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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
208 pages
Mar 2006
Regal Books

The Cafeteria Lady Eats Her Way Across America

by Martha Bolton

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt



Volunteering for a Taste Test
in the Volunteer State


The first state on the Cafeteria Lady’s Tour was Tennessee. This year 35 million people will visit Tennessee, nicknamed the Volunteer State, and it’s easy to see why. Tennessee is one of the prettiest states in America. From the Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee to the gentle rolling hills and plentiful trees of Nashville in middle Tennessee to Elvis’s Graceland in west Tennessee, America’s sixteenth state has plenty to be proud of.

Haylee Turner wrote the letter that was selected from Tennessee, and she nominated Jefferson Middle School in Oak Ridge to be considered for the title of “Best School Cafeteria Food in America.” When I first arrived at Jefferson Middle School, I was welcomed by Haylee and about a dozen or so of her friends, as well as Haylee’s mom, Kay, and her two sisters, Elise and Emily.

Our first stop was the principal’s office. (No, I didn’t get into trouble this early in the tour! I simply needed a pass to be allowed on campus.) Mr. Bruce Lay, the principal at Jefferson, said that he was very proud that their school had been chosen to represent the state of Tennessee in the Cafeteria Lady’s search for the Best School Cafeteria Food in America.

Jefferson Middle School is a fine school with 736 students from the fifth through the eighth grades, and it ranks in the top 10 percent in the nation for academic excellence. As soon as I walked into the school’s cafeteria that day, I noticed something else they do well—cook! There wasn’t a single puff of smoke in sight. I don’t get to enjoy that scene in my own kitchen very often, so it’s easy to understand my enthusiasm.

Jefferson is a public school with four different lunch periods, keeping cafeteria director Barbara Hagan hopping! She was busy overseeing all the food preparations and making sure that the students had the very best service and food possible.

At Jefferson Middle School, students can make their selections from a lot of different food choices. Their taco pizza looked good, much better than the tuna pizza I make at home, so I was tempted to try that. In fact, all the dishes looked good. Haylee suggested I try the chips and cheese, though, so I followed her recommendation. I also sampled their French fries (one of Haylee’s favorites), rolls (also highly recommended) and the apple crisp. They were all quite good.

Betsy Jernigan, the school nursing coordinator, stopped by to meet me. (I think she was making sure that I didn’t give any of my personal recipes to the cafeteria director.) Carolyn Montgomery, the assistant principal, also visited our table (perhaps for the same reason).

After lunch and a nice time chatting with Haylee and her friends, the bell rang and everyone had to go back to class. The principal allowed Haylee and her family to give me a quick tour of the school, and along the way we stopped in briefly at the music room to listen to their award-winning orchestra (Haylee plays the violin in the orchestra).

It was a fun day. Haylee and her friends have a lot to be proud of—a terrific school, great cafeteria food and a very friendly staff.

* * *

Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is a fun place, too. Best known for its Museum of Science and Energy, there are also rowing competitions and practices that take place on the nearby Clinch River. There’s a mall, bowling lanes, a theater and plenty more to do and see.

In fact, there are lots of fun things to do all over the state of Tennessee. Not far from Oak Ridge is Pigeon Forge. Pigeon Forge is a resort community at the foot of the Smoky Mountains in the easternmost part of the state. There are plenty of live theaters there, as well as indoor skydiving facilities, miniature golf courses, a huge Nascar racing track, DollyWood Entertainment Park, water parks, and lots and lots of outlet shopping. A few minutes away from Pigeon Forge is Gatlinburg, where you’ll find an aquarium, a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, ski lifts and much more.

Middle Tennessee has Nashville, the state capital that is also known as Music City, U.S.A. The Grand Ole Opry is in Nashville, as is the Opryland Hotel, the world’s largest hotel and convention center combined. The Nashville area is the home of Andrew Jackson, our seventh president. Andrew Jackson’s house is called The Hermitage and is now a museum that offers daily tours. (I think it‘s pretty neat how people back then gave their houses names, so I’ve decided to name mine Old Smokey.) Former President James K. Polk’s home is also in middle Tennessee and is open for tours, too.

South of Nashville, in a town called Franklin, is the Carter House, the site of the second-bloodiest battle of the Civil War. (The first, of course, was Gettysburg.) Tours and a history of the battle are presented at the Carter House, as well as at the nearby Carnton Plantation, which was used as a hospital after the battle.

Located in the western part of the state is Memphis, home of Graceland (Elvis’s house) and world-famous barbeque. For a little geography lesson, if you continue going west out of Memphis, you’ll cross the Mississippi River and enter Arkansas. It’s suggested that you use the bridge to do this; otherwise, you’re liable to get pretty wet.

Tennessee also has Chattanooga, home of the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo. It’s part of a hotel now, and you can actually rent out the boxcars to sleep in. There are plenty of caverns, waterfalls, lakes and rivers in Tennessee, and the Natchez Trace is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever see. There is quite a history to this trail. Indians used it, as did post riders and others.

Having recently moved to the Tennessee area, I guess I’m a little biased about this beautiful state. The people are friendly, there’s so much to do and see, and you won’t find better music (all kinds of music) anywhere else in the world. Even their state song, “Rocky Top,” will have you stomping your feet and clapping your hands to the beat. I have to admit, though, when I first heard someone singing “Rocky Top,” I thought she was referring to my muffins!

As enjoyable as Tennessee is, however, it was time to move on. There were more cafeterias to visit, and I was just getting started. This is a big country, and I had a lot more eating to do. Yes, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it.


* * *

Whenever I prepare for a journey I prepare as though for death. Should I never return, all is in order.
—Katherine Mansfield

I think you should visit my school cafeteria because the food is very good and they provide many choices for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. . . . Plus the fact that this food does not bounce, taste rubbery or have any surprises in it.
—Student in Connecticut

I’ll keep you in my prayers. I’ll especially pray for your health!
—Student in Maine

I’m banned from using the microwave in my home economics class because I accidentally put a metal bowl in the microwave. Who knew if you don’t turn the microwave off as soon as you see sparks that the icing in the bowl can light on fire? I mean it’s not like it’s common knowledge or anything!