It’s the time of the year, perhaps, but I’ve been a little nostalgic lately.

I love to reflect on holidays — the way they used to be. Christmas was always one of my favorites as a child and as a mother. But there’s something else that is drawing me to take a slow survey of memories; tomorrow, Dec. 20, my beautiful mother will turn 80.

I know I am so blessed to have her with me still, but the true blessing is being raised by her. She is my very best friend. Even in those horrible teenage years when I thought she was so “not cool” and she thought I was a holy terror (I really was), she has always been right there cheering me on, guiding me and loving me unconditionally.

My mother is the definition of grace. She began her life in a rural area called Snipesville. Her father died when she was 5 years old. He was standing under a tree when lightning struck it. Grandma raised her and my Aunt Jenny while working as a school teacher.

Grandma didn’t have anyone to watch Mama while she taught, so she took her to school with her and put her in a desk to learn. Mama graduated with Aunt Jenny when she was 16 years old. Grandma, determined that her daughters wouldn’t spend their lives working in a factory, sent them off to Jacksonville, Fla., to get an office job. They lived in a boarding house and worked in an insurance company. They rode the city buses to get back and forth between work and home.

Mama loves to tell how she went straight out and bought a new petticoat with her first paycheck instead of paying rent. She was embarrassed by how skinny she was and needed that crinoline to make her look heavier!


Mama has always been a progressive, driven woman. She fell in love with computers when they were bigger than most rooms are these days and took night class on them because she knew they were the way of the future. She always worked outside the home, but came home from work every night and prepared dinner for her family.

She didn’t jockey for position in the house. Daddy was the man of the house and she made sure we knew it. She taught Sunday school, sewed prom dresses, attended every school function, and prayed fervently for her daughters. I once made a comment about a foolish time in my life and that I was lucky to still be here, to which she quickly replied, “That wasn’t luck — I was praying hard for you.”

Mama has never really celebrated her birthday. Being born five days before Christmas puts a cramp in the partying! Instead, Mama has busied herself on her birthday with planning a perfect Christmas for her loved ones.

She always had to work on Christmas Eve, but we always knew when we arrived at her house later that night that the presents would be wrapped and a warm meal would be waiting on us. In fact, one of the most exciting parts of Christmas was walking in and seeing this huge mound of presents Mama and Aunt Jenny had bought for everyone! Even as an adult, when my presents were fewer, watching my children, nieces, nephew and young cousins get excited about all the presents, just like I did when I was younger, brought me joy unspeakable.

Sometime during the night, Mama would end up getting her birthday present — in a rather lackluster moment, but she never complained — a true lady never does.

Thank you for letting me tell you about my Mama. I wish you all could meet her. At almost 80, she comes to the restaurant every day, makeup on, adorned with jewelry and a smile for everyone. She works right next to me as my bookkeeper. She’s funny and nurturing to all those around her. My employees tell me often how lucky I am to have her as a mom — but I know that.

As you plan your Christmas meals and memories in the week to come, I want to share with you some of Mama’s delicious and oh-so-simple recipes. She has never been a fancy cook, but she’s always been a fantastic cook! She knew just how much love to flavor the food with to make it perfectly divine.

I pray your Christmas is full of love, family, laughter and great food. Merry Christmas!

Teri Bell is co-owner of Miss Sophie’s Marketplace at the Mighty Eighth in Pooler. Go to




Mama’s Hot Chicken Salad

This dish was a Christmas Eve tradition for many years. Mama said it was something easy that she could make up in advance. Everybody would arrive at different times on Christmas Eve, but this was always ready in the kitchen whenever we arrived.



• 2 cups cooked chicken, chopped

• 2 cups celery, chopped, sautéed until tender

• 6 boiled eggs, diced

• 2 cans (10 ½ ounces each) cream of chicken soup

• Grated onion

• 1 cup mayonnaise

• 1 cup saltine crackers, crushed

• Extra saltines for topping



1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish.

2. Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour into greased casserole dish, cover the top with extra crushed saltines and bake for 30 minutes.



Quick Apple Tarts

Grandma always made apple tarts from scratch. She used dried apples and made her pastry dough. In later years, she replaced the pastry dough with canned biscuits. I can remember Mama and Aunt Jenny standing next to the electric skillet frying apple tarts on Christmas Eve. Aunt Jenny always made the cooked apples, but it’s even easier if you use a good apple pie filling.



• 2 (10-ounce) cans refrigerated southern-style biscuits (not buttermilk)

• 1 can good quality apple pie filling

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 tablespoon cinnamon

• Oil for frying



1. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll each biscuit into a 5- to 6-inch round. Fill each dough round with 2 tablespoons pie filling. Moisten edges of biscuit and fold in half. Use a fork to seal pinch the edges. Repeat with remaining biscuits.

3. Drop tarts into hot grease (at least 350 degrees) and fry 3 minutes or until golden brown, flipping as necessary.

4. Roll hot tart in cinnamon sugar and set on a cooling rack. Allow to cool 10 minutes before diving in.


Graham Delights

When we first started making these in the store, I wanted to name them Mama’s Grahams, but after looking at it, we decided it looked too much like “mammogram” so we renamed them Graham Delights. This was a quick and easy dessert that Mama could throw together and we loved it!



• 24 graham crackers

• 1 cup butter

• 1 cup brown sugar

• 1 cup chopped pecans



1. Place crackers on an ungreased 9-inch by 13-inch pan.

2. In a small saucepan, heat butter and brown sugar to a low boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in pecans. Spoon mixture over crackers.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Remove and cut into squares while warm.



Deviled Crab Casserole

Mama never made crab casserole, but this recipe comes from a local cookbook self-published by a lady who wrote a food column for the weekly newspaper, Pat Pearson. Mama used a lot of Pat’s recipes and then passed it down to me. The book is practically falling apart, but I still have it. Under the forward, it is signed by Pat and dated June 1981.



• 1 pound crab meat

• 2 eggs, beaten

• ¼ stick butter*

• ¼ cup onion

• ¼ cup bell pepper

• ¼ cup celery

• 3 tablespoons mayonnaise

• Several drops of Tabasco sauce

* Pat’s original recipe called for oleo, which was basically margarine.



1. Saute vegetables in butter.

2. Mix all ingredients together. Put into a greased casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


Seafood Casserole

This is another recipe from Pat’s cookbook that Mama never made for Christmas Eve, but it would be such an easy and delicious option to start a new tradition with! I’m giving it to you just as Pat wrote it, which is not very informative as far as directions. I would suggest sautéing the onion, pepper and celery before mixing. This should fit well into a 2-quart casserole dish.



• ½ pound crab meat

• ½ pound scallops, cooked

• 1 pound shrimp, cooked

• 1 cup celery, chopped

• 1 cup onion, chopped

• ½ cup green pepper, chopped

• 1 cup mayonnaise

• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

• Dash of Tabasco

• Salt and pepper

• Shredded cheddar cheese

• Crushed potato chips



1. Mix all from crab meat to salt and pepper. Put in greased casserole.

2. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Top with grated cheese and crushed chips and run back in the oven a few minutes.