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Cookin' at Camp Conger

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:49 PM

WAKEMAN — Years after learning to cook from her grandmother, Anita Bolden has now put her talents to work in the kitchen for local 4-H members as she joined the Camp Conger team this summer.

“I was thrilled,” she said, adding that her paycheck for the two camps was a bonus. “I didn’t even know you got paid for it.”

Cooking for groups isn’t exactly new to Bolden. Before she had children and stayed home to raise them, she worked in the kitchens for the Elyria Memorial Home. For the past seven years, she has worked as a cashier for Western Reserve schools and helps out in the kitchens when needed.  

The major difference in cooking for a family and cooking for large groups, Bolden said, is the mathematics involved. “Learning how many servings you can get without having a lot extra or being short” takes both preparation and experience, she said. “I’ve learned a lot working in the kitchens at school.”

With several new cooks at Camp Conger, Bolden added, the junior camp held the week after the intermediate camp was a little easier. “Everybody had learned to work together as a team by then,” she said.

After spending the last three years fighting breast cancer, Bolden said, some people warned her that the extra work of two 4-H camps might be too stressful.  But she said the experience was wonderful. “I loved it,” she said. “I would be upset if they didn’t call me back again next year.”

Bolden’s featured recipe, taco pie, is one of the favorites of many campers. The meal with taco pie has the most visitors for each camp, she said. Since the cooks at camp prepare the dish for over a hundred people, she downsized the recipe for the Reflector.

Serving as camp cook isn’t Bolden’s only contribution to 4-H. All of her children were involved in 4-H growing up and she’s been the advisor for the Wakeman Blue Ribbon club for 11 years.  

Bolden said she learned the basics of cooking from her grandmother, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. “We were always in the kitchen,” Bolden said.  “She taught me the old-fashioned things — warm applesauce, biscuits and gravy.”

When she married Richard Bolden, the new camp cook said, the couple decided they wanted a rural setting for their family. Bolden grew up in Elyria, where her father is still a minister. The young couple moved to Wakeman, she added, because her husband had grown up on a farm and they liked the small-town atmosphere of Wakeman.

“Neighbors treat you like family,” Bolden said. “I’ve loved it ever since we moved here.”

They have raised three children in Wakeman — Lynnitta Moser, 29; Jeannette McCarley, 26; and son Richard Bolden, 18, and a recent graduate of Western Reserve.

Bolden can’t point to any big disasters in her kitchen, but she does recall a problem with storing her goodies. While awaiting the birth of their first child, Bolden baked a Father’s Day cake for her husband. She wanted to surprise him with the cake, so she stored it on the top shelf of a closet in their small, rented home.

When she took the cake down for the surprise, she was the one a little shocked. She had successfully hidden the cake from her husband, but not from the dozens of ants that were busy enjoying her cooking efforts.

The veteran cook advises young cooks to “pay attention to your elders.”  She said she had learned many important lessons, including possible substitutions to recipes, from older, more experienced cooks.  

Right now one of the biggest challenges Bolden faces every day is cooking in an older kitchen. “I live in a very, very old farmhouse and I have limited cupboard space,” she said. Her husband, who recently retired from the Ford plant, is busy with plans to improve the space. “He’s been non-stop helping around the house,” she said. “He tells me he needs to go back to work to get some vacation.”

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