Cookin’ in the South with Linda Ogden Epling

The Charlton Couth Herald on October 21st, 2009

Memories of growing up in Folkston, and the people she met there are forever interwoven into the rich tapestry of Linda Carson Ogden Eplings life. Just beginning the 6th grade when she moved to a little south Georgia town just over the state line from her native Florida, Linda never dreamed all the places life would take her as she left it to begin her senior year of high school

Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Carson, came to Charlton County as proprietors of Azalea Motel, an establishment boasting small cabins for the busy tourist trade traveling U. S. 301 at that time. Linda lived with her parents and two brothers, Lonnie, who was a year older, and Danny, who was a couple of years younger, at their motel. It was located on 301 North on the east side of the highway just before reaching the community of Mattox where the Staton family ran another profitable business.

The big kitchen at the Azalea Motel was a fascinating place and Linda loved preparing foods from the time she could reach the stovetop. That love was enhanced as she took home economics at Charlton County High School. Also a cheerleader, this popular teen was excited about beginning her last year of school with the Class of 1965 when her parents decided to move back to south Florida. She was devastated, but she made it through and graduated from Southwest Miami High School the following year.

Linda never even thought about a career in catering, but with her God-given talent for cuisine, her life naturally flowed in that direction. From lovingly prepared meals for family and friends to always being ready to deliver comforting casseroles to those who were sick and eventually hosting small weddings and baby showers, the requests for her creative and delectable dishes led to a highly successful catering business.

In the early 80's, Linda Ogden Catering was on its way as she began preparing meals from her kitchen in Homestead, Florida and delivering her masterpieces using the family station wagon. During this time, her 25 year marriage ended and she raised four children and put them through college as a single mom.

In 1993, Linda married again and for a time her catering business was placed on the back burner as she devoted her energies to her husband and family. They enjoyed traveling widely and entertaining frequently as they socialized with the politically powerful elite in Florida. Over the last 27 years, Linda has catered many events and is well known in the south Florida area where she has pleased the palate at weddings, showers, corporate and political events, including the South Florida Orange Bowl. 

Linda's faith in God never wavered as her world shattered and, once again, she found herself single after 12 wonderful years of marriage. As she picked up the pieces of her life following the divorce, Linda began to think about the many requests through the years for her to compile a cookbook. The result is a beautifully illustrated book, simple and thoroughly detailed so that anyone, from the novice to experienced cook, will be equally satisfied.

Linda's desire is for everyone to feel as if she were right there with them in their own kitchen as she shares memories from her lifetime and recipes she has devised throughout the years with step-by-step instructions and a photograph of each dish.

Despite numerous tragedies and losses, the power of Gods love has been a constant in Linda's life. I don't know how people make it without Him, she related to me. I live my whole life devoted to Him. Writing the cookbook has been a rich and rewarding experience as well as her therapy. I have met some of the most wonderful people, said Linda.

Old friends have been such a blessing to her life as well. Through the years I've kept in contact and talk often with many of my friends in Folkston, said Linda. She spoke at Linda Chancey's funeral, an old classmate and very dear friend. Recently, she had Sunday lunch in Folkston with Randy and Donna Nance, Pardner and Bonnie Davis, Cheryl and L. E. Stokes, and Teresa and Scott Bradley and other good friends are Heidi Higginbotham, Katie Nelms, Glenda Gowen and Marion Allen. 

Linda recalled cheerleading with Goldie Geiger, Nancy Lee, and Kay Stokes and remembered Lurlene Gowen, feature twirler, and April Birdsong, drum majorette. Another friend with whom she lost contact but remembers well was Nell Eason O'Brian.

Publicity for Linda's new cookbook began in earnest this week as she held a private tasting for reporters and editors at her residence yesterday, and today (Wed. Oct. 21) Linda is excited about her television appearance, doing a five minute cooking segment on NBC Today South Florida. Two book launching events will be held at Coral Reef Yacht Club in Coconut Grove, Florida and Capri Restaurant in Homestead, Florida. Invitations to 200 have been sent for a book signing at Baker-Klein Engineering Firm in Jacksonville, Florida and another will be held at the Plantation House in Ponte Vedra Beach.  

Linda will be at the Charlton Public Library on Tuesday, October 27 for a book signing and is looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones in her hometown of Folkston. Two additional Georgia events will take place, one in Kingsland at Ballast Pointe Trading Company, and the other in Marietta. Check out Linda's website at www.loepublishing.com.

I use all fresh vegetables and fruits, bake my own breads, and grow my own herbs. It may seem a novelty in Miami and other places, but back home in Georgia everybody's a good cook, laughed Linda. Another constant reminder of her local connection is the brick in her kitchen. They all came from Folkston. Mr. Gantt was tearing down an old house and Linda Chancey brought me the bricks, 5,000 of them. So a piece of Folkston is in every photograph in the cookbook that was taken against the bricks of her kitchen

This week we offer a sampling from the new cookbook. Enjoy Linda’s Blueberry Stuffed French Toast with Blueberry Sauce, one of the many delicious recipes you’ll find in The Cooking Queen Opens Her Kitchen.

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