If you loved Williamsburg’s Cafeteria on Memorial Boulevard and ate meals cooked by Pauline “Polly” Turner in the family business, you can now have those recipes thanks to “Polly’s Cookbook.”
Turner was born in Floyd County in 1927. She and her 10 siblings grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains on a 180-acre cabbage farm. Her son, David Turner, said his mother often finished cooking family meals for her family.
The family never had a tractor and instead used horses and oxen on the farm.
The nearest high school was in Hillsville, which would have required an 5 mile walk through the woods to catch the school bus. Instead, her mother stayed with a family friend who lived closer to the school, in exchange for household chores.
While attending that school, Turner said, she would fill in for absent cafeteria workers.
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She left during her freshman year of high school, during World War II, to work at the Pentagon.
Turner said her mother was the only one of her siblings to have graduated from high school, returning to school after her time in Washington. Around 1947, she moved to Fieldale and worked at Sut’s Café.
She worked in the cafeterias at Fieldale and Clearview Elementary Schools and Martinsville High School. She was the first president of the Martinsville-Henry County Food Service Association.
When the position of managing all the school cafeterias in Martinsville opened up, she was offered the position until it was discovered that it required a degree in home economics and she only had a a high school diploma. Instead of taking the top position herself, she trained the person who took that position.
“It turned out to be a good thing,” Turner said. “It was kind of the spark that led her to open her own business.”
She started a catering business out of her basement, then moved it to the Williamsburg House on Broad Street and expanded to offer private dining, lunch and meal delivery to seniors.
With help from Ralph Lester in 1986 the business moved to the former McKee Funeral Home on Memorial Boulevard. Turner said that while much of the financial responsibility was hers, her mother was in charge.
One day, after they had both worked 12 hours in the cafeteria, Turner called her mother to see if she “got home okay.” She replied, “You know, yesterday I found a recipe I wanted to try.”
“She was cooking…She was one of those people for whom a hungry person is a beautiful thing,” he said.
Mount Bethel United Methodist Church asked Polly Turner to create a cookbook. She provided some of the recipes, but died in 2014. Her son provided the rest. Faye Moore and Stacey Clifton helped create “Polly’s Cookbook”.
“Our two most popular recipes … had been blown up for use in a cafeteria: her lasagna recipe and her chicken broccoli casserole recipe,” he said. Both are in the cookbook.
“It’s been so long and I still have people calling me and wanting mom’s recipes,” he said. “I asked someone to stop when they found out who I was and say ‘Do you have that Japanese fruit pie recipe?'”
The cookbook can be purchased from any member of the church’s Esther Circle or by calling Moore at 276-673-6378. Proceeds support monthly mission projects.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 1/2 cup tomato puree
- 4 tbsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. oregano powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2/3 cup water
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- As needed: 50/50 shredded Colby cheese and sharp cheddar topping
- As needed: lasagna noodles, raw
Brown the ground beef lightly and degrease. Break the beef into small pieces. Add all ingredients except cheese and noodles. Stir to have a smooth sauce. Lightly coat the bottom of a pan with sauce. Alternate laying down a layer of raw noodles followed by a layer of sauce three times, covering the last layer of noodles with the sauce.
Cover with at least 1/8 inch of cheese. Cover with foil, being careful not to let the top rest on the cheese filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until noodles are tender. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 15 minutes, covered, before serving.
- 3 cups flour
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1 C. baking soda
- 1 C. salt
- 1 C. cinnamon
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 8 ounces crushed pineapple, undrained
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 cup bananas, chopped
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 C. vanilla extract
- 1 package 16 ounces powdered sugar, sifted
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add vegetable oil and eggs; don’t beat. Stir in vanilla extract, pineapple, pecans and bananas. Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Frosting: Combine cream cheese and butter, beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, beat until light and fluffy. Apply the frosting to the cooled cake.