A lifetime of good cooking
LAKE CITY – When baking, follow directions, advise the culinary experts. When cooking, go by your own taste, advised Pam Hicks of Lake City.
“I always put my own twist on a recipe to make it my own,” said Hicks, who grew up in the restaurant business and now runs the Wagon Wheel restaurant and lounge in Lake City with her husband, Roger (“Short”) Hicks.
A lifelong cook like Hicks doesn’t have to depend on too many recipes, since she often relies on experience – and seasonal ingredients – to prepare her favorite foods.
Now that apples are in season, for example, she picks them from the fruit trees in her backyard to whip up a creamy apple salad.
Rather than work from a detailed recipe, Hicks bases the proportion of the ingredients on how many apples she chooses to include.
This kind of intuitive cooking comes naturally for Hicks, who grew up in the restaurant business. For many years her family ran the Lietz Locker in Yetter, in addition to a small lunch counter in town that served local farmers and co-op employees.
“My mom, Thelma, was an awesome cook,” said Hicks, who would sometimes fill a wagon with her mother’s baked goods and doughnuts to sell to people around town. “The food sold quickly, and I always came back with an empty wagon.”
Starting in junior high school, Hicks began helping out at the family’s lunch counter, which was known for its tasty hamburgers and French fries.
This experience led to a job at the local Wheel Inn restaurant in Lake City, followed by a 10-year stint at the Wagon Wheel restaurant from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s.
“Back then, I never guessed I’d end up owning the Wagon Wheel some day,” said Hicks, who also spent 10 years working as a cook at Opportunity Living in Lake City, which serves adults with developmental disabilities.
Although Hicks and her husband have run the Wagon Wheel for 11 years, she still enjoys cooking and baking in her free time. “I also like a challenge and don’t do much on a small scale,” said Hicks, who might bake a banana cake and five or six loaves of banana bread at a time.
If she doesn’t serve the extra cake or bread on the Wagon Wheels’ famous salad bar, which is distinguished by Hick’s homemade salads and soup, she gives the extra baked goods away to friends.
Hicks also lets nothing go to waste at the restaurant. Potato skins, for example, become a treat when they are French fried and served with a dipping sauce made from barbecue sauce and sour cream mixed together.
While carryouts are a big part of the Wagon Wheel’s business, Hicks and her family enjoy visiting with the many regular customers who stop by each week. “That’s one of the benefits of this business.”
Wagon Wheel macaroni salad
This classic recipe has been a crowd pleaser for years at the Wagon Wheel in Lake City, Pam Hicks said.
8 pounds macaroni
1 small bag of carrots (grate the carrots)
2 peppers, chopped
3 cups chopped celery
1 gallon mayonnaise
2 cans condensed milk
4 cups grated cheese
3 pounds sugar
Mix all ingredients in large tub. Don’t worry if the mixture is a little soupy, because the macaroni will absorb the liquid.
Pam’s chili in one
Chili is a favorite soup on the Wagon Wheel salad bar, said Hicks, who likes a lot of vegetables in her chili.
4 pounds hamburger, browned
1 large onion, chopped
6 celery stalks, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 gallon chili beans
4 cans of tomato juice
Chili powder, to taste
Microwave the onions, celery and green pepper, and combine with the hamburger. Add remaining ingredients. Heat and serve.
Pam picks apples from the tree in her backyard for this classic salad. Base the amount of ingredients on the number of apples included, Hicks advised.
Combine all ingredients. Chill and serve.
Rhubarb blueberry jelly
Hicks said this easy recipe, which makes 6 to 8 half pints and stores well in the freezer.
7 cups rhubarb, chopped
4 cups sugar
1 can blueberry pie filling
6-ounce box strawberry gelatin
Combine rhubarb and sugar with a small amount of water. Bring mixture to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes.
Add 1 can of blueberry pie filling and gelatin. Let stand, and then stir to dissolve the gelatin. Add a bit of almond extract.
Pour jelly into containers and refrigerate or freeze.
Hicks said she often doubles or triples this recipe.
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
4 bananas, mashed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup nuts (optional)
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add mashed bananas and flour mixture to the butter, sugar and egg mixture.
Add vanilla and nuts, if desired. Pour batter into two loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 70 minutes.
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