October 2018
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: In Grandmother’s Kitchen

Raylen Hodges turns family recipes into cooking competition champions.


Raylen Hodges made her Aunt Rie Rie Cook’s cornbread recipe. This is one that she loves, so she enjoyed making it for the judges.

Southern cooks have long known that wonderful things happen in their kitchens. Raylen Hodges understands this well. She has grown up cooking with her grandmother, Marilyn Yarbrough. In fact, her grandmother’s kitchen is one of her favorite places to be!

Raylen Hodges may only be 10 years old, but she has already become quite an accomplished cook. Her grandmother has made sure of that! The first meal the two ever cooked together was breakfast, preparing "eggs in a basket." After that, Yarbrough helped Raylen master eggs, bacon and quesadillas. Raylen also learned to bake brownies and cookies, again using favorite family recipes.

When Raylen entered fourth grade at Glencoe Elementary School in 2017, she joined 4-H. Naturally, she chose the cooking and baking project. When school competition time came around, Raylen excitedly entered the baking contests.

"I like sweets," she said, "so I cooked my great-grandmother’s teacake cookies and my great-aunt’s cornbread recipe." Her choices paid off, because she won first place at her school.

After this, Raylen was invited to enter the Etowah County 4-H baked foods contest. She practiced often in her grandmother’s kitchen, using one of their most treasured family favorites, the cornbread recipe.

"We ate her cornbread lots when she was practicing," laughed Marilyn Yarbrough, her grandmother. "This recipe is really like a complete meal, and our whole family likes it. She enjoyed making it for the judges, because she ate this at home and really liked it. She made it so much, she knew it by heart."

At the Etowah County 4-H competition, Raylen baked three different family recipes: teacake cookies, using a recipe that belonged to Cora Hanks, her great-grandmother; a Fresh Apple Caramel Cake and a cornbread recipe, from her great-aunt, Marie "Rie Rie" Cook. She was rewarded with another first place on the county level, also.

One of the judges at this event, Jennifer DeWeese, a local chef, thought the cornbread was so delicious that viewers from the "Talk of Alabama" TV show might enjoy it. Chef DeWeese, a regular on "Talk of Alabama," invited Raylen to the show, where the youngster cooked like a pro, using Dean’s Sausage, the sponsor of the segment.

Jenny Bishop, the 4–H Agent Assistant for Etowah County, has worked with Raylen throughout her 4-H journey. Bishop praised the youngster’s success.

"Raylen’s grandmother helps her so much, and they have a special relationship," said Bishop. "She is a very special child."

The Hodges family wanted Raylen to go even farther with her cornbread cooking, so they entered her in the 22nd National 4-H Cornbread Bake-off, held each April in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee. The contest, sponsored by Lodge Cookware, Martha White and others, attracted 4-H youngsters from several states, and Raylen competed among other fourth-graders in her age division.

Raylen was inspired to cook by her grandmother Marilyn Yarbrough. Her grandmother’s kitchen is one of her favorite places to be.


Over 100 cornbread recipes were submitted, but the judges chose 10, and Raylen’s was one of those selected. The 10 were then separated into two groups, with five cooking at a time before a judge. Each contestant had to use Lodge skillets and Martha White products.

"At first, I was nervous, "Raylen explained. "There were a lot of people there. They had more centers than we had back at home. But after I started cooking, I wasn’t nervous. I knew what to do because I had done it before in my grandmother’s kitchen."

Raylen Hodges was named the National 4-H Cornbread Champion in her division. The 10-year-old, from the Etowah County 4-H Program, won the hearts and taste buds of the judges with her "Tasty Pork, Veggies and Cheese Cornbread," a treasured recipe that her family has used for generations. She brought home $500, a medal, a bag filled with Lodge products, Dollywood tickets and many other gifts. Her grandmother even won a Lodge skillet!

Raylen said she was honored to be the National 4-H Cornbread Champion, but she gave all the credit to her grandmother.

"I learned so much about cooking from her," she said. "I love to cook, but I most like how a meal brings my whole family together to eat. On Sunday after church, my grandmother cooks fresh vegetables for us. I like for all of us to be together. My grandmother has taught me so much. I just like being with her in her kitchen."

Raylen also praised her 4-H experiences, which have taken her on quite an unexpected journey of self-discovery. "I really liked the baking and cooking project," she said, "but the 4-H competitions helped me so much. I am usually shy, but not anymore. I have become more social. I got up in front of so many people at all the contests that now I like being in front of people. I’m not scared anymore."

In fact, Raylen Hodges has now begun to make YouTube videos, hoping to earn enough college money to become a middle school teacher.

With her grandmother’s patient guidance, Raylen Hodges learned to bake a treasured family recipe. She has also won national recognition for her cooking skills. Most important, however, Raylen Hodges has spent precious moments in her grandmother’s kitchen, making memories that will last a lifetime.

Raylen’s Winning Recipe:

Tasty Pork, Veggies and Cheese Cornbread

1/2 pound bulk pork sausage
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1 cup Martha White Self-Rising Corn Meal
1/4 cup Martha White Self-Rising Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup ham, chopped in small cubes
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
1 1/2 ounces creamed corn
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup cooked black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease 10-inch Lodge Cast Iron skillet. In a separate Lodge Iron skillet, brown sausage and onion over high heat, breaking up sausage. Drain and set aside. In bowl, combine 1 cup Martha White cornmeal, 1/4 cup Martha White flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In a separate bowl, beat 1 egg, 1 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Combine egg mixture with dry ingredients (batter should not be smooth). Add to cornmeal mixture and mix browned sausage with onions, 1/2 cup cubes ham, 1/4 cup chopped green peppers, 2 1/2 ounces creamed corn, 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese and 1 cup cooked black-eyed peas. Spread evenly in greased skillet. Bake 30 minutes in 425-degree oven or until top is golden. Remove from oven and sprinkle bacon on top while hot. Serves 6-8.


Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..