Two years after tornado, Ohatchee woman rebuilds her collection one recipe at a time
by Brooke Carbo
Sheila Crider, an avid cook and long-time resident of Ohatchee, can easily list the family recipes still in her possession — her mother-in-law’s chicken dressing, the baked beans her own mother was famous for, the cooked chocolate icing passed down on both sides of the family.

These were the first to be included in a collection of treasured recipes Crider was busy compiling on her computer in April 2011. It takes her more effort to recall the ones that hadn’t yet been recorded when tornadoes tore through Calhoun County on the afternoon of April 27.

In some cases, it takes a fond childhood memory.

Among the many items lost that day was a box of timeworn recipe cards handwritten by her grandmother — about 25 in all, Crider estimates — including her grandmother’s teacake recipe.

“She always made teacakes when we came to visit,” she said.

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On the morning of April 27, Crider was in Birmingham as her husband Don underwent knee surgery, but by the afternoon the couple had returned to the house on Coosa River where they’d lived for more than 25 years. With Don under doctor’s orders to remain in bed, the couple was relaxing in their bedroom with a big bowl of popcorn when their son Keith, an Anniston firefighter, called with a warning — it looked like a tornado was headed their way.

Even so, when she heard her husband cry out to her a little while later, Crider said she thought it must be his knee. She remembers being surprised to walk back to the bedroom and find her husband not in bed — “the doctor had told him to get in bed and stay there” — but taking shelter in the closet, where she immediately joined him.

Once the storm had passed, Crider stood and surveyed the damage. She then broke the news to her husband, still lying on a patch of floor that had been surrounded by four walls moments before.

“I told him everything was gone,” Crider said, “just — everything was gone.”

Of the many cookbooks that Crider, a self-professed cookbook collector, lost that day, two were particularly hard to part with. One — released 20 or 25 years ago as a fundraiser for the couple’s church, Saks Baptist — contained recipes gathered from church members and loved ones, including selections from both Crider’s mother-in-law and her mother, Elvie.

The second loss was more personal.

“It was my mother’s favorite cookbook, the yellow phone company cookbook,” Crider said.

While the book itself could likely be replaced with a visit to eBay, the scrawled notes and recipe adjustments, the folded corners marking pages she’d wanted to remember, could not.

“But all of that was just stuff,” she says. “We came out with our lives.”

A couple who lived just across the river, she points out, were not as fortunate. That’s a fact that makes it easy to overlook the loss of oil paintings and cookbooks, of irreplaceable family photos and treasured family recipes, and instead be grateful for what she has.

Despite the devastation to their home, Crider walked away with just scrapes and bruises. And though Don suffered two crushed vertebrae, he was able to get around within six weeks. With the help of their sons Keith and Adam, who flew in from Colorado, as well as their church family and volunteers, they were soon able to start rebuilding on their riverfront property. They moved into their new home in February of last year.

Crider has also been steadily building back her cookbook collection, kicking things off with a stack from the thrift store, a gift from a niece working at the Salvation Army. In February she won a copy of “300 Sensational Soups” in The Star’s weekly cookbook giveaway, and she’s recently taken to Facebook in search of fresh ideas in the kitchen. After all, “online you can find just about anything you want,” she says.

Crider is back to work on the family cookbook that she hopes to pass on to her daughters-in-law. Although she won’t be able to include any of her grandmother’s recipes or notes from her mother’s yellow cookbook, because of the work she started before the tornado, she can still recreate several of Elvie’s shining moments in the kitchen.

“God was really good to us,” she said.

Elvie's Famous Baked Beans

1 gallon pork and beans
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 pound ground beef, scrambled and drained
2/3 cup ketchup
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup barbecue sauce
2 ¼ cup brown sugar (loose)
1 tablespoon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup chopped bell pepper (optional)

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Bake 45 minutes to an hour at 400 F.
© 2013