Peggy Walker says goodbye

Published 9:15 am Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Peggy Walker’s last column is in this week’s paper.  She will be finished writing for The Panolian and regularly sharing her life with readers, and her career as a columnist will come to an end.  But for the well-refined Southern lady it’s only the completion of one journey, and the beginning of the next.

Peggy has written a general interest column since the early 2000s, much beloved and renowned for its popular recipes – so much that she fondly recalls having scarcely been able to go to the grocery for years without having an encounter with an enthusiastic Panolian reader or fan of her column.

Sometimes when in a hurry – for fear of getting distracted from her shopping details – she would go to the store later in the evening when crowds were more thinned out.  “With my picture in the paper every week I couldn’t go anywhere without people saying, ‘Oh you’re Peggy Walker, you write the articles,’” she said, with a subtle laugh.  Also, she would often get caught off guard when folks would expect her to remember every single ingredient of a recipe that she had included in her column.

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Peggy’s regular readers, knowing very well she had been formally trained as a dietician, would jump to pick her brain about diabetic diets, or weight loss diets.  “It almost got to be a joke between my husband and I,” she said.  “We would go out, whether to the grocery store or the ball game or wherever, and somebody would say, ‘Oh I know you!’”

Peggy’s roots are in the newspaper business, as her dad used to own The South Reporter in Holly Springs, MS, and wrote a weekly column called ‘Shortcast,’ since he was an avid fisherman.  “I just kind of grew into it,” she said.  “I was always on the newspaper staff at school, and also when I was a student at Freed-Hardeman (a private Christian university in Henderson, TN).”

In 1994 she was hired by the Extension Service in Panola County, to serve as the County Home Economist, and part of that job responsibility was a weekly article.  Every county in Mississippi has an Extension Service, which is based out of Mississippi State.  “They provided us with all kinds of information for articles,” said Peggy, and that although she simply could have just copied the information verbatim and put it in the newspaper, she always put the effort forth to personalize it.  “It kind of grew from there.  So, I wrote pretty much the whole time I worked for Extension.  There was maybe a year and a half or so in there that I didn’t, but certainly for most of the time,” before retiring in 2007.

“Then when I retired,” said Peggy, “Rita Howell and her husband were the owners of the Panolian, and she called me and asked me to continue writing what I do.”  Peggy remembered asking Rita “What should I write about?”  She was told that she was at liberty to write about any topic that her heart desired.  “Through Extension I wrote about educational things…that was the point of the Extension.  “So, I said ‘OK,’ and I did.  And here we are in ‘22.”

Adapting to writing remotely

Her family relocated from Batesville to west Tennessee 2017, just about 15 miles east of Jackson, after their son was tragically killed in a farming accident, to be closer to his widowed wife and kid.  He had done some writing himself just for fun and had a great passion for flying and breaking horses.

Although Peggy continued to write her column, she said the only thing that lacked was the feeling of physical connection to Panola County.  “I think the hardest thing was not getting the feedback that I got in town,” she said.  Because typically she couldn’t go anywhere without somebody commenting on it and was unable to receive the same sort of close and personal feedback living a couple hours away in Tennessee.  “It makes it a little harder to do, because sometimes I’m thinking, ‘Is anybody reading this anymore?” she joked.

Although she said that when she returned to town a few weeks ago for a bridal shower, as she was walking in, somebody immediately approached her and excitedly told her that they were a reader of her column.  “I don’t get that feedback here – being away.  That makes it a little harder to do.  I miss that, that part of it.”

Peggy remarked that a favorite of her readers tends to be her seasonal recipes, such as for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whatever holiday is just around the corner.  Also, recipes that include whatever food items are freshest at the time.  “That’s what I tried to use…and if I could tie it back to the article, I’d do that too.  If I mentioned a certain food or brought it up in the article, I tried to tie the recipe to that, so that I was consistent.”

Peggy said that she will sometimes peruse through some of the articles and the many recipes she’d shared throughout the years – a few maybe shared more than once – and that she does maintain some personal favorites.

She generously provided several of them.  Some of her favorites published throughout the years have included:

*Dilled Chicken Salad  From Davis’ Restaurant (now closed) on the Square in Canton, MS; a tradition at the Canton Flea Market

**Laura’s Pink Lemonade  DIL Laura’s favorite punch for bridal and baby showers, now a must have at any Walker family get-together

* French Fried Eggplant  From a little cookbook brought to me from DW’s mother from a trip to Vermont, the best way to eat eggplant

***Ham & Cheese Quiche  Good standby recipe; great for any meal, or to take to someone needing a meal, came from the magazine that once came with the Panolian.

***Turnip Green Soup  Developed by a chef at Mississippi State, has been served for formal to casual functions all over the state and possibly has the best flavor of any soup ever. 

*White Chicken Chili  From a friend in Batesville, now a family favorite, always served on trim-the-Christmas- tree night

*Buttermilk Pancakes  Plain, nothing fancy but the perfect pancake, clipped from an old issue of Country Living magazine

*Frozen Fruit Salad  Make ahead of time in muffin tins, freeze for anytime, I love the crunch of pecans in them.

**Kentucky Cornbread  The perfect cornbread muffin, frozen leftovers are so convenient

***Molasses Cookies  The favorite cookie at my house, recipe from an old maid neighbor when I was single, she guaranteed that men loved them.

