ALBANY, Ga. -- Culinary creations tend to come naturally to Elaine Ranew Barrett, a fact that served as a motivator for her to use this talent to help out future generations keep the concept of family mealtime alive.
Barrett, co-owner of the Flower Gazebo on North Washington Street, published her first cookbook late last year -- which has so far earned her at least a little fame.
"Sales are going great," she said. "We've had mail-outs (to) Texas, north Georgia, Florida and all over Southwest Georgia.
"The response has been good."
Barrett's interest in cooking was something that started early on. "I've always loved to cook," she said. "I grew up helping my mother in the kitchen.
"(As a child) if I wanted a snack, I went into the kitchen and made it."
This eventually led her to regularly cooking for her family, and to take her skills to the First Baptist Church in Albany and serve as the food service director there for more than 12 years.
"They (the church officials) approached me and I thought I'd give it a try," Barrett recalled. "It was a challenge that I enjoyed."
There, she worked on group meals and Wednesday evening services.
"The (church) members would always asked me how to make stuff," Barrett said of her time at First Baptist. "For years, people have been asking me for recipes."
Three years ago, she moved on to work in the food services department for Albany's First Presbyterian Church. Eventually the church members there became interested in how to make her dishes. Her children also began asking for recipes, which in turn influenced her to get a published product together.
This was an effort that took roughly two years of organizing, compiling and transforming what were once just scraps of paper in the Barrett kitchen into a format that was friendly to those who might be less experienced with their pots and pans.
"The hardest part was getting it into recipe form," Barrett said.
The cookbook was released Nov. 7.
Aside from the nudging that she was getting from those around her, Barrett had other reasons for completing the project.
"People don't cook anymore," she said. "I feel if it was simply done, maybe people would come back to the table.
"I think it (coming to the dinnertable) causes family to be closer."
The cookbook includes table setting instructions, in part to help promote family mealtime. "It's nice to know (table instructions)," Barrett said. "You never know where you might end up."
In a world in which people have become accustomed to drive-thrus and take-out menus, the cookbook is also meant to encourage creativity while preparing meals, Barrett said.
In fact, Barrett also added that there are more produce items available today that could better help aspiring chefs tap their imaginations.
"There is a lot more available to use," Barrett said. "You just can't (be creative) with a drive-thru.
"I like the creating part (of cooking). I take what I have in the kitchen and freezer and cook for the ones I love. It's fun and I enjoy it."
As far as the organization of the cookbook is concerned, there are sections for country cooking, pastas, side dishes, desserts, appetizers and breakfast items. There are also sections for tea parties, cooking lingo and kitchen "must-haves."
The country cooking items were among those Barrett especially wanted to preserve.
"It's kind of a lost art," she said. "If we don't keep it going we will forget what Grandma used to do."
While compiling the publication, Barrett made sure photos were included and to also have the ingredients listed in the order they are expected to go in the dish.
Barrett has already had several tastings and book signings, and is expecting more of those events to come soon. To date, roughly 500 copies of her cookbook have been sold.
Barrett has also started work on a second cookbook, which she plans to use to help promote family traditions. "It will be a continuation of the first (cookbook)," she said.
The cost for one of Barrett's cookbooks is $30. Copies are available at the Flower Gazebo, Place on the Pointe Gift Shop, DJ's Carwash, Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio and at Gatewood's Flower Shop on Lamar Street in Americus.