Kellums likes cooking with ingredients she has on hand

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Donna Kellums enjoys working in the kitchen of her Colona home.

Donna Kellums of Colona isn’t much of a “recipe follower,” but if she thinks something sounds good, she will probably try making it on her own. “I usually cook with the ingredients I?have around the house,” she said.

Donna likes to keep her cupboards well stocked so when she wants to prepare something, the ingredients will be right on hand. “I don’t like it if I go to make somethings and I’m minus an important ingredient.”

One of the items Donna almost always has on hand in her refrigerator are jumbo refrigerated biscuits, which she said come in handy for a lot of dishes.

“One of the things I use the biscuits for are to make a quick and easy fruit cobbler,” she said.

To make the cobbler, Donna simply puts a can of fruit pie filling in the bottom of a baking dish, then bakes that in the oven for a while,  until the filling is bubbly hot. Then she dips pieces of the refrigerated biscuits in  melted butter, rolls them in sugar, and puts them on top of the pie filling in the baking dish and bakes it until the biscuits are golden brown and done.

“You have to heat the pie filling before you add the biscuits because if you put them  on cold pie filling, they will not get done, and they will be raw inside,” Donna said. “You can use any pie filling you like.”

Years ago, Donna remembers the refrigerated biscuits being smaller in size and she said her mother always liked to have them on hand also. “If she would need a quick snack when company came, she would get out the tube biscuits, roll them in melted butter and then in cinnamon and sugar and line them up around a pie pan and bake them,” Donna said. “They were so good, hot and right out of the oven.”

Noting the biscuits can be used for sweet or savory dishes, Donna said she is planning on doing a kind of chicken pot pie dish using the biscuits for a top crust. “I think I could mix some frozen mixed vegetables, some cream of chicken soup (for thickener) and some cut up or canned shredded chicken,” she said. “Put that in a baking dish, then cover it with the biscuits. Sounds good. I’ll have to try that.”

Donna was born and raised in Colona and knows the area very well. “I know the area from way back,” she said, adding that her sister, Lois, resides with her, and they have another sister, Gretchen, who lives in East Moline. Donna and her sister reside in a duplex condominium, a location they have been at for about seven years.

Donna is retired from John Deere, where she worked for almost 38 years. “I started at John Deere Spreader and worked there for 25 years. Then when that plant closed I worked at John Deere Harvester until I retired,” she said, adding she worked in engineering at John Deere and enjoyed her time there.

Donna said her mother taught her most of what she knows about cooking. “She was an excellent cook, and I just kind of hung around the kitchen and watched her cook,” she laughs. “She made delicious pie crusts but never used a recipe. She always said she could tell by touch when the pie dough was the right consistency.”

Donna credits her sister, Lois, with baking wonderful pie crusts and homemade breads, and their sister, Gretchen, is also a good cook. “We all learned from our mother,” she said.

Cooking is something Donna said she has always enjoyed doing. “When I was at home and my mother worked outside of the home, I always helped get supper started, and I pretty much did the whole meal for the family at that time,” she said. “It was nothing fancy — just home cooked meals. Mostly casseroles and things like that.”

When cooking for family or friends, Donna said she would really rather do the entire meal herself rather than ask guests to bring something for the meal. “If I do it all, I know what I have. I like to plan the menu and cook the meal from start to finish,” she said. “I just like to do it all.”

Donna remembers her mother making great fried chicken and when she fries chicken, she does it the way her mother taught her. “I dredge the chicken pieces in flour, then dip them in egg and milk and then dip them in cracker or bread crumbs,” she said. “I fry the chicken in Crisco oil, browning the pieces on all sides. Then I turn down the heat on the stove and let the chicken

cook until it’s done.”

That is a favorite family meal and Donna said she would probably serve the fried chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy, scalloped corn and maybe cole slaw.

Another favorite meal at the Kellums home is roast. “I like to do a beef and pork roast together in a slow cooker. It has a great flavor,” Donna said. “I season the meat simply with just onions, salt, pepper and a bay leaf.”

Donna cooks the roasts in the slow cooker for maybe five hours and said the meat just falls apart. “It has a great flavor and makes a wonderful gravy,” she said. “I use small roasts and usually add potatoes and carrots about an hour before the roast is done.”

Whether making steak or pork chops, Donna likes to prepare them much the same way, by browning the meat in oil on both sides until it’s browned, then adding some sliced onions and a can of cream of mushroom soup, turning the heat down and letting it cook until it’s done — a process she does on top of the stove in a skillet.

“If I’m using a round steak, I cut the meat into serving size pieces, or I also like to use cubed steak,” she said. “But I do the same thing with pork chops or something like a pork steak, and it always turns out good. With mashed potatoes that is a great meal and it is so easy. I can have a meal on the table in about an hour, and it makes its own nice, thick gravy — you don’t have to add anything to it.”

