Remembering Jan Lee, The Singin’ Chef | Food & Recipes

Hello all you cookbook lovers of Greene County, I have a special treat for you. But first let me back up and tell you how this came about. I emailed our staff asking for their favorite New Year recipes for a possible article to be published on Dec. 29. Our advertising director offered to provide me with several recipes. I told him, sure. Well, when I came back from lunch that day I found a cookbook on my desk which was produced by our sister paper, The Rogersville Review. I was expecting that he was going to provide me with some of his family’s favorites. I was going to put the cookbook aside for a potential future article until I talked with him about the lady who had been the star of the cookbook.

Plans changed, as they so often do. So that being said, I would like to formally introduce you to a former hidden gem from our sister paper. She is the late Jan Lee, “The Singin’ Chef.” Jan had written a food and faith column titled “Downhome Cookin’ With The Singin’ Chef” for the Review for almost a decade.

From the conversation with our own advertising director, I found out Jan was very special to the Review and was sadly missed after her passing on Dec. 4, 2017. Wanting to know more about Jan Lee, I took the time to read the editor’s note in the front of the cookbook. It described Jan as a “warm and genuine human being who, in spite of all of the personal heartaches and tragedies that she herself had endured, was always concerned about and praying for others.” It talked about her column where she would share her personal experiences and encourage her readers with her “down-home, lighthearted wit, wisdom and deep faith in the Lord.”

The editor’s note talked about how the Review staff had decided to surprised Jan on Nov. 8, 2017, which was her 62nd birthday with a surprise celebration. She had come to the office as usual to write her column, which would have been her 500th and would publish on Nov. 15, 2017. No one at the paper including Jan realized that this would be her last column. From the editor’s note, I got the feeling that Jan was a humble person, not wanting any undue attention for herself. It talked about her “tears of joy” over the surprise party and described “the good huggin’” everyone received from her. Having read about her, I wish I had been able to meet her.

On Dec. 6, 2017, Joel Spears, guest columnist and former managing editor of the Review, wrote of Jan, “She wasn’t a writer who set out to be known for what she could do. She was a person who wanted to be valued for who she was, where life had taken her, and where she was going. Jan’s writing allowed her to take others on her journey, sharing the Southern tradition of friendship and good food along the way.” He wrote about her final column in which she wrote, “Who says you can’t have fun on the job? I look forward to Wednesdays. I love spending time with all of them, writing my heart for you all and enjoying a day out of the house. God is good, all the time!” Spears wrote, “That was also one of the most striking things about Jan – her resilience. She had lived a life filled with triumph over tragedy, having lost her daughter and husband as suddenly as we all lost Jan.”

So, I wanted to share with you this cookbook titled “Down Home Cookin’: Recipes For Every Occasion” and the woman behind it.

The recipes published were creations of her own, shared by friends, or family recipes handed down. Jan, with the help of then Review graphic designer Freda Turbyfill, worked many hours compiling and designing the the cookbook. I reached out to Freda for a comment about Jan. Freda said she had never really worked with Jan due to their schedules up until this project, but that she was a delightful lady who had tons of friends and knew all about cooking. “Her biggest thing was to praise the Lord in everything she did. She was just an incredable lady the times I was able to be around her and I hate that I didn’t get to work with her more. She was just a sweet spirit,” Freda said.

The editor noted that Jan was looking forward to autographing the cookbook for her fans. But, sadly, she didn’t see her hard work come to fruition or to even be able to see and hold the product.

The cookbook is in its third publication, so Jan’s legacy lives on to this day. The cookbook is sprinkled with messages of her love of cooking, tips about cooking, and quotes from Jan.

Here are a few of Jan’s recipes included in cookbook.

FRUIT ROLL

Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese

1 large can crushed pineapple, drained

Mild shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients except pecans. Shape into a roll and refrigerate, before rolling in pecans. Serve with graham crackers.

JAN’S VEGETABLE BEEF SOUP

one 11-ounce can of Del Monte Summer Crisp Corn

5 carrots, peeled and diced

1 can petite diced tomatoes

1 bottle Campbell’s Tomato Juice

In a large stockpot, brown ground chuck, don’t drain the grease off the meat. Add about 2 to 3 cups water. Drain canned vegetables and add to pot. Bring to a boil for about 20 to 25 minutes, until potatoes are part of the way done. Add tomatoes, sauce and juice to the mixture. Put margarine into the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until raw vegetables are done.

Tip: Add raw cut potato to salty soup to absorb excess salt. Discard when soup is done.

JAN’S DEATH BY CHOCOLATE CAKE

1 Devil’s Food cake mix

1 package dry instant chocolate pudding

6 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine all the ingredients. Mix well. Bake at 350 degrees in a greased tube or bundt pan for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool and remove from pan. Punch holes in top of cake with wooden spoon and glaze.

6 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt margarine and chips together. Add vanilla and powered sugar, use a little milk if too thick. Mix well, fill holes in cake, pour remaining glaze over the top and sides of cake. Wonderful! This will knock your socks off even if it is an original recipe by me.

“Be sure when you go to the kitchen, and cook for your family, do it with love. There is no better gratification than a happy family, because Mom took time to cook a meal.” — Jan Lee

Kelly Pickering is The Greeneville Sun’s obituary editor and newsroom and online assistant.