It’s been 44 years since Nancy Jo and Billy Maples got married, but she remembers the first meal she ever cooked for her husband like it was yesterday. That’s probably because it also was the first meal she ever cooked, period.
“I made Company Beef Stew,” Nancy Jo recalls, “from a recipe one of my mother’s friends gave me.”
Novice though she was, Nancy Jo took a chance on that recipe, substituting cooked, diced potatoes for the macaroni that the recipe called for because she knew Billy wasn’t a macaroni fan.
The big thumbs-up Billy gave his new bride’s cooking was all the motivation Nancy Jo needed. She started cooking and never looked back. Through the years as a full-time farm wife and mother of three, she honed her cooking skills to perfection. Billy and the kids—Dave, Diane and Tommy—just took for granted that when they sat down for a meal in their Limestone County home, what Nancy Jo put on the table would be mighty fit to eat.
These days up in Elkmont, history is repeating itself just over the hill from Nancy Jo and Billy’s, in son Tommy’s home. Just as when he was growing up, Tommy—who’s in a cattle and poultry farming partnership with his dad—knows every meal’s going to be a good one with his wife, Melanie, in charge.
Melanie enjoys cooking, but with four children ranging in age from 6 to 13 and with a part-time job as Athens City Schools auditor, she doesn’t relish spending hours at the stove.
“I go for things that are fast and simple, that the kids will eat, and that will get me out of the kitchen in a hurry,” Melanie says. The recipes she shares below—for a couple of hearty, make-ahead salads; a quick Meal-in-One; a classic pound cake and daughter Sara’s special beef chowder—get high marks in every category.
The remaining recipes are among the all-time greats from Nancy Jo’s recipe files. You’ll note that, after all these years, Company Beef Stew still ranks with the best.