April 11, 2001 | By: Aimee D. Heald

In a 1790's kitchen, Norma Jean Campbell stood over an old wood-burning stove, serving soup beans and cornbread to Extension homemakers from Washington, Meade and Nelson counties. She said she would've made a good pioneer and her emphasis on doing everything "from scratch" is evidence of that.

"I do a lot of heritage crafts," Norma Jean said. "I have an old loom and I weave. We raise sheep and I weave and make things from the wool. I dye all my own wool with natural things like blood root and daffodils."

Women from three counties all came to Norma Jean's historic home to participate in a lesson on heritage foods and ways of life that they will take back and teach to their own clubs. The lunch included soup beans and cornbread, wilted lettuce, burgoo and beaten biscuits – all prepared in traditional ways. For dessert, the ladies had homemade blueberry cobbler.

County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences, Jennifer Benham talked about the history and preparation of each item served.

Benham also emphasized that traditional recipes can be modified to reflect modern lifestyles and also to add nutrition.

"We want women to learn that food has always been a part of Kentucky," she said. "It's important to their heritage. We want them to recognize that there are foods that were developed in Kentucky and we hope they will pass down some traditional recipes and cooking methods to other people."

Benham said they chose to do the lesson at the Campbell's home because of the unique environment it provided to learn about heritage lifestyles. The kitchen was built in 1790 and the foundation and basement are original to the house. A modern kitchen was not added until 1975. Many of the renovations to the 1800's house were started when the Campbell's moved took up residence in 1985. Norma Jean tries to keep everything simple and make sure her grandchildren know about how things used to be.

"My grandkids are living their history," she said. "We go to the field with our backpacks and talk about what things were used for. Like, bloodroot – my grandson uses it for ‘war paint' like the Indians used to do and my granddaughter will use it for rouge on her cheeks. It's fun for them and they learn a lot."

Linda Wells came to participate in the lesson from Nelson county. She said she will be taking the lesson back to her homemaker's group of 35.

"A lot of the ladies I was sitting with at the table today were talking about how it brought back so many good memories of their childhood," she said.

Kentucky is changing. The latest data suggests many people are leaving the bigger cities and heading for more rural areas. Benham said a lot of these people are interested in traditional methods of cooking and living. Extension homemakers are committed to teaching and keeping traditional ways alive.

"I have a daughter who's 28," Wells said. "I think it's very important that she knows her heritage and where her roots are. I think it's something we need to continue learning and teaching people about."


Jennifer Benham (270) 422-4958