Mrs. Sybil James
Mrs. Sybil James
For the first time in over 40 years, the Neshoba County Fair was missing something this year that many would refer to as a must have during the Fair . . . a Sybil James cake.

Sybil has been baking for nearly all of her 85 years, but after suffering a stroke on June 30 of this year, which caused paralysis on her entire right side, she had to put away the flour and eggs and take a break from doing what she loved.

Now a resident at Neshoba County Nursing Home, Sybil works hard at physical therapy three times a day striving to recoup her strength and the use of her right arm and leg.

She estimates that she baked upwards of 2,000 cakes a year. She has baked cakes for customers in six different states. She even sent cakes by way of the Trailways bus once. She added that she sent nearly 30 cakes a month just to Memphis alone.

A friend once suggested to her that she should advertise her cakes in order to sell more. She quickly replied, "Why should I? I've got more orders than I can do now."

Sybil said she baked a lot at night, often staying up past midnight to finish orders for the next day.

Her favorite and the most requested is her caramel cake, but Sybil adds that baking any kind of cake is always a joy.

Her great cooking skills are not just limited to baking. She likes to cook anything and always looks forward to family coming.

"When family comes, we don't go out to eat. They all want to come to my house to eat my cooking," she said.

Sybil recalls going to visit her grandmother's house as a child, noting that she was a great cook.

"She wouldn't let anybody sit at the table but me while she was cooking," Sybil said. "She wanted me to learn what she knew. I started learning from her. Then, I watched my mama and learned from her, too."

Sybil has been married for over 30 years to her husband Tex. She has one son, Mack, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. She is a member of the First United Church of Philadelphia.

While the oven may be cool right now at Sybil James' house and the flour sealed tight, she hopes it won't be for long. She plans to keep working hard at physical therapy so that she can get back to doing what she loves most . . . baking for other people.

Sybil was unable to provide recipes but below are a few for our readers to enjoy.

Caramel Cake

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups packed brown sugar

1 cup heavy whipping cream

3 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Sift the flour before measuring then resift with the 1 cup of the packed brown sugar. Add the butter or margarine, eggs, milk, salt, baking powder and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla to the flour mixture and beat on medium high speed of an electric mixer for 2 to 3 minutes. (Use the whisk attachment for best results.) Spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and place on a wire rack for 10 minutes then remove pan and place cake on a serving dish. Once cake is cooled completely frost with Caramel Icing. To Make Caramel Icing: In a saucepan over medium heat stir the 2 remaining cups of brown sugar, and the cream until the sugar is dissolved. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover and cook without stirring till a candy thermometer reads 238 to 240 degrees. Stir in the remaining butter with a wooden spoon. Remove the icing from the heat and let cool to 110 degrees. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat the icing until it is thick and creamy. If it becomes heavy, thin it out with cream until the right consistency appears. Spread over the top of the cooled cake.

Italian Cream Cake


1 stick butter

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

5 whole eggs, separated

3 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup coconut

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Beat egg whites until stiff. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together butter, oil, and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg yolks, vanilla, and coconut. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Alternate adding buttermilk and dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix until just combined, then fold in egg whites. Pour evenly into the three prepared pans, then sprinkle the top of each pan with 1 (at least) tablespoon sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto cooling racks and allow to cool completely.


2 8-ounce packages cream cheese

1 stick butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

2-pound package powdered sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup sweetened, flaked coconut

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Stir in chopped pecans and sugared coconut. Spread between layers and serve.

Coconut Cake

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans

2 cups sugar

5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup milk

4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted

6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour. Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans . Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling. For the frosting, mix the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!). To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. Sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

Chewy Brownies

2 cups white sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup baking cocoa

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

4 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. Combine white sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk oil, eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture; fold in walnuts. Spread into prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Combine confectioner's sugar and water in a small bowl to make a glaze; drizzle over warm brownies.