On a saturday in June 1963, Arleen Duggins packed prized silver in the trunk of her blue Cadillac. Chafing dishes, silverware, and a punch bowl. She eased out of her driveway, drove down Main Street in Mayodan, and pulled up to the Presbyterian church in nearby Madison. She toted her wares inside and set out the following: cheese straws, mints, nuts, punch, and a wedding cake. Duggins charged the newlyweds $150.
In 1963, that’s all it took to celebrate the start of a new life. But spend nearly a half-century doing anything, and it gets more complicated. Spend a half-century as a caterer, and you’ll find yourself with two ovens, four freezers, three refrigerators, and “more cabinets than anybody in Mayodan,” Duggins says.
To make room, she knocked out a wall in her kitchen and installed two large islands in the center. To keep up, she hired a full-time employee and recruited neighbors, church members, and her husband to help. To transport it all, she bought a new car: a spacious Dodge Caravan, dark blue.
Catering became a production, Duggins says, when weddings became an industry. Brides wanted the works: seafood, carved beef, pasta, hors d’oeuvres, and towering cakes. Cakes that, by themselves, take three days — one for baking, another for layering, and a third for icing.
Duggins catered her last wedding two years ago at age 87. Since then, she’s worked with her daughter, Elaine, to publish Arleen’s Catering Recipes and Family Favorites.
The two studied recipe cards Duggins keeps in her kitchen, but they found only the names of ingredients. No measurements, no directions. For Duggins’s cheese straws, the card read: Kraft Cheddar cheese, flour, margarine, and cayenne pepper. But nothing told you that the cheese should sit out overnight or that you only need half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
So Duggins cooked; measured; and, this time, wrote down everything that goes into the recipes she knows by heart, such as her vegetable squares and apple pie. She also styled some of the dishes and took pictures of them for the cookbook. After all, catering is tied to appearance.
Maybe that’s why you find Duggins’s cookbook for sale in beauty shops near Mayodan and one florist in town. And maybe that’s why couples, who remember feasting on Duggins’s beautiful spreads at their weddings, call and want to buy a copy.
Or maybe it’s simply about the tastes. No matter why people want her cookbook, Duggins knows how to meet demand. She packs 25 copies in the trunk of her car and takes them with her wherever she goes.
Purchase a copy of this cookbook by calling Arlene Duggins at (336) 548-9561.
Jeffrey Turner is the assistant editor of Our State magazine.