Photo by Jennifer Christman Cia
Category: Editor's Welcome

A savory Hash Brown Potato Casserole recipe (see Reader Recipes) resulted in the sweetest story this month.

When I had a measurement question about the handwritten casserole recipe mailed to us, I saw the author’s name — Larry A. Hensley of Mabelvale — and gave him a call at the number provided on the sheet of loose-leaf paper and left a message.

The handwritten Hash Brown Potato Casserole recipe set Editor Jennifer Christman Cia on a quest to solve the mystery. See the recipe in reader recipes.

A few minutes later, Mr. Hensley was very kind to return my call, but politely said that he never submitted such a recipe. And besides, his name isn’t Hensley — it’s Housley.

Suddenly, there was a hash brown mystery to hash out!

Consulting with our editorial assistant, Liz, we figured maybe he forgot — after all, it was sent way back in 2020 and had been sitting in our database for four years. (We get a lot of submissions, and we vary themes seasonally.) Then we determined that maybe the cursive, rather feminine writing did say Housley after all. Instead of Mr. Housley, could Mrs. Housley have been the one to send the recipe? I felt led to call back.

This time, I talked to Larry’s wife, Janice. She acknowledged that they are cooperative members (First Electric) and they get Arkansas Living, but she couldn’t remember submitting the recipe either.

Then she paused for a good while and said, “This reminds me of my mother. She just died, and her funeral was last week. Do you have time for a story?”

Janice told me that her mother, Norma Varner of Vilonia, had an incredible sense of humor. Her obituary said, “Norma is perhaps most known for her sharp wit and readiness to share a new joke at the delight of others.”

At Norma’s funeral, Janice said her nephew recalled the time Norma, a great cook in her own right, playfully entered a Paula Deen corn casserole recipe in a local cooking contest. She not only won, she gleefully displayed the certificate in her house.

Joke … casserole … someone else’s recipe. It was all sounding uncannily familiar.

“Do you have it with you? Can you send me a picture of it?” Janice asked about the submission. Indeed, I did, and I immediately texted her a photo of the recipe labeled “good good,” as well as the envelope it came in.

“That is my mother’s handwriting!” Janice exclaimed with a combination of surprise, amusement and emotion.

The late Norma Varner of Vilonia was known for being a good cook — and an even better jokester. Photo courtesy of Janice Housley.

While not a co-op member, Norma read copies of Arkansas Living that Janice gave her, and she had submitted the Hash Brown Potato Casserole recipe with her beloved son-in-law’s name for a laugh. That this prank played out a week after her funeral was interpreted by Janice and her family as a reassuring “Godwink.” As it said in Norma’s obituary, “Her sense of humor equaled her love of others,” and here she was, still showing her love in her own signature way and in God’s good timing.

While we now know who submitted the recipe, we still don’t know whose it is. It’s not really Norma’s (Janice: “She never made that!”). And we double-checked, it’s not Paula Deen’s either.

All I know for sure after making the delicious dish (one that I’m going to make a new Easter tradition!) is that, like Norma said, it’s “good good” — just like her joke.

Happy Easter!

Jennifer Christman Cia