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Teresa Thomas Babb
Extraordinary Cook
Hartford MI

Herald Palladium Correspondent
April 24, 2013

Homestyle cooking

Teresa Babb’s mother taught her everything she needed to know to make delicious eats

     Growing up in Hartford, Teresa Babb never ate TV dinners or went to fast food places – or any restaurants at all.

"My mom always said she would rather make her cornbread and beans," says Babb, who still lives in Hartford where she and her husband have a blueberry farm.

"My mom made me learn to cook because she said everyone needs to know how to cook. "  Home cooking was so essential to the family’s everyday living that when she was 11, Babb made her first complete meal for the family. With her mom’s assistance she made fried chicken and mashed potatoes, all from scratch. Her mother madethe gravy.

"Back then, it was the women who did the cooking," Babb recalls. "I didn’t have any sisters, just brothers, so when it came to making meals, I was always in the kitchen helping her. That’s how it was in the 1960s."

Babb’s parents, Dan and Jestine Thomas, were from the South – her mother came from Missouri and her dad from Arkansas – so there’s a southern component to the cookery that Babb grew up with. Babb remembers eating chocolate gravy – a truly down South kind of dish served over biscuits or toast – every morning for breakfast and when she makes her mom’s recipe for brown gravy, she does so using an iron skillet, heating it up and sprinkling sugar on the bottom. The heat makes the sugar brown and as it’s cooking she slowly pours water on it so it starts to bubble.

Nothing was measured in her mom’s kitchen, it was a handful of this and a touch of that. Jestine Thomas is also a purist when it comes to what goes into her cooking pots.

"My mom doesn’t believe in using packets and jars of things," Babb says. "She doesn’t like using anything with preservatives or additives. It’s all momma’s cooking."

There were also large family get-togethers to prepare for. Both of Babb’s parents had eight siblings, so even close family events can include 70 to 75 people. And during these times together, the family samples each other’s dishes and swaps recipes.

Babb still loves cooking. She and friends share recipes (some of her favorites include recipes Sandy Simpson’s Sausage Breakfast Pizza and Brenda Musick’s Blueberry Buckle). But even though she’s cooked for her own family for years, Babb still relies upon her mom to carry on one family tradition she hasn’t perfected – her mother’s gravy. "Even now when I’m doing the roast on the holidays," she says, "I wait for my mom to come over to make the gravy."

Cherry Cheese Pie

Joe Rondone / HP staff

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (9-inch) graham cracker crust

1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling, chilled

In either a stand mixer fixed with a paddle attachment or using a hand held electric mixer, cream the cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly add the milk mixing on low speed until well combined. Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla and pour into the crust. Place the pie into the refrigerator for at least 2 hours up to overnight, until well chilled and set.

Top the pie with the pie filling just before serving.

Teresa Babb’s cherry cheese pie is a family recipe she got from her mother, Jestine Thomas.

Sausage Breakfast Pizza

1 pound pork sausage

1 can (8 ounces) refrigerated crescent dinner rolls

1 cup frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

5 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook sausage in skillet over medium-high heat 8-10 minutes or until sausage is thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently. Remove from skillet; drain.

Separate crescent dough into 8 triangles; press onto bottom and up side of 12-inch pizza pan to form crust, firmly pressing seams together to seal. Sprinkle with hash brown potatoes and cheddar cheese.

Beat eggs, salt and black pepper in small bowl with wire whisk until well blended. Add to skillet with sausage mixture.

Bake in over for 24 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Let stand five minutes before cutting into pizza slices.

Cherry Cheese Coffee Cake

2 (8 ounces each) packages refrigerated crescent rolls

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

21-ounce can cherry pie filling


1/2 cup powdered sugar

2-3 teaspoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Unroll crescent dough and arrange 12 of the triangles in a circle with wide ends toward the outside edge of the large round baking stone with points toward the center.

Lightly flour and roll out the seams making a 14-inch circle with a 3-inch hole in the center. Combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar, egg and vanilla and spread over dough. Top with pie filling. Cut each of the 4 remaining triangles into thirds (starting at the wide end opposite the point and cutting lengthwise to the point). Arrange over filling evenly in spoke-like pattern. Press ends to seal at center and outer edges.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly.

Mix powdered sugar and milk until glaze consistency and drizzle over coffee cake.

Taffy Apple Pizza

2 medium granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

1 cup carbonated lemon-lime beverage

1 (18 ounce) packages refrigerated sugar cookie dough

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Ground cinnamon

1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put sliced apples into the lemon-lime soda to soak so they won’t brown. Roll cookie dough into a 14-inch circle on a 15-inch baking stone that has been lightly floured. Bake approximately for 11-14 minutes until light golden brown. Let cool.

In a bowl, mix peanut butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Spread over cooled cookie crust. Then drain apples and arrange in a spiral to cover entire "pizza". Sprinkle with cinnamon and pour over caramel topping.

Cut with pizza slicer and serve.

Blueberry Buckle

1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups sifted all purpose flour, if using self-rising flour omit baking powder and salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

2 cups fresh blueberries

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup sifted all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup butter or margarine

Thoroughly mix shortening and sugar. Add egg, beat till light and fluffy. Sift together 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed

mixture alternately with milk.

Spread in greased 11-by-7-by-1½-inch pan. Top with blueberries. Mix remaining sugar, flour and cinnamon; cut in butter until crumbly.

Sprinkle over berries.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm.


Click here to read more about Teresa’s mother, Jestine Thomas, another incredible cook!

Teresa Thomas Babb is a 1974 Hartford High School graduate.

Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 

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Pearls In Our Past - Hartford Michigan
A Pictorial History of Hartford Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik
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History of Hartford Michigan
Copyright © 2000 - All rights reserved.

Revised: March 23, 2009