Helen Bayless is set to celebrate her 100th birthday on Sept. 23, and she’s still cooking up a storm.
Bayless, who lives in an assisted living center, recently taught the center’s director of nursing how to make a devil’s food cake.
She keeps busy visiting with her daughter, Claudette, and son-in-law, Ron Akins, of Lee’s Summit, and their three children. Claudette is inspired by her mother, both inside and outside the kitchen.
“What can I say about my mother? She is amazing,” she says. “Mother is often mistaken for someone in her 70s, not someone who is going to turn 100.”
Special cooking interest: Sweet treats
Can you share what your 100th birthday wish will be in September? I thank God every morning I’m able to get up and greet a new day with a sound mind. My wish is for the well-being of my family, but I would like to make my own cake for my 100th birthday party with family at the end of August. It will be a devil’s food cake with caramel icing that I have been making since I was a little girl.
My mother died when I was 11 years old, and I took over cooking for my father and six brothers and sisters. Baking pies and cakes is my specialty.
Please tell me that the secret to your long and fulfilling life is indulging in sweets … All things in moderation. I was diagnosed a diabetic in my 90s, so I have to be careful with how many sweets I eat, but I still enjoy dessert.
When I was 96, I broke my hip and while in rehabilitation, the two young male occupational therapists asked me to make a pie for them. They couldn’t wait to eat the pie, sneaking bites of the homemade crust before I served it.
I have been making pies as long as I remember, starting with mud pies when I was 6 years old after my dad bought me some tin pans at an auction.
How did you learn to cook and bake? I taught myself to cook after my mother died by experimenting with limited ingredients, since my family was so poor. It is sometimes hard for me to put a recipe in writing, since actual measuring wasn’t really my style. A good cook just knows when things look and feel right.
Some of my greatest joy still comes from being able to make food for others. I recently helped make pies for a fundraiser for my assisted living center and my pumpkin pie brought $20 alone!
I do miss cooking for Claude, whom I was married to for 531/2 years, until his death in 2001 at age 93. And I talk to my only remaining sister, Betty Foster in Lee’s Summit, every day. She was the baby at 17 months old when our mother died.
What are some of the greatest lessons you want to pass along? Some might think it was a real tragedy when my mother died when I was so young — and it was — but I think that made me a better person. I learned to appreciate and enjoy all that I have and to know that true wealth isn’t something you can earn.
I am so blessed to live this life and would rather spend time with younger people. When I was 98, I went on a road trip to Atlanta with Claudette and Ron to attend my granddaughter Ashley’s white-coat ceremony for medical school. While I was there, I prepared a fried chicken dinner with all the fixings, and even taught a Canadian how to make American fried chicken.
I always share my recipes with family members. And while everything they make is good, everyone always says that mine is just better for some reason. They will tease me that I’m not sharing the entire recipe, but I always tell them my secret ingredient is love.
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.
Helen Bayless’ Chocolate Cream Pie
Makes 8 servings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/4 cup ice cold water
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 egg yolks, whites reserved for meringue
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together flour and salt. Cut in shortening until pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon water over the mixture and gently incorporate using a fork. Keep adding water a tablespoon at a time until the dough is moist (not sticky) and forms a ball.
On a piece of lightly floured waxed paper, roll the dough, using a floured rolling pin until it is a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Wrap pastry around the rolling pin and unroll it onto a glass 9-inch pie pan. Without handling dough too much, ease pastry into pan. Trim crust to 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pan and fold under extra pastry. Make a fluted edge and prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Allow crust to cool while making filling.
For the filling: Into a 2-quart saucepan, whisk sugar, flour, cocoa and salt together; set aside. In small mixing bowl, whisk half and half, whipping cream, egg yolks and vanilla together. Pour liquid into dry ingredients in saucepan and whisk until smooth. Over medium heat on stovetop, bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook — stirring constantly — for another minute, or until mixture becomes thick. Remove from heat.
Using an electric hand mixer, whip thickened chocolate filling until lighter in texture. Pour filling into pre-baked pie crust and allow to cool.
For the meringue: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large, clean mixing bowl, add egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Beat at highest speed with an electric mixer until whites are stiff and stand in peaks. Slowly incorporate sugar and vanilla by whipping into egg white mixture.
Spread egg white mixture over chocolate-filled crust, and seal to the edges. Meringue should form large peaks. Bake for 10 minutes, or until tips of peaks become golden brown. Allow pie to cool completely before cutting into 8 pieces.
Per serving: 489 calories (57 percent from fat), 31 grams total fat (16 grams saturated), 137 milligrams cholesterol, 47 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 287 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.