Joan Smith has been cooking practically all her life, but only in recent months has she discovered that she actually enjoys it.
“It was always just something I had to do when I got home, more a chore than anything else,” Joan says.
That changed in June 2001 when, after 35 years as a federal employee—31 of those working with farmers through the National Resources Conservation Service—Joan retired. Now she looks at cooking in a whole new light.
“It’s amazing what a little extra time will do for you,” Joan says.
When Joan initially began talk of retiring, her husband, Gaines, toyed with the idea of doing likewise: retiring from his 37-year career with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. But Joan never bought that story.
“Gaines loves his work too much,” she said back then. “He will never retire.” Apparently, she knows Gaines, for just about the time Joan was saying her good-byes to NRCS, Gaines was accepting a new job—as interim director of the state’s Extension system.
The Smiths have been married for almost six years. Although they had vaguely known each other for years through their ag-related jobs, it wasn’t until 1994 that the first hint of romance appeared. Gaines stopped by Joan’s NCRS exhibit at Auburn University’s annual Ag Roundup, and the two exchanged small talk. Two years later, they exchanged marriage vows.
Joan and Gaines officially reside in Auburn, but nearly ever weekend, the two of them escape—to what Joan calls “our little retreat on the home place in the country.” It’s a house they built in 1999 on the Autauga County land were Gaines grew up.
“When we first got married, friends compared us to the couple in ‘Green Acres,’” Joan says. “Living in the country was about as foreign to me as living on Mars. But now, I look for every possible opportunity to head to the country.”
Sometimes, some of their children—there are four between the two of them, all grown—join them at their retreat. Usually, though, it’s just the two of them, relaxing, unwinding and mentally recharging for the week ahead.
Having time to cook has given Joan the chance to “rediscover” many of her favorite recipes, and this month, she shares some of those with us. Among them is an interesting one that takes advantage of Alabama’s most prolific “crop”: kudzu.