Amelia Jernigan is the quintessential southern lady. She dresses impeccably, is polite and well-spoken with her sweet southern accent. Her house is always warm and inviting and oh can she cook! Mrs. Jernigan (as she is still known to me) is the mother of my childhood friend Joanna. Before I go any further, I should explain something. Growing up in the south, we never referred to adults by their first names. Not only is this considered bad manners, but it is also a lack of respect. I had no idea that Mrs. Jernigan’s first name was Amelia until I wrote this article. However, I think “Amelia” fits her southern persona perfectly.
The Jernigan’s lived in the same neighborhood as I did in Murfreesboro Tennessee. When I was in the 7th grade, I would occasionally spend the night at Joanna’s house. The first time I ate dinner with them, I remember dinner being delicious but whatever we were having was overshadowed by the sweet tea. Go ahead and laugh here, but until that evening, I had never tasted sweet tea. For those of you who are not familiar with southern sweet tea, it is just exactly that s-w-e-e-e-e-t tea however it is made differently than iced tea sweetened with sugar. That cold sweet drink tasted heavenly. The next morning, I approached Mrs. Jernigan and asked her if she would show me how to make it. She took me into her kitchen, and while writing down the ingredients, she explained in detail how to make it.
Southern food tends to evoke nostalgia. If you ask a southerner what their favorite meal is the response usually includes a detailed story about who prepared it, where they were and how it tasted. Joanna reminisces about her mother making creamed chicken on egg bread and a banana breeze pie for dessert. She told me this meal reminds her of their family of 6 squeezed around a small kitchen table with Broadway show music wafting from the stereo turntable in the living room. Amelia instilled in her family a love of music, great food and the importance of time spent together.
Amelia grew up in a large close-knit family in Lewisburg Tennessee and she credits her grandmother “Dinnie Mother” as the one who taught her to cook. Many stories have been shared within the family about their great grandmother Dinnie Mother who was a special homemaker. She was known for both her culinary and seamstress skills. To this day, the extended family all remain very close. Joanna fondly remembers spending many holidays at her grandmother’s farmhouse with all 12 grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and friends enjoying delicious food prepared by different family members who were also great cooks.
There are four children in the Jernigan household; Joanna, Dee, Lettie, and Amy and they all kept Amelia busy while they were growing up. Besides taking kids to and from school, she drove them to football games, cheerleading practices, music lessons, tennis tournaments, the list goes on and on. Amelia also volunteered her time within the community and taught her children to do the same. She was a member of the Craddock Study Club. Amelia was also a classroom mother for all four children and served in various roles at the First Methodist Church. She loved music and singing, and she was a second soprano in the Murfreesboro Community Chorus.
How did a busy mother manage to feed a large family every day during a time when there was no Uber Eats or restaurant delivery? Amelia planned her menu carefully, choosing meals that could be prepared in advance or fixed quickly. She did the grocery shopping every two weeks with a list of everything she needed. She thought the less time she spent shopping the better off she was. She also kept a good supply of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand. During the summer months, the family planted a garden and grew bell peppers, okra, tomatoes, and squash.
After all the kids graduated from college and left home, Amelia opened her own wedding planning business. It should be no surprise to anyone Amelia was very successful and was well known throughout the community for her expertise. Her culinary and entertaining skills were a perfect fit for this profession. Who better could help you plan and execute such an important occasion in your life?
Amelia is a now a grandmother and a great grandmother and her children have embraced the same family traditions and southern lifestyle instilled in them by their mother. When I am making sweet tea, I still reminisce about a special Saturday morning in Mrs. Jernigan’s kitchen.
Mrs. Jernigan has graciously shared some of her favorite family recipes below. Click on each of them for the recipe.