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Now We’re Cooking …
A real Jewel in the kitchen
Known for catering and her scrumptous wine cake, Jewel West’s cooking is the stuff of which legends are made
Editor’s Note: To follow is the first installment of a regular series that will spotlight local residents known for their prowess in the kitchen. “Now We’re Cooking …” will run regularly in the Herald and offer select recipes from the featured cook.
By ANNETTE HARVISON
I was looking for a white fence under the big live oaks. That setting marked the driveway for the home of Mrs. Jewel West, a lady that has lived in Greene County all her life. I had asked if I could visit her and perhaps inquire about a recipe for a cake that has crossed the lips of many folks in the county and many folks in other places, too.
Mrs. Jewel’s famous wine cake. When I found her house, I found more than a delicious cake. I found a lady as sweet as her cake and as welcoming as sunshine after the rain.
“My wine cake is my happy cake,” said Mrs. West. “It’s a fun thing.”
We sat in the living room and talked about her life. She has had a full life raising kids with her husband, watching her children have children of their own, and even great-grand children. She has seen many places through her travels, and she has been a stronghold in the community for quite some time.
Mrs. Jewel shared a few stories about different times in her life that were profound. Her passion for cooking started many years ago. She said she has always enjoyed cooking and food has been at the center of her life for her family, church, community and career.
She grew up in Neely and later married Byrddon West and moved to the West’s homestead where she has remained since.
“I love cooking,” said Mrs. West. “it started when I decided I wanted to decorate cakes on my oldest son’s first birthday. The little dog we had at the time ate part of his birthday cake.”
“I gathered up pans from people in the community,” she continued. “I made a few birthday cakes for people in the neighborhood. It was a hobby.”
After the death of her husband in 1986, Mrs. West began her years with the Richton school system. She worked in food service for the school system for nearly 42 years before retiring. She was a key player in getting the breakfast program in Richton schools. She recalled a young boy that would fight each morning as he got off the bus. He was sent to her office one morning, and Mrs. West began to talk to him. Their exchange after that put Mrs. West on a mission.
“I asked him why he fought so much,” said Mrs. West. “I asked him was he hungry, and he said yes.”
The young boy opened up to Mrs. West. She said the only meals he had were the lunches from school each day. She began to bring him breakfast and he would sit in her office to eat instead of fight. He was not the only one in that situation. She said she soon had several young children in her office for breakfast, and not long after that she had to stand in front of the school board and administration to show her case for implementing a breakfast program.
It was during her time with the Richton school system that she began to bake cakes a bit more and added the wine cake to her recipe collection. She said she would make potato salad for a lady in Richton, and that lady gave the wine cake recipe to Mrs. West.
“I played with the recipe for a while,” said Mrs. West. “I asked the man at the liquor store about a wine, and he gave what he said was a dry white wine.”
She makes more than just the delicious wine cake. Mrs. West catered for a while. She has made birthday cakes and wedding cakes for many years. She said she enjoys making the sweets. Italian crème cakes, shower cakes and blueberry cakes are just a sample of her sweet repertoire of delicious treats. She also has a red velvet cake that was tweaked to perfection by herself and a few of the ladies she worked with while in the Richton school system. And when Mrs. West and I agreed we both like pears better than apples in some recipes, she told me about her cast iron pear pie that came from an apple pie recipe.
Mrs. West’s house burned in 2002, and she was devastated with her loss. She said it took her some time to have her home rebuilt, and when she did, she had more support and love than she ever expected.
“The day they started on my house,” said Mrs. West, “20 men from around the county showed up to help with the framing.”
It was a warm moment for Mrs. West, to see all those lending their time for her. She was blessed and humbled, and as the construction continued, she had another surprise in store for her.
She touched the lives of many children during her time with the school system. One of those children remembered the kindness Mrs. West showed him when he was young, and during the construction of her new home, he worked for the kitchen company, Viking. The young man contributed a new stove for her home. She was overwhelmed and humbled to know she had that much of an impact into the young man’s life. And because of that stove, Mrs. West had an extra stove that went into a pantry room where she happily bakes her cakes.
Mrs. West said she has had a blessed life. She was married to a wonderful man. They raised three great children that have given her many grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. She has had the pleasure of visiting many places around the United States, and she’s even been island hopping in the Caribbean.
Mrs. West has been a member of the Mutual Rights Church for about 60 years. She has been a member of the Ladies’ Variety Club for nearly 20 years. She said she has had one friend in particular that meant much to her life, Frances Basila. The two ladies met while both were members of the Ladies’ Variety Club. Mrs. West said though Basila could be a tough lady to deal with, she was a fine lady.
“She strengthened my life in so many ways,” said West. “She was a strong person, and I learned a lot from her.”
Mrs. West said she has kept in contact with many friends from throughout the years. They still write letters to each other and call from time to time. They have shared recipes and life, and one her favorite things about cooking is sharing it with others. She said food is a passion that brings people together. Mrs. West has lived a long, happy life and is grateful for all the things she has seen and done.
“I have had a lot of blessings in my life,” said Mrs. West.
Mrs. Jewel’s Wine Cake
1 box white cake mix
1 box (3.4 oz.) instant vanilla pudding mix 4 large eggs
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Glaze for cake:
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup of white sugar
1/4 cup of wine
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Mix all ingredients together and beat on medium speed for about two minutes. Pour into sprayed pan and bake at 350˚ for 45 minutes to an hour.
Cook ingredients over medium heat until sugar is melted. Immediately pour glaze onto hot cake when pulled from the oven, still in pan. Let cake cool in pan then dump onto cake board.
Eye of Round Roast
Eye of round roast
1 tablespoon of lemon pepper
1/4 cup of oil
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 red wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
Salt and black pepper to taste
Marinade roast in mix of other ingredients overnight.
Cook mixture in slow cooker until meat reaches desired internal temperature.
Red Velvet Cake
1 box of buttery yellow cake mix
1 oz. red food coloring
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon of baking soda
3 whole eggs
1 cup of buttermilk
1 stick of butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup of butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup granulated sugar
Add cake ingredients in mixing bowl and mix well.
Bake cake in layers at 350 degrees according to directions on cake mix box. Allow to cool.
To make icing, cook flour and milk on low heat until thick. Remove from heat and let cool.
Cream together sugar, vanilla and butter until fluffy. Add flour and milk mixture. Beat until mixture has the consistency of whip cream.
Frost each cake layer.