Billups cooks for 250 students

Published 8:02 am Wednesday, September 16, 2009

IVOR—Rachel Billups couldn’t cook very well when she got married 40 years ago.

But it didn’t take her long to learn. With a husband and eventually three children, cooking became her first priority and she gives much credit to her mother-in-law for teaching her.

The thing that surprised her the most, however, was that she really liked it. So much so that for the last 18 years, she has worked as a cook at Windsor High School and on a good day, cooks for as many as 250 students at the time.

“I love my job,” the 62-year-old grandmother said. “It gives me such satisfaction to cook a good meal and to see how appealing it looks after it has been placed on the plates.”

Billups grew up in Wakefield, graduated from high school there and worked as a secretary at the school until her first child was born.

“I decided to stay home with my children,” she said of her three, who are now, Jay, 35, Cindy, 32 and Tom, 31.

“But after they were grown, I wanted something else to do. By this time, my husband had become diabetic, with heart problems, and was not able to work, so an extra income would come in handy.

Billups said she applied for a job in the cafeteria at Windsor High. “I really didn’t care what my job would be,” she said. “I just wanted to work.”

The position she started in was washing dishes, “but they kept switching me to other things,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Billups became the main cook and works every day the school is open.

Although her recipes are a little different from the way her mother-in-law taught her to cook, she has no problems.

“Our meal schedule comes down from the Isle of Wight school board office,” she said, “and there’s no changing. Meals have to be cooked exactly by the recipe they send us.”

She also has to have meals ready promptly at 10:55 a.m. when the first of two shifts gets out of class for lunch.

“You have to be organized,” she said, “but I’m pretty well organized anyway, so that’s not a problem.

Billups said she has no plans to retire. “I like having something to do,” she added. “And this job works out just fine for me. I get off at 1:30 p.m., which gives me more time with my six grandchildren.

Billups also is a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ivor Volunteer Rescue Squad, which is one of the most active in the Tidewater area.

“We do many things to raise money for the squad,” she said “and I help as much as I can.”

Billups does indeed help. Some of the main fundraising events undertaken by the auxiliary are serving dinners for the local and district Ruritan Clubs.

Members of the auxiliary do the cooking. Billups is always there.

Name: Rachel Billups

Age: 62

Occupation: Main cook for the Windsor High School cafeteria.

Favorite food: Steak

Least favorite food: Liver

What is the first thing you remember cooking? Banana bread. I was in home economics class at Wakefield High School and we learned to make banana bread one day. I came home from school and made a loaf for dinner. It turned out good.

What has been your worst cooking experience? I made a turkey pot pie once that was almost inedible. The dough was dry and hard. I don’t know to this day what I did wrong, but I haven’t tried it since.

One ingredient you can’t cook without: That would have to be sugar. It gives the food a better flavor, I think. I have had to cut back on that for the last several years, however, because my husband, Jimmy, is diabetic.

What is the most important thing you have learned about cooking? You must pay attention to what you’re cooking — you just can’t walk away and get involved in something else — you’ll ruin your dinner every time.

Who is the best cook you have ever known and why? That would have to be my mother-in-law, Minnie Billups. I didn’t cook a lot before I got married, so I had a lot to learn. My husband and I lived with her right after we got married and she taught me how to cook like country folks — how to season foods and how to prepare and cook meats and vegetables that were grown right there on the farm.

If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Steak

Rachel billups lemon meringue pie ingredients

1 graham cracker crust

2 eggs ( yolks and whites separated)

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

Pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, beat egg yolks, then stir in milk and lemon juice.

Pour into graham cracker crust. In a small bowl, beat egg whites and pinch of salt until peaks form.

Continue beating while gradually adding sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form.

Spread meringue over top of pie, sealing to edge of crust.

Bake 10 minutes or until meringue is golden brown. Cool before cutting.