Marietta Dunkirk

Marietta Dunkirk whips up potatoes in the standalone kitchen on her farm. She and her husband, Gary, manage to cater dozens of events each year while farming full time in Christian County, Ill.

MORRISONVILLE, Ill. — Fancy cuisine has its place. But some occasions call for good, old-fashioned, stick-to-your ribs, home-cooked vittles.

Enter Country Girl Catering.

Marietta Dunkirk — the Country Girl — has cooked all her life for one reason or another. Nowadays it’s often for others, who get a taste of home cooking for their special occasion.

“I cook the way I was taught — homestyle,” Dunkirk said. “On the farm you have to have substantial servings and plenty for everybody.”

She lives on a farm in Christian County, Illinois, with her husband of 42 years, Gary, who produces corn, soybeans and pork. They have long been active members of a regional pork producers association and helped with barbecue cookouts for events hosted by the group. They purchased a large cooker to make pork burgers, kebabs and sides.

“I always liked to cook,” Dunkirk said. “We started taking over more of the work as other members got older.”

That led to the Dunkirks’ decision to go into a catering business. Health regulations don’t allow for commercial catering to be done in a residential kitchen, so the only option was to build a separate building next to their home.

There was some trepidation at first. But in 2015 they swallowed hard and did it.

“I didn’t like the investment at our age,” Gary said. “… It turned out better than I thought it would. I had a lot of concerns about getting the equipment installed because I didn’t know much about it, but everything worked out pretty well.”

Cooking for big groups wasn’t new to Marietta, even before she got involved with the pork group.

“Both my mom and dad came from large families — both had seven brothers and sisters,” she said. “And fortunately, both my families loved to cook.”

With help from her husband and occasionally other family members, she caters about 45 events each year. They range in size from a monthly church group consisting of about a dozen people to a cooperative’s annual banquet, where she serves 600 meals.

The catering business sometimes interferes with farm work. The couple was tested one day last year.

“Last fall we just started harvesting and had two weddings on the same day,” Gary said. “We did them both. We got plenty of friends and family to help us. We said after that we’re never going to do two in one day.”

The menu is exhaustive, consisting of numerous breakfast, lunch and dinner choices. One of the more popular entrees is rolled chicken. A popular dessert is Milky Way Cake, an insanely rich selection that contains 12 candy bars — eight in the cake and four in the icing.

“Full size, not the little ones,” Marietta pointed out.

When the couple is not catering events, they are handling a wean-to-finish pork operation, with capacity of about 9,700 pigs in four buildings.

The catering business fills up the rest of their time. Marietta relishes her husband’s help.

“It keeps us busier than we ever dreamed,” she said. “It’s been really good for us because he’s my biggest help. He helps with most of my cooking. He always goes with me when we serve.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.