Cooking is not new to Gatha Dalton of Martinsville or her family.
Dalton, 57, is a stylist at A Cut Above on Brookdale Street. She often brings in food for a co-worker or sometimes a client.
She started cooking when she was around 10 or 12 years old, taught by her parents, Frank Redd and Marlene Redd of Bassett.
The family raised chickens, and when there would be chicken for dinner, preparations would start well before. Her father would wring the neck of the intended entree. Then he boiled the bird to make it easier for him to get off the feathers.
It was Dalton’s job to cut up the chickens, and her father would wake her up at 4 a.m. to do it. She recalled that they would be slimy because of that boiling.
Dalton learned most of her other cooking skills from her mom. “She taught me how to make corn bread, desserts, pickles and other basic foods,” she said.
A typical Sunday dinner was fried chicken, rice and homemade biscuits. “If it was Jell-o or just instant pudding, we always had dessert,” she added.
Her mother worked third shift, so Dalton would take turns with her five younger siblings to get dinner ready. “They would tease me and say I acted more like the baby than the oldest,” she said.
Dalton still has a love for spicy food that she developed as a teenager cooking for her family.“I used to cook with a whole lot of spices,” she said. She doesn’t cook as much spicy food as she used to.
She recalled that her siblings and parents always would say, “Gatha is cooking — We’re having goulash!”
She often bakes coconut and pecan pies and gives them away, which is something she saw her mom do when she was growing up.
Their mother gave Dalton and her siblings chores which usually involved cooking and cleaning. Dalton preferred cooking and her sister, Daphiene Martin, of Maryland, preferred cleaning.
“She cooks for her family now,” Dalton said of her sister.
The Redd children learned to can food. “Canning was a chore during the summer,” she said. “We had a garden every year.”
As a young adult, she continued with home food preservation.
“I used to can and freeze a lot of foods,” she said. She made applesauce for her son, Torin Dalton, and daughter, Genor Dalton, both of Martinsville, when they were younger, and homemade apple butter and pear preserves. Dalton would get apples from the orchard or people would give her apples. “I used to plant a small garden in the backyard,” she said.
Dalton also learned much about cooking from her mother-in-law, Mozelle Dalton of Martinsville.
“She taught me how to cook some things,” she said. Before her mother-in-law’s help, “I couldn’t cook a roast. It was always dry,” laughed Dalton.
After learning her mother-in-law’s secret for pot roast, she does not dry them out anymore. “She (Mozelle) would cook her roast in a cast iron pan and let it brown on both sides,” she said. Her mother-in-law would add water and spices and let the roast cook until it was tender.
Now, “I cook most of my food in a cast iron pan — pork chop, fried chicken,” Dalton said. “It has even heat.”
She also likes to make assembled foods. “I love to make casseroles, pot pies, spaghetti — something you have to mix all together,” she said.
The saying goes that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. For the Daltons, maybe it’s also the way to a woman’s heart, too. When the couple were dating, James “Fats” Dalton used to cook for her frequently.
“My husband learned to cook from his mother. All of my brother-in-laws can cook too,” she said. In fact, he continued cooking even after they married.
She and her husband used to have frequent cookouts and dinners and invited people over to eat often. Her daughter “always wanted to have a party,” when she was growing up, so the Daltons often had cookouts for her. Dalton said she still entertains and enjoys having people over for dinner.
When Genor was in college at Norfolk State, she took her parents’ cooking habits with her. “She used to call back and ask me and her dad how to cook something,” Dalton said.
Whenever she and her husband would go to Norfolk to visit their daughter, they took food. “Genor’s roommates would always tell me how good the food was,” Dalton said.
One of her favorite things to do is make cookies when it snows. “Genor used to help make cookies” as a child. Dalton said cookies are fun to make and eat when you are stuck at home.
Her son, Torin, cooks breakfast food, said Dalton. Mostly, “he will buy and tell me to cook it.”