I could never choose just one thing that I’m especially grateful for this Thanksgiving, but I can narrow it down to five—the five women I can’t imagine living without: Aunt Peggy, Sandy, Corrie, Michelle and Brooke. These women are a constant source of strength and inspiration to me. They’re also fabulous cooks. So in the spirit of the season, I want to share these women and their signature dishes with y’all. And I think you’ll be thankful I did.
Mama was the first great woman in life, but when she passed away, my Aunt Peggy—who couldn’t be here for the picture—stepped into that gaping hole in my heart and showered me with so many blessings. I suppose we both filled a need in each other since she never had a daughter of her own (she has two boys). The fact that she didn’t was sure great for me. To this day, Aunt Peggy is my biggest cheerleader, my mentor, my best friend and the woman I want to be when I grow up. She’s also Queen of the Sweet Potato Soufflé. She makes it from scratch every Thanksgiving. And if that soufflé isn’t on my Thanksgiving table, then I must have the wrong day.
The beautiful brunette on the left is Sandy, my brother’s girlfriend. Sandy has been one of the most wonderful additions to our family. She and Bubba met on the Paula Deen Cruise two years ago and they have been together ever since (talk about the love boat!). Sandy’s strings are pulled so tight—she has it all together. She’s such a well-rounded, balanced woman who understands the importance of family and a delicious pot of Low-Country Boil—makin’ her a perfect fit for the family!
And then there’s my precious daughter-in-law, Brooke. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I thought, “Oh my goodness, it’s game over for Jamie.” I just knew she was the one. And in addition to being a loving wife, Brooke is a fabulous mother. I know that Brooke cares about her boys with all her heart. This allows me to just enjoy my grandchildren as a grandmother should, and that’s a real gift. Brooke is also doing her part by passing along the “Deen cooking gene” to her sons. She always has Jack in the kitchen, helping her mix up the ingredients for her Homemade Meatloaf and I know that once Matthew is big enough, he’ll be right there too.
Like my niece Corrie, Michael’s daughter, Michelle, is the best daughter a woman could have. This past summer, Michelle gave me the most unselfish gift I’ve ever been given; she allowed me to stay in the delivery room when my grandson Henry took his first breath. So you know that there’s a real connection there—a love connection. Y’all, that woman cooks with her whole heart. I suppose that’s why her Banana Chocolate Gorilla Bread is to die for. There’s nothing better.
And Corrie, well, she’s my angel. She’s the little girl I hoped to have one day—and in a lot of ways we’re two peas in a pod. Growing up, she’d stay with me every Friday night and I’d take her out to eat. You know what that child would order? Catfish. Every time. And then on Saturday mornings she’d beg me to take her to yard sales. “We goin’ bargain sale?” she’d ask. I couldn’t love that child any more than if I’d given birth to her. In fact, I think I love her more because I didn’t. Corrie was the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen, but boy was she bad. And demanding. I don’t think she slept a full night until she was five years old. It didn’t help that I spoiled her rotten, but I would’ve done anything for that child. Perhaps in spite of me, Corrie has grown into an incredible woman. She loves the home and everything to do with it, from decorating to cooking. And y’all, that girl can make a Kentucky Pie like it’s nobody’s business.
Y’all, these five women bring me more pleasure to my life than you could ever imagine. I love ‘em all so dearly and I’m proud to say that they’re part of my family. And I hope you make their signature dishes part of yours.