Simple cooking - with a few tricks

April 16, 2006|By KRISTIN WILSON

John Sandridge's passion for cooking took root when he was a child, growing up with a family of great cooks in Charlottesville, Va.

"When I was growing up, we used to cook on an old wood stove," Sandridge remembers. "The best food in the world used to come off that stove."

Sandridge, 54, of Hagers-town, picked up many of his culinary skills by watching his mother, aunts and sisters.

But it wasn't until he married Fran Sandridge that he started to master the kitchen.

"Her thing is, 'You knew that when you married me I didn't cook.' That's what she tells me," Sandridge says with a laugh.

The couple has ironed out a deal that works for everyone - John Sandridge takes care of the food, as long as Fran does the cleaning.


Sandridge's approach to food is very simple - he doesn't measure, he goes by what tastes good, and he sees food as, above all, just something to eat.

What he cooks "anybody can do," he says. "But there are a few tricks. There are a few tricks to everything."

The Sandridges' son Juwuane, 26, says many have tried, but few have succeeded in duplicating his father's recipes.

"I try to cook the macaroni and the baked chicken. It's good, but it's not like his," Juwuane Sandridge says.

His home was a popular place when he was in high school, Juwuane Sandridge says. His friends loved sharing Sunday breakfast with the family. John Sandridge would make pancakes with fried apples, home-fried potatoes, sausage, bacon and just about any other breakfast treat, Juwuane remembers. "Everybody likes his cooking."

When Sandridge cooks for his family these days, he can still expect a crowd. John and Fran are adoptive parents to five children, and their two biological children and two grandchildren often come home for meals.

Sandridge is the freezer and warehouse supervisor for Good Humor Breyers Ice Cream in Hagerstown, but he used to be the owner of JR's Cafe on Jonathan Street. Sandridge's macaroni and cheese, collard greens, fried chicken and fish sandwiches were popular items there, he says.

Sandridge still manages to share his food with large crowds. On Monday, he whipped up enough of his macaroni and cheese to feed 180 people. Later in the week he made servings to feed 175 more people. The mass quantities were prepared for pre-Easter work parties. Once one shift heard he was cooking, they all wanted a taste, he says.

"There are employees here that used to go to his restaurant, and (the macaroni and cheese) is all that they'd order," says Terry Baeth, controller at Good Humor Breyers Ice Cream.

"It's the best macaroni and cheese I've ever eaten," adds Karen Lucas, engineering services supervisor at the ice cream facility.

Sandridge has catered several meals for his co-workers, Baeth says.

"It just shows not only what a good cook, but what a good individual he is," Baeth adds. "He's willing to go the extra mile."

John Sandridge recently discussed his cooking and his roots while preparing his well-known macaroni and cheese.

Q: Have you lived in Hagerstown your whole life?

A: Since 1985. I was born in Virginia. When I was a little kid, my mother used to have me cutting up some wood so we could have supper. We had to cut wood to get the heat. We used to cook everything - brown beans, bread, pork chops. My wife teases me now because for my supper, where I (grew up), we have pork chops, spaghetti, mashed potatoes and green beans. My wife says, 'I don't understand that. How the heck did you all eat that much food?' The first time I went to her house, they had pork chops and corn. I was looking for more. That's why she's so small, I guess, and I'm so big.

Q: So is it your mom who taught you how to cook?

A: Yes, some of it was my mom, and some of it I taught myself. Everybody in my family back home can cook. I mean everybody. I mean from scratch. They make everything from scratch, like cakes - the best. If you ever want a good coconut cake, you've got to go see my cousin Mary. She can make a coconut cake. Ham, turkey - you name it, they can fix it.

Q: When you were learning to cook, when you got married and learned to cook for your wife, did you start by looking at recipe books?

A: Never. I never looked at a recipe book in my life - I mean, to cook by, never.

Q: So, whenever you go to a party, do people ask you to bring something?

A: I don't usually take nothing, really, nope. If somebody asks me to do something for them, you know, like fix something, I will. Like I said, I fixed food at my son's house a couple of weeks ago, and they were crazy about the Swedish meatballs, along with the mac. We had Swedish meatballs, mac and fried chicken wings. The one thing they like about the fried chicken wings is that I do a lot of seasoning. A lot of seasoning. I think that's how you get your taste. Just use your own stuff. I'm big on garlic. I love garlic.

Love to cook?

Do you know someone who makes an unforgettable dish or a decadent dessert?

The Herald-Mail is looking for Tri-State-area amateur cooks who keep friends and family coming back for second helpings.

To nominate someone for The Herald-Mail's In the Kitchen feature, contact Kristin Wilson at 301-733-5131, ext. 2330, or kristinw

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