*** Apricot Nectar Cake  Moist and flavorful pound cake another family favorite and the perfect cake to share

*Shrimp Scampi  Garlicky, made with fresh shrimp is best but frozen will work too

**Chocolate Spiders   Fun Halloween treat made with chocolate chips, peanuts and chow mein noodles

***Mexican Chicken Sandwiches  Grilled and topped with Monterey jack pepper cheese and salsa, another family favorite

* Breakfast Berry Bread Pudding  A new found favorite, the best brunch recipe

***Smoked Chicken Seasoned with Cavender’s and lemons, I smoke these year-round.

***Gouda Cheese Wraps  The best appetizer ever, got at a leisure arts course at Ole Miss, in the 80s, taught by the ladies who owned the Oliver Britt House. Served with tart granny smith apples— tailgating, birthday parties, finger foods, it is easy and so fine.

***Cranberry Coffee Cake Favorite for Holiday Brunch or a Christmas breakfast, especially eaten while still warm from the oven.

(Link to recipes)

Rolling with the times, and keeping ahead of the curve

While a great many people may frown upon having to acclimate to the digital age of media, Peggy has taken it on optimistically, and used modern technology to her advantage, mostly regarding the research she will do for an article.  “I do a lot of research online now, for information, and make sure I get it right,” she said.  “A lot of people get it online, and that makes a huge difference.”  Knowing that information is so easily accessible, she chooses to be thorough to keep the playing field leveled.

She fondly spoke of a friend she has living in Poland, in Eastern Europe, who reads her article, “and I’ve had comments from people when they were on vacation in Alaska.”  They would pull up my article online and read it, so as not to miss it.  That was always kind of neat,” said Peggy, “those opportunities that the internet provides.  To think about, worldwide, who could be reading it…it’s always kind of interesting to me.  Intriguing I guess.”

She also said that her mother before she passed, became rather computer savvy and was able to access the digital edition of the Panolian, and enjoy her daughter’s weekly columns.  “So, she could do it, and that was kinda neat too.”

Family has always been a central part of her articles, and she regularly includes mention of her children, grandchildren (her oldest just turned nine), and husband D.W.  Another son lives in Hernando, MS and is an Edward Jones analyst, and has degrees in landscape architecture, so Peggy will reach out to him when she seeks information along any of those lines.

Even one of her most recent articles talked about a summer trip down to Florida together to visit Disneyworld, where her family had the honor of being served on by none other than Chef Mickey Mouse.  Her youngest is two, a boy, and the four middle grandchildren are girls.

The nine-year-old recently had a swim party in the backyard, which consisted of all boys, because “at this point girls aren’t very cool,” Peggy said.  “We have a lot of fun.”

But on a much somber note, just about a year ago her husband had a cancer scare, causing Peggy to miss doing her column for a week while she was staying with D.W. and supporting him in the hospital for five days after enduring a surgery procedure.  “He’s been doing much better,” she said, “and he gave me permission to write about it, and I did….and he’s really, really doing well.  We’ve seen the doctor every three months and go back next week for a follow up…he had scans done recently, which we do every three months, for the first year…so, he’s doing well.  As a dietician I’ve tried to take really good care of him, make him eat right.”

What’s next in store

Peggy said that even in retirement, and with her days as a columnist for the Panolian coming to a close, there is still never a dull moment and no shortage of things to do.  If it’s not visiting with her grandchildren, her volunteering and working in the yard take up much of her time.  “We have a pretty big yard,” she said, “and I love to do yard work.”

She and her family also enjoy traveling locally, driving to places around west and central Tennessee, including Nashville.  “There’s a lot more to see that we haven’t gotten around to.  We are trying to take a couple of day trips each week somewhere around, which we haven’t really done yet.  I want to have time to do that.”

Although she will always cherish her memories of writing for the paper, and it being so ingrained in her daily life, her future output will likely be confined to social media, or “maybe a blog,” she said.  “Or maybe not.”  Clearly the longtime columnist will no longer feel the confines of a weekly duty.

She shared a memory of what might have been her first Thanksgiving after starting writing as an Extension Agent: “I wrote about my plans for Thanksgiving, it has always been a big event.  We’ve hosted both of our families since 1982.  We usually have from 20 to 50 guests, so I spent the entire month of November that year writing about planning, shopping, decorating, and cooking.  The Sunday before Thanksgiving the preacher got up and welcomed everyone, then turned toward me and from the pulpit asked, ‘Ms. Peggy, how are the Thanksgiving plans going?’  So, a ‘shout out’ at church.”

And, another anecdote she shared: “My twins were young teens when I started the article and loved for me to write about them, until I wrote about using the Sears Christmas catalog to potty train them.  They thought that was disgustingly too personal and embarrassing for 13-year-olds,” she said.

Although she loves having written about her grandchildren and birthday parties, she takes a “kind of morbid” pleasure in writing what she refers to as obituaries.  These have included one for her mother, and of course the son she lost, but she has always found this helpful in thinking about them, in somewhat of a nostalgic way.  These obituaries have also included one about her dog that died after her move to Tennessee, which got great reader feedback.

The transition from not writing her column after so many years may not be easy and could take some getting used to.  She said the process of constantly observing the world around her in relation to how it might work for an article is something she’s still doing uncontrollably.  “It’s the way I think,” she said.

“We were driving into town the other day and I saw something and thought, ‘That could make a good article.’  I usually get my first couple of sentences, and see how it sounds in my head, then maybe save the idea for an article sometime later,” said Peggy.  “So, I’m still doing that, but don’t have to do that anymore,” she chuckled.

Gladly her articles will always be available for all to revisit in newsprint, or cyberspace, and will likely still maintain their timeless, and family-oriented appeal for ages to come.  But as for Peggy herself, it’s off to greener pastures, as she bids a final farewell to her beloved readership.


To read Peggy Walker ‘s last column published in The Panolian  July 27, 2022 click here. 

And also find the full recipes mentioned above at Peggy Walker’s favorite recipes