“Like mother, like daughter” is the mealtime mantra heard from Estelle Tunley’s Leawood home. Mother to three and grandmother to five, Estelle mixes it up in the kitchen with her only daughter, Yvette Tunley.
As social activists, the Tunleys dedicate their time to outreach ministries at St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church in Kansas City and organizations such as Urban Ranger Corps, which provides life skills mentoring and role model development for at-risk young men.
“When I was growing up, if Mama said, ‘That’s not acceptable,’ her words cut deep and you knew you had to choose a better way,” Yvette said. “Now, we have a good time cutting up in the kitchen together — laughing and telling stories. The thing about us: We work hard and we play hard.”
Q: Estelle, do you have plans set for Mother’s Day?
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A: I leave those plans to Yvette. She’s always cooking up something fun for all the mothers in our extended family.
One of the best Mother’s Day memories was when Yvette devised a scavenger hunt throughout Kansas City. She had clues and a prop the mothers would have to wear at every stop. When the scavenger hunt was all said and done, the mothers were dressed with tiaras, plastic rings and wands. Of course, after it was over, we all ate together.
I grew up in Kansas City, and my own mother, Marcell Barber, could always make something to eat out of seemingly nothing. She made the best biscuits and rolls. I learned her “make-something-with-nothing” lesson, and my friend Tommie Lou Davis marveled at her tasty water-based deviled eggs.
My mother was generous with her time and was always cooking. That was another lesson I learned from her.
Q: So, did you learn to cook from your mother?
A: My mother became sick when I was young, and I went to go and live with my aunt, Lou Anna Marshall, for a while in Three Rivers, Michigan, on their farm. That is where my work ethic really took shape, as I had responsibilities and chores to do on the farm.
The dish that we served this dessert in is a piece of Haviland china that came from my Aunt Lou Anna. To her, feeding people was natural. She raised the chickens she fried. That’s where I learned the pleasures of a simple life: listening to people talk and tell stories; sitting on the porch playing games and eating good food.
Q: This recipe you’ve shared will certainly feed a crowd.
A: The non-fancy name for this is Cherry Dump Cake and is known by many African-American families who have modified it to suit their preferences. It is super simple to make, allowing more time for our family to enjoy each other while it bakes. Yvette makes this whenever there’s a need for dessert to feed a lot of people.
It’s called a dump cake because you dump cherry pie filling in the pan. Then you dump in the pineapple. As it bakes, the butter melts into the cake mix, and it becomes a delicious cookie-like topping. People can feel free to change it according to their tastes, but the original recipe comes from my good friend Tommie, who is no longer with us. In a way, when we make this cake, it brings back memories of her, and she lives on.
Q: Is the sign in your kitchen, “Let your faith be bigger than your fears,” a way of life for you?
A: Life hasn’t always been easy, and there have been lean times, but I always have had faith.
I retired from working at the Internal Revenue Service nine years ago, and now I’m back in the community working where my children went to school at St. Therese Little Flower.
There is so much need. We help provide emergency assistance for people who are trying to stay in their homes with running water, electricity or natural gas. Sometimes, people have to choose between buying their medicines and having food. People come to the church for food, and we deliver Christmas baskets to about 250 families around the holidays.
It’s in my nature to always try to fix things, but sometimes the most important thing I do is to listen and quietly help people try to meet their most basic needs.
As Mahalia Jackson sang, these words come to mind:
If I can help somebody, as I pass along.
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song.
If I can show somebody how they’re traveling wrong.
Then my living shall not be in vain.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
How you can help
Drop off goods or funds to St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church’s food pantry or emergency assistance program at 5814 Euclid Ave. For more information, call 816-444-5406 or visit Stlfkc.org/ministries.
A Very Cherry Mother’s Day Cake
Makes 24 servings
1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling
1 (20-ounce) can of pineapple tidbits, drained
2 (18.25-ounce) boxes yellow cake mix
1 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoon segments
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Into a 10-by-15-inch baking pan or a large disposable aluminum roasting pan, pour cherry pie filling and pineapple tidbits and stir until bottom is evenly coated.
Sprinkle cake mixes over top the fruit mixture, breaking up any large lumps until evenly coated. Place pats of butter evenly over cake mix, covering the entire surface.
Place in oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until top is medium brown in color and fruit is hot and bubbling.
Take out of oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour. Scoop servings into bowl and serve with optional vanilla ice cream.
Per serving: 298 calories (38 percent from fat), 13 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 22 milligrams cholesterol, 44 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 375 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.