By MARIE GILBERT
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Through marriage, child rearing, careers and retirement, one thing has remained a constant for the dozen women gathered around the table: Food.
They have baked without the aid of measuring spoons, made meals from scratch and learned how to take command of a kitchen by watching their mothers — not the Food Network.
Combined, the women have several hundred years of cooking experience.
But now, as residents of Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village, the senior citizens no longer spend hours mixing and stirring.
These days, it’s a hobby.
The women are part of Fahrney-Keedy’s Cooking Club, which meets most Mondays and is open to any resident.
On a recent summer morning, the group was making potato candy–and the reminiscing began to flow.
Some recalled making it when they were children. Others remembered helping their grandmothers roll out the dough.
“That’s the fun of the cooking club,” said Kathy Neville, assistant activities director. “There are a lot of memories connected to food.”
The club has been in existence for about five years, Neville said, and is an opportunity for people to come together to reconnect with their culinary skills.
Attendance varies, she said, but usually averages about 10 to 12 people from both assisted living and the nursing home.
“Many are very good cooks,” Neville said. “Others just like to come and visit.”
“We always have interesting conversations, not always related to cooking,” said Barbara Harrison, activities aide. “It’s a bit of a social club.”
The group attracts mostly women but, occasionally, a man or two will join in, she said.
Neville said the group meets in an activities room because the kitchen isn’t big enough to accommodate a large number of people.
But that doesn’t dictate what sort of recipes can be prepared.
According to Neville, “We’ve made everything from asparagus soup and BLTs to cookies and candy.”
“If something needs to go into the oven, the staff will do it for the group and serve it to them later,” Harrison said.
At the age of 93, Mary Grace Cole said she has quite a few years of cooking experience under her belt.
“I always loved cooking,” she said. “I cooked for my family, but I also did a lot entertaining. I can’t stand up and do things anymore. But I do enjoy this — being able to do a little cooking again.”
Cole, originally from Baltimore County, said she especially loved to bake. She remembered a raisin bread that her mother-in-law from Norway made at Christmas.
“But she never had a recipe for it,” Cole said. “It was a scoop of this and a pinch of that.”
Cole said she spent years trying to figure out the ingredients and perfect the measurements, through a lot of trial and error.
“I finally got it right and began serving it every Christmas morning, along with an egg casserole,” she said.
Retta Jean Thompson, 67, of Hagerstown, said she enjoys cooking and named vegetable soup and homemade spaghetti as two of her specialties.
Her love of being in the kitchen rubbed off on her son, she said, who, today, “is a very good cook.”
Thompson said she likes being a part of the cooking club “because it makes me feel like I’m back in the kitchen.”
“I do miss it,” she said.
Polly Osteen, who grew up in North Carolina, admitted she never enjoyed cooking.
“I didn’t like it, she said. “My sister did all the cooking and I ate it.”
But Osteen, who is in her 80s, still likes being a part of the cooking club.
“It gives me something to do,” she shared. “And I get to spend time with friends. That’s something I do enjoy.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)