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updated: 2/25/2014 11:13 AM

Cook of the Week: Former camp cook turns to Betty Crocker for recipes, advice

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  • Sharon Kennedy of Wauconda considers herself an everyday kind of cook, pulling recipes from newspapers, TV shows and her trusty Betty Crocker cookbooks.

       Sharon Kennedy of Wauconda considers herself an everyday kind of cook, pulling recipes from newspapers, TV shows and her trusty Betty Crocker cookbooks.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Pretzel Turtles are made with just three ingredients.

       Pretzel Turtles are made with just three ingredients.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Sharon Kennedy reworked the Betty Crocker recipe for Hungarian goulash into a family dinnertime favorite.

       Sharon Kennedy reworked the Betty Crocker recipe for Hungarian goulash into a family dinnertime favorite.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By Sally Eyre

There was a time when Sharon Kennedy thought nothing of cooking for 150 people.

For 11 years, the Wauconda woman was the kitchen director for a Girl Scout day camp. Every summer, she planned meals for the girls and taught them to cook over an open fire.

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"We learned to never attempt to cook spaghetti or Rice-a-Roni over a fire," she laughs, "they turn into blobs! But the ham-in-a-can was always a hit."

Sharon showed the girls how to poke holes in the can, pour maple syrup and brown sugar into the holes and put the can over the fire. Another successful meal was chicken in a bucket.

"You take a galvanized bucket from a hardware store, build your fire, spear a whole chicken and set it up vertically, top it with the bucket, and surround it with coals. In a half-hour you can cook a chicken," she explains, adding that the bucket in essence becomes an oven. "The chicken always came out perfectly -- so moist."

Sharon quietly led all three of her children through scouting; her son earned his Eagle Scout rank, one daughter earned the Girl Scout Gold award and while the other daughter never took home the award, she did stay in scouting through high school, an accomplishment that required some subterfuge.

"The girls developed a secret way of informing the other troop members about meetings. There was a stigma attached to scouting in high school. None of their other friends even knew they were Scouts until they all got scholarships."

The Kennedy's also did a lot of camping when the kids were young, enjoying white water rafting and even cave camping. These days however, the most adventurous cooking happens in the kitchen, or out on the grill in what Sharon calls the "Grill Wars" between her husband and their neighbors.

"They cook outside in all kinds of bad weather," she laughs, "it can be 18 degrees and snowing, but they're all still out there grilling."

Sharon will make the side dishes for her husband's grilled meat, like German-styled hot potato salad infused with tangy vinegar. One inside-cooked family favorite is her Hungarian goulash, redolent with paprika and chili powder. Sharon considers herself an "everyday" kind of cook, but the family will enjoy a fancy dinner about three times a year. One such tradition is their New Year's dinner. The Kennedys entice their children and significant others to stay inside that night by serving up lobster tails and beef tenderloin.

For recipe inspiration, Sharon enjoys watching the Food Network, or scanning newspapers and magazines, but her real go-to's are the recipes that have been passed down, and her 50-year-old, red Betty Crocker cookbook.

For Sharon, learning to cook was a process. "It was partially from my mother, partially from recipes and as my husband says, partially experimentation!"

Despite the fact that she taught many Scouts how to cook through the years, her own children may have skipped class.

"I have one daughter with no desire to learn to cook, the other is fair to middling at cooking though she's very good at opening frozen foods!" she laughs. "My son is probably the best cook of the three. He loves to bake cookies using his grandmother's recipes."

Perhaps her daughters will be receiving special gifts sometime soon … their own Betty Crocker cookbooks.

To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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