Marilyn Williams gets as caught up in all those long-running yuletide traditions as the next person, but a few years back, she decided it was time to tinker with one of them just a bit by jazzing up the menu for those family holiday feasts.
It wasn’t that she had a thing against the traditional Christmas turkey and ham. She just thought it would be nice to give family members another alternative—in the form of oven-roasted ribs.
“We have these ribs all through the year, and they are wonderful, so I thought I’d see how they went over at Christmas,” Marilyn says. They were a hit that first year and have remained so every holiday season since.
The meaty ribs are coated first with zesty mustard and then with a spicy rub, “and while they’re baking, your house just smells heavenly,” Marilyn says.
Marilyn and her husband, Johnny, live in Centre, the county seat of Cherokee County, where Marilyn is in her 29th year as Cherokee County High School librarian. Johnny farms cotton and has one of Alabama’s few remaining independent pork operations, a venture he has downsized in recent years due to a lack of markets.
Given the slim profit margin, Marilyn says it definitely isn’t the money that keeps them in the hog business. “The main reason Johnny still has hogs is because he just loves the farming part,” she says.
That, and they do love always having a freezer full of pork.
The Williamses are active in the Cherokee County Farmers Federation, where Johnny serves on the State Pork Committee, and in Ebenezer United Methodist Church—a church “known for its great cooks,” Marilyn says. Johnny is chairman of the board at Ebenezer; Marilyn teaches Sunday school, as does the Williamses’ only child, Burk.
And speaking of Burk, almost a year ago, he and his wife, Amanda, gave Marilyn and Johnny their first grandbaby, and little Claire is Marilyn’s pride and joy. “Now I know why they call them ‘grand’children,” Marilyn says.
Marilyn’s recipe for Oven-Roasted Ribs follows, as do recipes for several of her other holiday (or any-day) favorites, including mother-in-law Evelyn Williams’ Cracker Salad; mom Margaret Frost’s pound cake, which is especially festive topped with a warm cranberry sauce; late grandmother Jimmie Frost’s classic yeast rolls; and a couple of make-ahead casseroles perfect for the hectic pre-Christmas rush.