Judy Pettey
Judy Pettey

Staff Writer

Back to school for many means new teachers, new classes and, of course, new loads of homework. But to one Neshoba County native, back to school means hot meals, big smiles and full tummies.

Judy Pettey has certainly seen her share of hungry children during the last 26 years she has been employed at Neshoba Central High School's cafeteria.

As cafeteria manager, Pettey is responsible for ordering, receiving and overseeing the preparation of the food which feeds some 700-750 high schoolers per day. The students range in grades ninth through 12th.

"We work very hard to make sure the kids get a fresh, healthy, hot meal everyday. I have a great staff that works together well to keep our kids fed," Pettey said.

Pettey begins each day on campus at 6:30 a.m. to start the prep work involved to serve so many students.

Having seen many students pass through her cafeteria line over the past 26 years, Pettey says her greatest joy about work is seeing the kids.

"I love our students! Many give me hugs when I see them out around town. I love to talk to them and hear how they are doing. I enjoy seeing them succeed in school," she said.

Recently, Pettey has seen several changes in the guidelines used to plan and prepare students meals.

"There is a much healthier approach to the meals we serve now. We only use wheat products like wheat buns, bread and crackers. We make sure the kids get fresh fruit, too. Also, we don't fry any food anymore," Pettey said.

Even the recipes used to prepare the meals are healthier.

While the food guidelines have changed over the years, one thing that has not is all of the hungry students and the joy it brings Mrs. Pettey to feed them.

Time spent in the kitchen for Pettey dates much further back than the 26 years she has been at Neshoba Central.

"I can remember having to stand in a chair to help my mother cook. I couldn't even reach the counter. My mother was a wonderful cook! My mother-in-law was also a great cook, and now my daughter, Melanie, is a good cook, too," she said.

While feeding so many certainly keeps Pettey busy, outside of school, she has plenty of other interests that occupy her time.

Pettey has been married to Allen Pettey for 36 years. They have two children, Michael, 27, and Melanie, 26 and a son-in-law, Stuart Waddell.

The Petteys spend most of their spare time at Bee Lake in Thornton, Miss.

"We have a place at Bee Lake and love to fish! We have cookouts and cook fried fish or steaks and ribs on the grill. We also take the pontoon boat out. It is beautiful there," Pettey said.

Traveling with the Petteys is their four legged child, a two-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Jake.

"He goes everywhere we go. He even rides on the boat. He rides in Allen's lap, and it looks like he's driving the boat. Jake is our baby," Pettey added.

In addition to enjoying the fishing and beauty which come at Bee Lake, the Petteys also share a passion for deer hunting.

"For my birthday, Allen surprised me by having an eight point deer mounted that I shot this year. It was the best gift," added Pettey.

The Petteys are long time members of Spring Creek Baptist Church where Judy enjoys helping with Bible drills and preparing snacks during Vacation Bible School.

"Our church family is wonderful! We really enjoy spending time there and fellowshipping with them. God has been good to us. We are definitely blessed," she added.

Outside of the school kitchen, Pettey enjoys cooking family recipes and "eyeballing" the preparation of different foods.

"Sometimes I follow the recipe, but as my daughter says, I also like to just 'eyeball' it. I add a little of this and a little of that, and before you know it, I've got a meal made. I've had people tell me that I can fix a whole meal faster then they can even decide what to cook," she laughingly added.

As the school bells ring this fall and the kids journey into unfamiliar classrooms with new teachers, the students can count on one thing remaining the same: healthy food will be served by one happy cafeteria lady glad to see them.

Pettey has shared some of her favorite family recipes.

Melanie's Chicken Spaghetti

5 pound bag boneless chicken breasts

10.5 ounce can cream of celery

10.5 ounce can cream of mushroom

Small onion, diced

10 ounce can cream of chicken

Jar of Cheese Whiz

10 ounce can Rotel tomatoes

16 ounce bag angel hair noodles

Boil chicken and cut into small pieces.

Cook noodles until tender. Mix Rotel, Cheese Whiz and soups in a large bowl. Stir and microwave until well mixed. Add noodles and chicken. Put in casserole dish and bake for 5 minutes.

Granny Pettey's Coca-Cola Cake

Stick of butter

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 cup cooking oil

Cup of Coke

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon soda

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons cocoa

Sift sugar and flour together. Put oil, butter, Coke and cocoa together in saucepan and heat until butter melts. Add to flour mixture. Add eggs. Dissolve soda in buttermilk; stir just enough to mix well. Do not over beat. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Frost cake once it cools completely.

Coca-Cola Cake Frosting

Stick of butter

3 teaspoons cocoa

6 teaspoons Coke

Box of powdered sugar

Cup chopped pecans

Teaspoon vanilla

Heat butter, cocoa and Coke to boil. Pour over sugar and mix well. Add nuts and vanilla; stir well. Spread on cake.

No Crust Egg Custard

Can evaporated milk

3 eggs

3 tablespoons oil

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cup of sugar

Mix all ingredients until smooth. Pour into baking dish and bake at 325 degrees until set. Sprinkle with nutmeg if desired.

Momma Long's Lemon Icebox Pie

Box of vanilla wafers

3 lemons

Can of evaporated milk, chilled

1-1/4 cups sugar

Crush vanilla wafers to make pie crust. (Save some to place around pie.) Beat chilled evaporated milk with electric mixer until creamy. stir in sugar and the juice from lemons. Pour in pie crust. Place extra vanilla wafers around the pie. Place in freezer for several hours. Makes one pie.

Michael's Chocolate Ice Cream

1/2 gallon chocolate milk

8 ounce carton Cool Whip

Can of sweetened condensed milk

Mix together all ingredients in a bowl.

Pour in ice cream freezer and freeze.

This recipe is very similar to a Wendy's Frosty.

Mamaw Lillie's Pecan Pie

Cup Karo syrup

3 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons margarine

teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons flour

Dash of salt

Cup chopped pecans

Uncooked pie crust

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix all ingredients well. Pour mixed ingredients in pie crust. Bake 15 minutes on 400 degrees.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30-35 more minutes.