The 200-page hardcover “Around the Lee Family Tables: Treasured Memories of Farm Life and Food” grew from Sheryle Atkins’ idea to gather family recipes together. It grew to also tell the stories of her parents who moved from Kentucky to Illinois, where they raised their six children. Creamed Corn is still a family favorite with the Lee family children who remember what a big production it was to make big batches back in the day. 

FAIRBURY, Ill — Many people talk about gathering favorite family recipes today to share for the next generations. But not many put as much effort into it as Sheryle Atkins and her family have.

It started with Atkins’ idea to gather some family recipes and ended up as a 196-page, hardcover book featuring family stories, photos and, of course, recipes.

The retired family studies teacher and her sister, Dr. LaVonne Veatch Goodman, compiled the book and gave it to family members as a Christmas present in 2018. Atkins smiles when she remembers her three sons sitting together reading “Around the Lee Family Tables – Treasured Memories of Farm Life & Food.”

During the process of gathering recipes, one of her sons, seeing her stressed over the big project, asked her why she was putting so much effort into it. When he saw the finished product, “he gave me a hug and said, ‘I understand why you did this’.”

Then, he asked, “When are you doing one for the Atkins’ side?”

That hasn’t happened yet. She needed a little break. While she already had put together two other cookbooks as fundraising projects for a professional home economics organization, this one was special as family members shared stories about recipes she gathered.

Her mom’s small metal recipe box, holding well-used recipes cards, is at the heart of the book. There is even a photograph of the treasure box in the cookbook.

The two sisters featured farm, family and food throughout the pages, starting with stories about how their mom and dad grew up in the hills of Kentucky during the Depression. Her parents, James Charles (J.C.) Lee and Louise Shelton, were raised in neighboring Kentucky counties on rolling hills at the edge of Appalachia.

Atkins’ dad played in bands and even had a chance to perform with Little Jimmy Dickens at the Grand Ole Opry, but his dad wouldn’t let him. Her grandpa said farming was more important, Atkins said.

However, her parents did meet at one of his gigs, so his guitar skills did pay off.

“Mom and Dad were farmers and so were my grandparents and great-grandparents. Mom and Dad grew some tobacco and a little corn with some livestock including milk cows and chickens,” Atkins said. They always had big gardens.

Some of their recipes came from their Kentucky roots from “for-real hillbillies,” she said.

Her dad started doing seasonal work in Gibson City in central Illinois and in the late 20s the couple moved to Illinois and eventually raised their six children here.

“They had a great worth ethic and instilled it into us,” she said.

While their parents, were no longer living when the sisters put the book together, the authors interviewed other relatives, researched and shared memories. They wanted to preserve memories of their parents for their 27 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Atkins’ dad’s uncle shared memories and Veatch Goodman did the research. As a doctor, she wrote medical articles. She studied at the University of Illinois that then went to Yale.

“She was one of the first women to specialize in internal medicine,” Atkins said proudly of her sister and co-author of the book.

Atkins said she enjoyed working on the book with her siblings.

“We didn’t remember the same things,” she said.

Her youngest sister was six years younger and oldest about six years older. For example when it came to dressing chickens, Atkins remembers “wringing” their necks and her young sister Patty remembers chopping the chickens’ necks. Her siblings remember chickens hanging on the clothes line, but she does not.

Atkins is a whiz at making a pie. She has made as many as 30 pies all at once for bake sales for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

She also enjoyed revealing to her students where pumpkin pies really come from as she started from scratch with pumpkins from her garden.

“One boy put salt instead of sugar in cookies. That didn’t go well,” she recalls.

She and her husband, Dale, farmed in Chenoa for almost 50 years. Now they live in a pretty home in Fairbury while their youngest son leads the corn and soybean operation. Her husband is also still active in their ag business, Atkins Seed Service. One of their grandsons already knows he wants to farm as well.

As well as for family and students, she has made lots of meals and treats for both workers on the farm and at their business.

The treasured family cookbook was printed in small numbers for family so it isn’t available for sale.

Thank you for reading

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