If you ask folks down around Elsanor in Baldwin County to name the single best cook in their neck of the woods, odds are they won’t be able to do it. Instead, they’ll probably feel compelled to name three: Virginia Windham, Thelma Middleton and Creacy White-or, as they’re known down in Elsanor, “the Foley girls.”
And Virginia makes no bones about it: “The reputation,” she says, “is very well-deserved.”
The three sisters, along with their four other siblings, grew up in Elsanor with two saintly parents whom Virginia says she still thanks the Lord for every single day of her life, even though her mother and daddy, Viola and Hillary Foley, have long been gone from this life.
“They were the most wonderful parents anybody could ever have had,” says Virginia, who, with husband Carl, has three children and six grandchildren. “Our parents taught us how to love each other and never leave being angry with each other, and how to love other people, no matter how rich or how poor, no matter the color of their skin, no matter what they’d done.”
Theirs was a potato-farming family, and everybody worked hard, but nobody worked harder than their mother, Virginia says. On top of working in the fields and keeping the household running, she looked after all manner of sick and shut-in neighbors. Viola also dished out three squares a day on the long kitchen table built for a dozen or so. To top it all off, Virginia says, “she did all that without electricity.”
It was watching and helping their mother at work in the kitchen day in and day out that helped the Foley girls so finely master the art of cooking. And though Virginia, who at 64 is the youngest of the sisters three, says age and a myriad of health problems hinder them from cooking as much as they used to, they’re still-especially she and Thelma-a threat to get in the kitchen and cook up a major spread.
As you might expect, learning from their mother as they did, none of the Foley girls have many recipes written down, except for the few they recently put in the Elsanor/Senora Homemakers’ Club’s cookbook (which is by and large “recipes from the Foley girls and the Foley girls’ girls and even the Foley girls’ girls’ girls,” Virginia says). But hats off to Virginia, because she made every one of these dishes and took notes as she went along to be able to share some of her good eats with you.