Debbie Bearden has an extensive collection of cookbooks, but she tends to reach for the same one, time and again.
It’s called “Let’s Start to Cook,” the first cookbook she received as a youth.
The cookbook’s pages are now yellowed with age and is familiar to Bearden as an old hairbrush.
“You can tell which are my favorite. When I open the book it opens to my favorite cake recipe,” she said.
Bearden and her husband, Duwayne, live on a working farm in rural Iola where they raise cattle and also chickens that provide an abundance of fresh eggs. During the summer the couple also have a large vegetable garden.
Throughout the summer Bearden cans vegetables from her garden and has also canned meat which makes for a quick meal on a cold winter’s night. Salsa and jellies also line her pantry shelves.
One of her favorite meals is baked chicken surrounded by potatoes, carrots, celery and onions.
Leftovers from the chicken and vegetables are used to make soup the next day, she said.
“I guess you could say I am a one-pot person. I like to cook complete meals in my Crock Pot and oven,” she said.
The first time Bearden uses a recipe she may follow it as written, but then usually adapts it to her family’s tastes.
“I feel a recipe is a guide. I like to adjust ingredients as I go along. I know what my family likes to eat,” she said.
BEARDEN GREW up on a dairy farm in Montgomery County near Havana. She is the oldest of four children. She has a sister and two brothers and said, “We were close in age and have remained close throughout the years.”
Bearden was responsible with helping her father in the dairy barn milking cows.
“I’d jump off the school bus, run into the house and change my clothes, grab a snack and head for the barn,” she said.
Her sister was responsible for helping to prepare the meals. Bearden said when she finished her chores she’d get to the kitchen in time to help her sister make the gravy for the meal. She was also the ice cream churner.
“I’d sit on top of our ice cream churn because that was the only way I could crank it,” she said.
When Bearden left home to attend Kansas State University her father hired Duwayne to help out on the dairy. He had worked on the farm for nine months before he and Debbie met.
“I’m sure my brothers and sister had told Duwayne all kinds of stories about me, but he liked me anyway,” she said.
The couple married 30 years ago. They began their life together in Arkansas on a farm near his parents with cows they had purchased from her father to begin a dairy farm.
The couple came to Iola when Ivan Strickler asked Duwayne to come to Iola to be his milker when he increased his herd from 120 to 400 cows. He remained at Stricklers for five years before taking a job in northern Kansas that led them to Nebraska.
The couple were in Nebraska for several months when Duwayne became acquainted with a beekeeper who asked him to come to California to help with his honey operation that would span the Great Plains from the Mexican to Canadian borders. After a few years the couple settled back in northern Kansas before returning to Iola where Duwayne once again worked at Strickler farms. This time for Steve Strickler.
After leaving the dairy, he worked as a quality control manger at Russell Stover Candies before the couple bought their own 80-acre farm.
“Duwayne likes being a farmer. It makes me happy, too,” she said.
BEARDEN SAID she enjoys cooking and sharing her recipes and food with others. Several of her favorite recipes are the chicken and vegetables, easy chocolate fudge cake, extra-good sugar cookies and banana nut bread.