Teacher Rebecca Vernon knows how to win over her students. It’s not with a class pet or extra minutes during recess. It’s with sweets.
When Vernon wants to provide extra incentives for her class of fifth-graders, she challenges them to a guessing game. It starts with one letter, often the first letter of a word such as “brownie,” “cake” or “cookie.” Once the children successfully guess the word, they get the treats.
The Albert Harris Elementary School teacher also supplies sweet rewards when her students have good behavior or receive good test marks. The children’s favorite is “funfetti cake” with her homemade buttercream icing.
Vernon also cooks for events at First Baptist Church of Collinsville, including its Wednesday fellowship meals. She coordinates the meals and schedules the cooks. Every third week, she takes a shift in the back kitchen, making meals for the church she has attended all of her life.
Her fellow congregants coo over her cooking. At one recent meal, several people who arrived early peeked into the kitchen to see what she had in store. They repeatedly asked Vernon what smelled so good and said they couldn’t wait for dinner. Typically, Vernon makes a taco salad or casseroles with chicken or green beans.
Vernon said she enjoys baking, and it passes the time if she is bored. She has plenty of time to bake during school holidays, so she makes treats which her mother, Cindy Vernon of Bassett, with whom she lives, takes to work.
Rebecca Vernon decorates basic cakes for holidays or particular occasions. For the first day of school, she placed a piece of chocolate graham cracker with either “1 2 3” or “A B C” written in white icing onto cupcakes to look like a chalkboard. In front of the pretend chalkboards were pretend small apples and chalk pieces made of candy. Vernon uses candy molds to make different shapes out of chocolate for decorating.
Her cupcakes and cake designs have included mummies, Barbie dolls, dogs, Christmas trees, a shamrock and even a farm animal collection of cupcakes that included cows, chickens and pigs.
Someone recently asked her to make a wedding cake. Dumfounded, Vernon could not believe they would entrust her with something so special and precise, she said. The couple were confident, though, and told Vernon that no matter what, her cake would be delicious.
Vernon said she always has liked decorating cakes, so she began learning on her own, “experimenting a lot.” If Vernon is tempted to try a complicated design, she’ll find a picture of the look she’s after and reproduce it.
She knows her cake recipe by heart, and she occasionally tries new types of icing.
These baking skills go back a long way. Vernon has been cooking since she was 5 or 7 years old, she said.
In the fourth grade, Vernon won both first and second place in a 4-H competition. She won first place for biscuits and second place for peanut butter cookies.
She learned how to cook savory foods from her grandmother, the late Joyce Newman, with whom she would cook “big, family dinners,” she recalled. Vernon and her grandmother “would cook all kinds of things” together.
Vernon began with basics like macaroni and cheese but didn’t fully dedicate herself to learning until after college.
She often cooks traditional Southern foods, such as green bean casseroles and apple crumb pies, for meals she and her mother share with Vernon’s grandfather and neighbor, Otis Newman.
As a child, Vernon wanted an EasyBake Oven, but her mother insisted she learn real cooking. It wasn’t until years later, when Vernon’s mother got her the toy — as a humorous reward for her good marks and graduation from Longwood University.