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Cooking comes naturally for Katy woman

November 13, 2018

Raised on a Louisiana farm, the youngest of six children, Donna Johnson shares fond memories of time spent in the kitchen preparing food.

She credits her mom, Betty Miller, as the source for much of her cooking knowledge. As young as 7 or 8, Johnson was a presence in the kitchen and her older sister, Charlotte, served as a second mom.

One family tradition was a fresh fruit salad. Because Johnson was too young to use a knife, her role was to help peel some of the fruit. “Everyone had a role in making the salad,” she said.

She’s proud her grandson, a first-grader, keeps an apron at her home. “My grandson loves to cook,” she said. “I think it’s important for men to know how to cook.” That was among the skills she made sure her two sons learned.

What Johnson didn’t learn from her mother, she taught herself through the years. The result is an award-winning cook. Johnson recently earned two ribbons in the recipe contest of the Katy Rice Festival: a third place for her entrée Rice Farmer’s Stew and a first place for her dessert Rice Apple Pie Bites. She’s also brought home cooking honors from the former Katy Rice Harvest Festival, too.

Besides her love of cooking, Johnson adds, “I love competing. I love the fact that everything is totally anonymous. I’m not an athlete but I do like to cook.”

The biggest compliment, though, came from her brother Steve Miller. After tasting her seafood gumbo with okra, he said, “That tastes just like mom’s.”

“If you love to cook, your options are endless,” said Johnson, a 30-year Katy resident. “I love experimenting in the kitchen.

“If you love to cook, it comes naturally,” she added.

For the festival contest, for example, she found recipes that she liked and then made adjustments, including the addition of rice, which was a requirement for the contest.

Even when she’s not competing in a cooking contest, she said she’s always adding and making changes in recipes till she comes up with something that she likes. She calls her husband and sons her best critics. Her sons — Jacob, 33, and his family, and David, 29, and his family — live nearby in Katy.

For Johnson home-cooked meals meant family time. “It’s important to sit around and talk,” she said, as she remembers suppers where she, her husband and sons talked about their days as they ate. “We never ran out of stuff to talk about.”

Even though her sons are grown, she said she still cooks a lot at home and hosts frequent family nights with them and their families. She’s also known for exchanging dishes with her neighbors. And she’s organized so that the meal is nearly cooked by the time guests arrive so that she can visit with them and not have to spend time in the kitchen.

One of her favorite dishes is chicken sausage gumbo. A family tradition is pot roast with rice and homemade gravy, green and lima beans salad and cole slaw. She loves beef and chuck roast is her favorite cut of meat. The Thanksgiving menu will include both ham and turkey with a rice dressing, of course, in addition to vegetable side dishes and pumpkin and pecan pies.

Preparing lunch for her father when he worked in the Louisiana rice fields also was important. During planting and harvesting time was of the essence, and her father and his crew ate plates of food in the field prepared by the women of the house. “You didn’t dare bring farmers a sandwich to eat in the field. They needed a warm meal. We didn’t use paper plates then.”

They also were self-sufficient. “We grew all our vegetables and raised all our meat,” said Johnson.

karen.zurawski@chron.com

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