Hazel Smith Cooks with Sass

Celebrities, Food, People
on March 13, 2005

The kitchen skills that emerged as a method of survival while growing up in Caswell County, N.C. (pop. 23,501), have turned down-home cook Hazel Smith into a national treasure.

Thanks to frequent appearances on the television shows Ellen and The Food Network’s Emeril Live, Smith, 70, has become as popular for serving up each dish with a side of sass and love as she has for her cheddar burgers, red velvet cake and made-from-scratch dressing.

For three decades, the irreverent grandmother’s day job has been that of a music journalist, covering the country music stars that she loves so deeply. She writes a regular column for CMT’s website, www.cmt.com, and broadcasts daily reports from her home in Madison, Tenn., to an Indianapolis country radio station.

Until her culinary achievements made headlines, her greatest fame was for coining the term “outlaw” to describe the 1970s musical movement that emerged out of Nashville, Tenn., and included Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. During the “good ol’ days,” she never knew who would drop by for dinner. Singers Keith Whitley, Tompall Glaser, and Waylon Jennings and wife Jessi Colter were among those who enjoyed her hospitality.

The late bluegrass legend Bill Monroe loved her coconut pie, late songwriter Harlan Howard couldn’t resist her macaroni and cheese, and singer Ricky Skaggs eats her collard greens right out of the pot. The late author Shel Silverstein dubbed her now-famous dessert “The World’s Best Banana Pudding.” Country singer Andy Griggs, 31, has a weakness for her scalloped potatoes. “I can’t get those scalloped potatoes off my mind,” he says. “I’m dreaming about them. Have you ever dreamed about potatoes? I love her cooking.”

Country singer Jeff Bates says his favorite Smith dish is chicken and dumplings. “Hazel’s cooking reminds me of going back to Mama’s and sitting down at the table and eating a meal cooked with that special ingredient that only mamas know how to cook with: love,” Bates says. “Seriously, it immediately takes me back to my childhood. She’ll love you, feed you, make sure you don’t leave hungry and even line you out if you’re getting a little out of hand.”

Despite the attention, Smith still refuses to make a fuss with fancy fixings. “To me, it wasn’t like how those French cooks try to make everything look beautiful,” she says. “I think it’s OK to make it look pretty, but to have it taste good is more important than the way it looks. I never have been one to put a bunch of flowers on the table. I fill up the table with food.”

Word of her kitchen talents spread, and eventually famed chef Emeril Lagasse had to taste for himself. Smith cooked for him in her home, and he began booking her on his show. In 2001, she published a cookbook, Hot Dish: Hazel’s Cookin’ with Country Stars, a collection of favorite recipes from entertainers such as Shania Twain, Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson and Keith Urban. Smith currently is compiling a list of her most beloved recipes for a second cookbook.

Although she enjoys the fanfare, the divorced mother of two doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. It seems as far back as she can remember, she knew how to cook because cooking was a form of survival. “In the country, if you didn’t cook, you didn’t eat,” says Smith, who was raised without running water or electricity until she was a high school senior. “Women just learned to work and cook if you lived in the country. It was something that just came naturally.

“My mother told me that she stood in a chair when my grandmother was sick and my grandfather taught her how to make biscuits. She made the best biscuits. My daddy had to have biscuits for breakfast and cornbread for lunch, and then he would crumble up cornbread in buttermilk for supper. The main meal was the lunch, but we called it dinner. We had breakfast, dinner and supper.”

Smith is delighted to share with American Profile readers a selection of recipes from her upcoming cookbook that would make a delicious Easter dinner—or lunch, if you prefer. Whatever you call it, it’s sure to taste great.


Deviled Eggs

  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons Miracle Whip
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Boil six eggs in water for about 15 minutes. Cool and peel. Slice eggs long ways. Remove yolks and mash with a fork. Add Miracle Whip, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar. Mash until well blended. Spoon yolk mixture inside whites. Refrigerate until serving.

Green Peas

  • 1 can LeSeur Early Peas
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Drain broth from peas into a small sauce pan; add salt and pepper. Heat. Using a cup, mix flour with small amount of pea broth; add to pan as mixture comes to a boil. Turn off heat, add butter and peas. Tastes exactly like new peas from the garden in the springtime.

Serve with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers sprinkled with salt, pepper and basil. It’s tasty and looks pretty.

Scalloped potatoes

  • 4 or 5 large potatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 and 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 cup sharp cheese, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Peel and wash potatoes, slice them thin and place in melted butter in baking dish. Cover with peeled and thinly sliced onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add milk. Cook 35 minutes. Add grated cheddar cheese and cook an additional 20 to 25 minutes.

Chicken and Dumplings

  • 3-pound fryer
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Wash chicken thoroughly. Place chicken in a large pot and cover with about two quarts water; add salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for about an hour or until fork tender. Remove chicken and cool. Allow broth to cool. Debone cooled chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces with kitchen shears. Pour broth back into pot, add chicken and black pepper and heat.

For dumplings:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 stick butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Sift flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut in shortening with a fork until mixture resembles meal. Make a “dip” in the mixture, add buttermilk and stir with a fork until blended. Use hands to turn dough until covered with flour. Turn dough on a floured surface. Knead until well mixed. Shape dough into three balls about the size of baseballs. Pat each dough ball out to desired thickess, about 1/16 of an inch. Slice dough into 2-inch strips. Repeat with the other two dough balls to make three batches of strips.

Bring broth and chicken to a boil. Add butter. Drop dough strips, one at a time, into boiling broth. Do not stir. Push strips down carefully into broth with a fork. Reduce heat to medium low. Add more strips. Be sure to cook the last batch of dumplings for 10 minutes.

World’s Best Banana Pudding

  • 1 and 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 or 4 bananas
  • 3/4 box vanilla wafers
  • Couple sprinkles of cream of tartar

Mix sugar and flour in a saucepan. Separate eggs. Stir yolks with a fork until blended. Add milk in same cup as egg yolks. Slowly stir egg/milk mixture into sugar/flour mixture until well blended. Put saucepan on low heat and allow to cook until a custard forms and thickens. Stir it a time or two. Remove thickened custard from heat, add butter and allow to melt. Cool. Add vanilla flavoring. While allowing custard to cool, line a quart-size Pyrex dish, measuring 9-by-5-by-2 inches, with three layers of vanilla wafers and three layers of bananas. Pour cool custard over wafers and bananas. Add a couple of sprinkles of cream of tartar to the egg whites. Using an electric mixer, beat until frothy. Continue beating and add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Spread on top. Bake at 375 degrees in a pre-heated oven for 10 to 15 minutues or until brown. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Substitute a large can of drained, crushed pineapple for the bananas to make pineapple pudding, which is equally as good.

Tasty Salad

  • 1/2 package mixed greens or spinach
  • 1 15-ounce can of pears
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons liquid from canned pears
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons raspberry vinaigrette dressing


Spread greens on a platter. Sprinkle olive oil, red wine vinegar and liquid from canned pears over greens and toss. Add pecans and raspberry dressing. Place pear halves around greens.

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