By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
Paula Ansberry makes some pretty powerful pepper poppers.
She got the recipe from a friend a couple of years ago. She was a little hesitant to try one. She’s not a spicy food kind of person.
But one tasty bite convinced her, and now she’s made them ever since when there’s a party, picnic, cookout, get together ... any kind of gathering.
“They’re easy, good, and everybody loves them,” she said with a laugh. “They have just enough heat to be interesting. They're not hot at all.
“You can’t even tell they’re jalapeno peppers. I like them, and I don’t like spicy things at all. They’re addicting. And even if you get a hot one, just get some water, go back and hope the next one isn't hot.”
She brought a couple of platters in to work. and as word of the poppers’ appearance spread, people would stop by, peak in their heads and smile ... and grab one.
The secret is to take all the seeds out of the peppers, she said.
“But with gloves. The seeds are where the heat is. The first time I made them, nobody told me to do this and I burned for days.”
She doesn’t recommend using smaller, hotter peppers. Jalapenos will do just fine.
She browns some sausage (you pick the kind ... pork, spicy, even turkey for the health-conscious), adds some cream cheese and Parmesan cheese, and stuffs the peppers, which have been cut in half.
One recipe of 20 peppers yields 40 poppers. Bake at 400˚ for 20 minutes and that’s it, she says.
“And then you eat them.”
“These poppers are just absolutely delicious,” her husband Ron said with a chuckle. “You put these in the oven and heat goes out of the pepper.”
“Unless you leave the seeds in them,” Paula added with a laugh.
She cooks “an awful lot,” she said. She likes cooking for Ron.
“Cooking is an extension of my love,” she said.
“I love to try new recipes. When we were married, for the first three months we didn't have the same meal twice. It’s OK with him for me to experiment.”
She does this by taking recipes from cookbooks and adding her own twists. Sometimes she’ll do a mash-up of recipes.
“I’ll take what I like from one and what I like from another and merge them,” she said. “For example, one recipe for coconut bread used buttermilk and another didn’t. So I used the buttermilk.
“It’s the best of both worlds. I do that almost every time I cook.”
When asked to bring something to the latest gathering, she’ll probably bring her poppers.
“A lot of people bring sweets. I like to counteract that with something like these.”
Ron likes to eat “anything I cook,” she said with a laugh.
“I like my poppers or little smokies wrapped in bacon. Well, I love everything. I don’t think there’s a food I really don’t like.”
She’s cooked ever since she was a child, growing up on a small farm just outside Findlay, in western Ohio.
“My mother would work in the fields, and I didn’t like to work outside, so I stayed inside and cooked.”
Her father, Clinton Deter, was head baker at a local hospital. Her mother, Jeanette, is also a good cook.
“She’s 95 and lives in assisted living. They had a contest in pie baking, and she won,” Ansberry said proudly.
She learned to manipulate recipes from her parents.
“My mother was straight by the recipe. My father liked flavors, so I learned how to season foods. We used the foods we grew. We had a lot of pork and other things that are no-nos today. But that’s what I grew up with.”
Her sons and stepdaughter all live far away. But she keeps in touch.
“My 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter and I cook over the phone,” she said. “She’ll get her play dough out and ask, ‘How many eggs do I need, Grandma?’ This makes relationships. She’ll remember this.”
She’s a from-scratch cook whenever possible, she said.
She’ll use some modern conveniences, like the microwave, slow cooker or processor, but avoids boxed mixes most of the time. And if she does use them, she’ll add something to make it her own, she said.
She doesn’t even like to bake potatoes in the microwave.
“Lot of people like to nuke them, but I don’t. You can tell the difference. I use my microwave to defrost and heat up things, warm up my coffee. I will do my frozen vegetables in there. But that’s about all I use it for.”
“She’s a good, old-school cook,” Ron said. “Excellent.”
“He loves my food,” she said. “It’s not fancy, just old-fashioned cooking. It’s really not anything. But if I’m too busy or tired to cook, Ron’s OK with soup and grilled cheese. He’s pretty easy to cook for.
“We have a little saying when trying a new recipe. It’s either a ‘doo-bee’ or a ‘don’t-bee.’”
“We’re both country people,” Ron said. “I grew up in a small farming community outside Fort Wayne, Ind. We all had gardens. You wanted corn, you’d just walk out, pull an ear off the stalk, shuck that baby and eat it right there.
“If the doctors had to depend on us for a living, they’d be on welfare!” He laughed.
While her children were growing up, Paula also insisted on family meals.
“I was big for always having dinner at the table. There’s just something about the table. One person isn’t going here and one there. My kids were very active in school, but we always found time to have dinner together.”
They’ve been in West Virginia since 1998 and Fairmont since 2009.
Ron remembers the time she said she was going to fix him a simple hot dog dinner.
“I sat and I sat and I sat, and I wondered what was taking so long,” he said. “Here she was making a seven-course hot dog meal.
“She’s a fantastic lady and a fantastic cook.”
Every Wednesday through September, Take 5 wants you to take us on a picnic. Submit your summertime recipes to Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@ timeswv.com.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.