Hi! I’m Donna Kroener. I am married to Dan and together we have 4 married children, 7 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren. Dan and I live east of Nashville, TN. I spent most of my young and early adult years in Western Kentucky. I’m a retired School Psychologist and spent several years in this profession working in elementary, middle, and high schools. I’ve had the opportunity of being able to live and work in different states from Tennessee, Washington State, to South Carolina. From these places I’ve been inspired to cook with a Pacific Northwest and a Low Country influence, while keeping my Kentucky/Southern roots cooking style when sharing meals with family and friends.
My love of cooking began with my mother, aunts, and grandmothers. I watched as my mother threw together ingredients that I never imagined would make a delicious meal. Her skills along with my aunt’s culinary skills impressed me as a child. For instance, Mom and my aunts would gather in the kitchen, spending the day making hot tamales. I have fond memories of the smell of onion and garlic. My Mamaw Bessie cooked with simplicity, but she did it with love. I recall the smell of boiled or fried cabbage, white beans, sliced onions, and crusty cornbread wafting from the kitchen through the screen door during the summer. During family gatherings, the men would sit under shade trees, whittling a stick and telling stories while the women either took care of their babies or helped prepare the meal. Children romped about playing tag, swinging on grapevines, or climbing huge trees. The meal was always followed by homemade ice cream and cold watermelon. It was a different time.
Canning season involved women in our family preserving as much as could be gathered from the garden. I vividly recall the sound of the pressure cooker’s regulator rocking back and forth preparing jars of beans, peas, and other garden vegetables that would later be enjoyed during cold winter months. I cannot forget the whirring of window fans that helped disperse the heat in the kitchen during the canning seasons. I would be remiss if I didn't mention my maternal grandmother, Sarah, and her great skill in cooking. She was the head cook for 30 years in Prestonsburg, Kentucky for school children and staff. At her funeral, many former school students returned to pay tribute to her years of service and dedication. Some recalled how she would give extra helpings of food to those who were just a little bit hungrier than others.
The writing of “For The Table and The Heart” was influenced not only by the previous mentioned memories but also a longing to pull together as many recipes from as many family members as possible. Technology now allows us to reach out through social media to gain access to this information. I began by creating a group website called Family Foods Heirloom and invited many relatives to participate, and in turn they would continue their invitation to their immediate families. The response was great, and many participated enthusiastically. I was able to get great family pictures that made the cookbook even more delightful and special. We were able to share memories both happy and sad.
The goal of “For The Table and The Heart” was the hope it could bring joy and reminders of a time past when life was slower and we witnessed those cooks who took the time to prepare delicious meals, not only for their families, but for family reunions, church gatherings, birthdays, and other special occasions. These recipes, pictures, and memories provide a link for our future cooks and hopefully warm their hearts and remind them to embrace their family culinary roots.
Of special note, this cookbook was written in 2020. The year of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Dealing with this forced everyone to drastically alter their lifestyle in many ways. One of the changes to society is that families are having to spend more time together. It is a time to nourish the ties that bind and to give and receive emotional and spiritual support. Additionally, this allowed me the time and inspiration to work on this project, which was immensely enjoyable. I am grateful to all those who helped make it a wonderful heirloom.