil, stirring constantly.

As soon as it begins to boil, remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until thick and spreadable.

Mary Rich

North Alabama EC

Mama’s Nanner Pudding

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 egg
  • 11/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Bananas, sliced
  • Vanilla wafers

Mix sugar, flour and egg. Stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until thick. Remove from heat, add vanilla and butter, then stir. Pour over layered bananas and vanilla wafers in 8×8-inch casserole dish.

Libby Bailey

Cullman EC

Alabama’s Corn Chowder

  • 5 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 pound Zeigler bacon
  • 2 16-ounce cans cream or kernel corn (add juice if you use kernel)
  • 1 large can evaporated milk
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ¾ cup pre-cooked Zeigler ham, finely chopped
  • 1 stick butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook potatoes until almost done in a large boiler then set aside. Leave enough water to cover potatoes, about two cups. Fry bacon and remove to drain but reserve grease. Sauté ham and onion in bacon grease. Crumble and add bacon, ham and onions to potatoes. Add corn, milk and butter. Salt and pepper as desired. If chowder is too thin, add two heaping tablespoons flour to 1½ cups of water. This will help the chowder thicken. Simmer 15-20 minutes. Saltine crackers go great with the chowder.

Wyenette Ware Renfroe

Baldwin EMC

Granny Pritchett’s Tea Cakes

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3½ cups all purpose flour

Mix ingredients in the order listed. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Can be rolled out and cut into shapes.

Amelia Pritchett

Pea River EC

Fattingand II (Lena Olson’s Fried Cookies)

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 teaspoons cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed whole cardamom
  • 1¾ cups flour (enough to roll cookies out)

Beat egg well, add sugar and remaining ingredients. Roll out the cookie dough, cut into diamond shapes and fry in deep fat at 370 degrees for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar.

Gloria Pratt

Baldwin EMC

Coming up in July… Frozen Treats!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

August: Corn | June 8

September: BBQ | July 8

October: Pumpkin | Aug. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

Gardening hacks: Ways to make gardening easy, economical and eco-friendly

Recycle or up cycle in the garden. Here is a pair of boots hanging from iron rebar. Boots contain plants of wild strawberrys.

Gardening hacks — or creative ways to save time and money in the garden — can be fun and often effective shortcuts for many gardening chores. If used correctly, garden hacks can also help us create more eco-friendly gardens, especially if we concentrate on the three Rs of sustainability: recycling, reusing and repurposing.


Many items that we might throw in the trash or send to our local recycling center can be useful tools in the garden. Here are a few ways to turn trash into garden treasure.

Yogurt cups and other small plastic cartons make great seed-starting containers. Emptied milk, water, soda and juice containers can be used as plant covers, plant collars and as mini greenhouses or terrariums. Those with handles are perfect for use as watering and dusting devices or as scoops for potting soil and birdseed.

Old newspapers and cardboard can be laid in garden beds to control weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

Empty wine bottles can be filled with water, then pushed upside down into a pot to slowly irrigate container plants. They are also a great source for garden art and ornamentation — think bottle trees or a garden bed bordered with upturned bottles.


Lots of things can be reused in the garden — old boots can become planters and old pallets can become tool racks — but there are few things as valuable to a garden as kitchen waste. Yes, it makes great compost, but here are a few other uses for it, too.

Eggshell halves make cute, biodegradable seed-starting containers and can be crushed and sprinkled around plants to keep away slugs and add calcium to the soil.

Banana peels, which are high in potassium and other plant nutrients, can be added to compost or chopped or dried and added to garden soil as a slow-release fertilizer. They can also help ward off aphids.

Used coffee grounds can be sprinkled around plants to tamp down fungal diseases, provide a slow-release source of nitrogen to plants and improve soil texture. (A word of caution: coffee is acidic, so used grounds are not recommended for plants that require more alkaline conditions.)


Many of the household products we use every day in the home are also useful in the garden to control pests, add nutrients to the soil and in other ways.  Here are a few examples. 

Baking soda can help fight fungal problems on flowers and shrubs and can help sweeten the taste of tomatoes.

Concoctions of vinegar, baking soda, dish soaps, vegetable oils and other products can be used in place of stronger chemicals to remove and thwart a variety of pests.

Mixtures made of ingredients such as hot peppers, garlic and water can be misted on to plants to deter aphids, and jar caps filled with beer can trap and kill slugs, snails and some flying insects.

These are just a few of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of gardening hacks that make gardening easier, cheaper, sustainable and more fun. Additional details for these and other ideas are available in gardening publications, online and through local garden experts (one great book of ideas is 101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden by Shawna Coronado). Do a little poking around to find ones that suit your needs.

A word of caution, though: not all hacks are effective or safe, so if you have questions or concerns, seek advice from your local Cooperative Extension or Master Gardener organizations or other professional gardening sources, especially before applying any potentially toxic or unsafe products to your garden.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at