Country Kitchen – Neighbors March 2009
As soft as clouds and as golden as sunshine, Wilene Sherer’s homemade bread is a fairytale in food. And the lesson it teaches is that some things just aren’t for sale.
“People ask about buying bread, but I won’t sell it. I take it to church and to friends and family or anywhere we might go to eat, but if you’re not in good enough graces to get it for free, you just won’t get it,” Wilene says with a sassy chuckle worthy of a fairy godmother.
And while the bread she makes in her Walker County kitchen may be all sweetness and light, it’s made by hands that have worked as hard on the farm as they have kneading dough.
“We’ve had goats, sheep, cattle and horses over the years, and I cut and baled hay for our farm and others,” she says. “I hauled cattle to the stockyard in Moulton back when everybody didn’t have a truck and trailer of their own, and I worked at both stockyards for a while. And I worked for a feed store, a sewing factory and the census in 2000, but I never worked away from our farm for very long.”
Wilene explains that her husband, Wayland, worked such long hours in the coal mine that she simply needed to be home on the farm.
“I sat on a tractor more than anything else, and I can remember days of taking a nap in the shade of the hay baler while I waited for Wayland to come fix something on it or the tractor,” she adds.
Wilene says she and Wayland kept farming cattle and hay until the drought two years ago when they decided to cut out everything but their horses.
“Neither of us can remember not having a horse — it’s just been a way of life for us,” she says. “So, our kids grew up around horses, too.”
“Wayland had two children and I had two children when we married. Both of us had a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old,” she says. “So, when they were all here and we would get the ponies out for them to ride, it was a real circus.”
With all four children and their families living nearby, Wilene says she still cooks for her family fairly often. “There’s always food for them anytime they pass through,” says Wilene.
And of course, it’s likely she’s got bread rising or baking all the time.
“I’ve never made the starter because a friend gave it to me 20 years ago, and I’ve had the same starter ever since. I just keep feeding it, and I give it out all the time to people,” she says.
In addition to her bread recipe, Wilene shares several other baking traditions like her Georgia Cornbread Cake (which is really made with finely chopped pecans rather than corn meal) and Oatmeal Cookies. And she passes along two essentials to the repertoire of any Southern cook: her takes on congealed salad and sweet potato casserole.