Food Heritage of Lee County

— Written By Alyssa Anderson
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Since 1986, the Farm-City Week Ladies’ Luncheon has taken place in early December. This event brings together Lee County residents to enjoy the fellowship of a community meal. Each year, enthusiastic committee members arrange the table decorating contest, decide on a relevant educational speaker, and plan the delicious meal. To prepare for this article, we spoke with two of the committee members, Mildred Smith and Lynda Turbeville, to hear their thoughts on food heritage in Lee County. Shortly into the start of the interview, Lynda noted how one of the most popular parts of the luncheon is the cookbook that contains our communities’ favorite recipes. These cookbooks represent the heritage of Lee County and reflect the traditions, history, and culture of our diverse community.

In preparation for our conversation, Mildred went back to her family recipes, looked over Ladies’ Luncheon recipe books from years past, and reflected on the time she has spent with Extension. She framed our conversation aptly, noting that during this time of year, it can be especially stressful to come up with holiday meals and suggesting that our conversation could be about recipes in order to recognize all the ideas we already have in our community. After sharing a variety of recipes, everything from caramel cake to cheesy grits, Mildred finished the conversation with a final thought: “Beautiful ideas. You’re sitting at home and you say what in the world am I going to serve for the holidays? Listen to all these good ideas that we have here in Lee County”.

But the conversations with Lynda and Mildred represented so much more than meal planning for the holidays. These recipes, memories, and traditions are woven into the history and culture of Lee County. As Mildred expertly pointed out, “traditions are so important because they nourish family connections, give us, the family members, a sense of belonging, and it creates memories for children and gives consistency to the family.” Lynda expressed similar thoughts in the conversation stating, “I think that’s a lot of what food tradition is about, the meals, the coming together, is the making of memories.” In a few sentences, both Mildred and Lynda succinctly expressed exactly what this conversation was all about- understanding the importance of tradition and why these recipe books are so popular every year. Beyond preserving Lee County’s history and culture, appreciating culinary traditions can help us fully understand our community in order to address much larger issues, such as hunger, access to nutritious foods, and overall health. And, with rising rates of hunger related to the current pandemic, many people are looking for ways to nourish the community. Therefore, if we take the time to understand why people eat what they eat, we may be better equipped to address larger community issues around food as a whole.

Have you taken the time to look through your past recipes and cookbooks? What recipes stand out to you? Although the holidays will be non-traditional in many ways, cooking familiar and meaningful foods is a great way to still feel connected to your traditions. How can you share these traditions? One idea is to arrange a way to donate a “meal kit” to support a local family. This kit might include a family favorite recipe, the ingredients needed to prepare it, and possibly the story behind why this recipe is meaningful to you. Another option is to send us your favorite recipes for next year’s cookbook by emailing And, don’t forget to mark your calendar for next year’s luncheon on December 1, 2021, so that we can continue to celebrate the heritage of food in Lee County!

N.C. Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition in Lee County please contact us at 919-775-5624.

Written by:
Sarah Perry, Expanded Food and Nutrition Educator
Alyssa Anderson, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent