Sybil Cabell enjoys cooking for family

Published 8:05 am Wednesday, August 4, 2010

WAKEFIELD—When Sybil Cabell was 10, she was taking care of three younger siblings and cooking for the family while her mother worked.

The 61-year-old grandmother is still cooking for her family, although things have changed slightly during the last 50 years or so.

“I have five children of my own, and grandchildren who especially like to come by during the holidays to eat,” Cabell said. “We have a feast.”

“But my siblings visit also,” she continued. “In fact, my sisters come by about once a month to spend the night and we cook all kinds of things. They still consider me the head of the family.”

Cabell, who grew up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina, said most of the time she cooks like her mother — from scratch.

“Mama depended on me a lot,” she said. “She was a single mother for a while, and since I was the oldest, it was my job to take care of the house and my siblings when she was at work.”

“She started teaching me to cook when I was about 8, so by the time I was 10, I could fry chicken, cook any kind of vegetable in the garden and make a pretty good biscuit,” Cabell added.

She picked up on other ways to cook as she grew up.

“I like to read recipes, and when I see something interesting, I’ll try it once,” Cabell said. “If it’s good, I’ll cook it again, but if it isn’t, forget it.

“Like the Depression cake recipe I found in a magazine,” she continued. “It was designed to conserve sugar and other ingredients that were hard to find during the Depression. I made it for Thanksgiving once, and it turned out horrible. My husband wouldn’t eat it and my brother said, ‘If that’s what people ate during the Depression, I feel sorry for them.’”

Cabell says she can’t remember any other cooking disaster as big as that one. But she admits that she has had a few little mishaps.

“But you’d never know it,” said her good friend, Margaret Simms. “She’s an excellent cook and I don’t know anything she can’t cook”

Name: Sybil Cabell

Age: 61

Occupation: Retired payroll manager at the Southeast 4-H Center.

Favorite food: Fried chicken.

Least favorite food: Tomato pudding

What is the first thing you remember cooking: Probably biscuits. Mama started teaching me how to cook when I was very young and it’s hard to remember, but I’ve always known how to make biscuits, so I think I’m safe in saying that.

What has been your worst cooking experience: Without a doubt, it was when I tried to make a cake by a recipe I found in Southern Living Magazine. Called a Depression Cake, the cake layers were cooked in a round iron griddle pan on top of the stove. The filling was made from dried apples, raisins and fruits that were sweet to conserve sugar. It didn’t turn out well at all — in fact, it’s the only thing I’ve ever cooked that my husband refused to eat.

One ingredient you can’t cook without and why: Sugar. I think it gives food a better flavor.

What is the most important thing you have learned about cooking: Don’t leave anything you’re cooking unattended.

Who is the best cook you have ever known and why: My mother, Essie Warren. We lived on a tobacco farm in North Carolina, and things were kind of tough, but Mama could come up with some of the best meals with things we grew on the farm. She cooked from scratch, never used a recipe and everything always turned out good. We never had any store-bought sweets — everything was homemade, like cakes and pies. We even grew our own popcorn. I can remember the kids shucking the corn, which we’d pop on top of the heater.

If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be: Fried chicken.

Sybil Cabell’s RecipE

Pork Barbeque Ribs


4 to 5 pounds meaty pork ribs

Johnny’s seasoning salt (Order online from

1 cup vinegar

¼ cup Worchestershire sauce

1 cup ketchup

2 Tbls brown sugar

2 Tbls butter or margarine

½ cup red pepper sauce.


Place ribs in baking dish. Rub generously with Johnny’s seasoning salt and bake for 1 ½ hours at 325 degrees. In meantime, make sauce by mixing all other ingredients well; bring to boil and cook for a minute or two. Remove ribs from oven and brush with barbeque sauce several times until meat is saturated.