The Cookbook Lady

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 20, 2002

Mary Carlisle’s home is warm, cheerful place on a county road in the Valley Grande area. A typical Southern woman, she offers coffee, tea or water as soon as the back door is opened.

Looking over her shoulder, there is a bookshelf stretching from floor to ceiling crammed with books. But, not just any books &045;&045; cookbooks.

They are double-stacked, Carlisle says, gesturing to the rows of neat books. There are more books stacked over near her fireplace.

The oldest book is a Hershey’s cookbook from 1937, the year she was born. They go all the way up to the latest Southern Living annual cookbook.

Carlisle even has a cookbook with recipes from Hungary, but she is hesitant to cook from it. Many of the ingredients can’t be found in Selma.

But, she does try to cook at least one recipe from her books when she receives them.

She pulls the book off the shelf and flips through it to show the many easy recipes that go over well with bachelors and newlyweds. It is why she commonly gives it as a wedding present.

In addition to the Hershey’s cookbook, Carlisle also has a Toll House cookbook and a cookie jar that goes with it.

The jar has the Toll House cookies recipes printed on the side and she was getting ready to sell that at a yard sale when she was stopped by a potential buyer who warned her of the value of the jar.

It’s worth around $75, she says.

Carlisle received the jar and many of her cookbooks through her work as a purchasing agent for Stuart, King and McKenzie, a wholesale grocer that used to operate out of Selma.

It was a job that she truly loved, one she stayed with from 1955 until she retired.

Carlisle’s job as a purchasing agent was to ensure that the warehouses were stocked and that the stores were getting all of the items that they needed.

Companies who had new products would visit Carlisle to share them with her. She started out working for the toiletries, or aids as they used to be called. Then, she moved to the grocery side of the business.

Stuart, King and McKenzie supplied small, independent stores in the area and had stores and contacts that spread as far as Pascagoula, Miss., Carlisle said.

Carlisle has run into her share of problems in the years.

When the company was initially sold, the people who took it over did not have confidence in a female purchasing agent, despite the fact that Carlisle had been working there for more than 10 years at the time.

So, to make the company happy, she had to teach a male purchasing agent about the business. After that, they left her alone.

But despite that, Carlisle deeply loved her job.

The business slowed down as small independent grocery stores went out of business &045;&045; swallowed up by big superstores such as K-Mart and Wal Mart.

When Stuart, King and McKenzie closed, around 75 people lost their jobs.

Carlisle went home to enjoy her retirement and spend time with her family and her hobbies.

Cookbooks aren’t the only things that Carlisle collects.

She has a small grouping of teapots, but there’s not very many of those yet. She collected tins and got around 200 of them, then sold them at a yard sale.

She’s also collected stuffed animals and has a complete set of National Geographic Explorer from 1972 up to today. She found out from National Geographic that the magazines she has are worth around $2,000.

Carlisle is also known for her baking. She has a 7-Up cake she is famous for baking for birthday and used to have more than a dozen people show up for New Year’s Day parties.

But, as she’s gotten older, she has slowed down.

She now has severe osteoporosis and is facing surgery in the near future.

Carlisle is still very energetic, constantly moving around her home showing off different items she’s collected over the years.

And, she is also planning on going to Seattle, Wash., where her son lives, where she plans to enjoy life some.

And perhaps, collect some mor

e cookbooks.