Burch’s cooking is in demand

Published 8:17 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ZUNI—When Ruth Ellen Burch is asked to cook for a crowd, it doesn’t phase her. As the youngest of six children and the last one at home, she was the one designated to help her mother when she decided to open a restaurant.

“I worked in the kitchen with mama, and even though we were always busy, that’s actually where I learned a lot about cooking.

“I remember at lunch time, the dining room would be full and mama would give me several orders to fill. I was just a teenager, but I quickly learned to multitask,” she said with a smile.

Although this was more than 35 years ago, and Burch’s mother has since passed away, the active grandmother has not forgotten those hectic days.

“No matter how busy we got, though, mama was always cool,” Burch said. “I hope I inherited some of her calmness.”

It seems the mother of one and stepmother of three, did indeed inherit her mother’s disposition.

At age 52, she holds down a full-time job as the driving instructor of the Southampton County Public School system’s fleet of buses and automobiles, takes care of her home, including preparing breakfast and dinner for her husband, John, who is retired and she still has time for the hobby she loves.

“I got into baking for my family and friends before mama died,” she said.

“I do birthday, anniversary and wedding cakes,” she added. “I love anything festive.”

Burch said she became interested in baking years ago when she watched her mother’s friend, Cora Luter, bake and decorate a birthday cake.

“I was fascinated. She made little flowers and a border around the cake. Then she wrote Happy Birthday with the icing on top.”

“Miss Cora was self-taught,” Burch said, “and she insisted that I could do the same thing.

“She gave me one of her books on cake decorating and told me to get a tube of icing and just practice.”

“Well, I spent all of my free time decorating cakes. My family members were my guinea pigs.”

Today Burch is in demand, especially around the holiday season. Aside from baking cakes, she can whip up a batch of cookies or cupcakes in little time.

“John and I have a big family,” she said, “and there’s always a birthday, or a wedding in need of a cake.

“Why right now I have orders for four cakes before the end of the year. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I received another one before the year is out.”

NAME: Ruth Ellen Burch

Age: 52

Occupation: Vehicle driver trainer for Southampton County Public Schools

Favorite food: Fresh garden vegetables

Least favorite food: Liver

What is the first thing you remember cooking? Grilled cheese sandwiches

What has been your worst cooking experience? I tried to save time by cooking three sheet cakes at one time and two of them burned. I’ve found that there are very few shortcuts in cooking.

One ingredient you can’t cook without and why: A pinch of sugar. I find that it makes foods, especially vegetables, taste much better.

What is the most important thing you have learned about cooking? Don’t try to cut corners. Take your time, and watch what you’re doing.

Who is the best cook you have ever known and why? My mother, Rachel Joyner. She learned the basics from her mother and one sister who owned a restaurant, but she had her own way of doing things. During the days when my father farmed, she cooked three meals a day for her family of six children, as well as the farm hands. Then in later years, she owned a small restaurant, so she knew how to cook in quantity. And she cooked everything from scratch. When my siblings and I were in school, we always got a good breakfast — we didn’t get things like pop tarts. I worked with her at the restaurant when I was a teenager, and that’s where I learned a lot about cooking.

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

homemade potato salad


5 lbs. potatoes, cubed

1 small onion, diced

2 eggs, boiled and chopped

1 pint homemade sweet pickle, chopped

1 squirt yellow mustard (optional)

1 pint Duke’s mayonnaise

1 sprinkle sugar


Wash and peel potatoes and cut into cubes. Cover with water and boil potatoes with diced onion until just tender.

Drain, but do not rinse and cool to room temperature.

Mix with chopped eggs, pickle, sugar, mustard and mayonnaise.

(May need a little more mayonnaise)