Donna said she is not a fussy eater. “I always say I can eat anything — there are just some things I like better than others,” she laughs.

She enjoys baking and remembers a time when she and her mother would bake dozens of cookies to give as gifts during the Christmas holiday. “My mother’s favorite cookies were always ice box cookies, so we had to do those, and then we would get out all of our favorite cookie recipes and make things like Russian tea cakes and decorated sugar cookies.”

Donna’s favorite things to bake now, she said, are nut breads and she likes to have the breads on hand in the freezer at all times.

“You can do them so much quicker than cookies, and at Christmas I will take a loaf of fresh bread to friends or family,” she said, adding her favorite breads to make are zucchini, pumpkin (her very favorite), rhubarb and strawberry. “Those are all very good.”

Donna gets a lot of cooking ideas and techniques from watching some of her favorite food network television shows. “We don’t have a computer, but I always jot down any good recipes from my favorite shows,” she said. “I especially like the ‘Barefoot Contessa’ or ‘Guy’s Big Bite,’” she said. “I get great ideas from those shows. I don’t have a lot of family recipes because my mother was a wonderful cook, but she didn’t have a lot of her recipes written down, and my grandmother was the same way. They didn’t use recipes, they just cooked.”

Remembering one time when her sister told their mother she wanted a chocolate chip cookie, Donna said their mother simply made a sour cream sugar cookie and added some chocolate pieces to the cookie dough to make a delicious cookie. “That’s just the way she cooked,” she said.

Donna said she loves to make  soup and is probably most well known for her homemade soups and homemade nut breads.

“I like to do things like vegetable soup or cabbage soup,” she said. “For the vegetable soup, it kind of depends on the kind of meat I get. I always have to start with a soup bone and I usually use oxtail.” Donna cooks the bone and meat with onion and celery then, when that’s done, she skims the fat off the top and starts adding vegetables.

“I add almost every kind of vegetable except for peas and corn. They are too sweet for my taste,” she explains. “My favorite vegetables to add are tomatoes, onion, carrots, green beans, turnips, potatoes and, if I have some, I add okra.” Donna said she usually adds some kind of small macaroni when the soup is about done, or maybe some rice or a can of white beans.

To skim the grease from the broth before adding the vegetables, Donna said you can refrigerate the soup overnight and the fat will separate from the broth and be able to be discarded easily.

“Or you can take a paper towel and gently lay it on the top of the warm soup bone and broth,” she said. “You can pat it a little and then lift the paper towel off carefully. You have to do it pretty slowly or it won’t work and the fat will come off the paper towel before you get it out of the pot.

“I don’t have any secrets to cooking. I just use common sense I guess,” she said, adding her favorite part of cooking is probably eating what she prepares. “Especially if it turns out well. I don’t try to do anything outlandish when I’m cooking. I keep it pretty simple. I think simple things taste the best. I pretty much cook the way I always have.”

Donna Kellums shares some of her favorite recipes.

Applesauce cake

Donna Kellums

1 C. light brown sugar

1/4 C. butter

1 C. applesauce

1 t. baking soda

2 C. flour

1 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. ground cloves

a little nutmeg

1 C. raisins

pinch of salt

Cream together butter, sugar and spices,

Add applesauce, flour, soda (dissolved in a little warm water).

Add the raisins.

Beat thoroughly and pour into a loaf pan (bread pan).

Bake in moderate oven, 350 degrees, for approximately 50 minutes.


1 C. powdered sugar

pieces of butter the size of a walnut

a little water to moisten

Mix and spread over cake.

Corn relish

Donna Kellums

9 ears of corn (“I use 2-1 lb. bags of frozen corn.”)

1 qt. vinegar

1 C. sugar

1 t. salt

1-1/2 T. dry mustard

1 t. tumeric

1 medium head of cabbage, chopped

2 medium onions, chopped

3 red peppers, chopped

2 green peppers, chopped

Mix vinegar, sugar, salt and spices. Heat to boiling.

Add vegetables and boil until tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Stir frequently.

Pour into sterile jars and seal.

Makes about 8 pints.

Raisin pie

Donna Kellums

2 C. raisins

1 C. orange juice

1 C. water

1/2 C. sugar

2 T. corn starch

1 t. ground allspice

1 T. lemon juice

Pastry for double crust 9 inch pie

Bring raisins, orange juice and water to a boil over high heat.

Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Combine sugar and corn starch and allspice. Mix well. Stir into raisin mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice. Cool 10 minutes. Pour into pie shell. Cover with top crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then at 375 degrees until pie is done.