Carol Wills’ food ranges from the exotic Panamanian pigs feet to the down-home peach cobbler.
Those signature dishes are found all over the area at church and community dinners.
That was the case at Carver Ruritan Club’s soul food cook-off Saturday. Wills brought those foods and others, including her mother-in-law’s candied yams.
She came across the pigs feet recipe years ago.
“I went to a family reunion and a cousin had married a girl from Panama,” she said. After the regular food had been served, the Panamanian woman brought out her plate of pigs feet. It was a big hit.
“She wouldn’t give us her recipe,” Wills said, “so my cousin and I tasted it and tasted it” until they figured they could replicate the recipe. Now Wills’ version of Panamanian pigs feet is a staple around here.
“I do these for churches’” special occasions, the Carver resident said. “It’s a different twist” on a Southern classic.
However, just like the Panamanian cousin-in-law,
considers the pigs feet recipe secret and won’t part with it. She is, however, willing to share other recipes.
Her candied yam recipe came from a lot closer to home.
“It’s my husband’s favorite food,” she said. When Andrew Wills was still living with his parents, who were from Bedford, “his mom made him eat everything else, then she’d put out the yams” because otherwise he wouldn’t eat the rest of his dinner.
The peach cobbler also is a favorite. The recipe comes from a cook book her husband’s grandmother gave her when the couple married. She uses her grandmother’s rolling pin to roll out the dough.
Wills’ cobblers have a few unique touches. She adds a bit of vinegar to the crust dough. She puts lemon juice or extract into fruit fillings to give them “extra tang.”
Wills learned cooking from her great-grandmother, the late Mary Lou Hampton, and mother, Elaine Dillard.
“Every time I’m in the kitchen cooking I think about my mom and great-grandmother,” she said. “I have pictures of them on my wall” and she looks at often. “Usually when I’m in there I feel very close to them.”
Good cooking continued after she entered the Wills family. “I married into a family who loved to cook. Everything (is) from scratch,” she said.
She and other members of her family made a family cookbook, “The Dillard Girls,” in 1987. All 500 copies sold out immediately, she said. Now the family is thinking about “redoing it so we could add some of the younger ones.”
Wills’ father is the late Rev. Jacob Dillard. She said he pastored several churches in the area, so many people remember him.
Wills is a retired guidance counselor. She was the director of guidance at Carver High School. Then she worked at Magna Vista High School from when it opened in 1988 until her retirement in 1999.
She was honored by the regional sorority in Norfolk as a 50-year member in the spring. “I was so excited I couldn’t stand myself,” she laughed.