Get to know: Jeanne Banks

Published 7:16pm Tuesday, September 6, 2011

No need for ketchup anymore

Jeanne Banks

Not too long ago, in the kitchen of the dining hall at Columbia Bible College in Columbia, S.C., two students took a liking to one another.

They began going walking together and on church “dates” that weren’t really supposed to be dates, since under the strict rules the two students didn’t have permission to date. So they sat close, but not too close, in the church pews and got to know each under the guise of being just two Bible college students.

And when their courtship progressed to that magical point when a man first samples a woman’s cooking, the young college man had but one comment: “It’ll get better.”

Neither Jeanne Banks nor her husband Joe can recall what they ate for that meal more than 50 years ago. But Joe Banks remembers this: “I just put a lot of ketchup on it and ate it.”

As it turned out, Joe Banks was right in his initial assessment. Jeanne Banks’ cooking did, indeed, get better.

Born and raised in Portsmouth, Jeanne Banks attended Woodrow Wilson High School and was always under the influence of the strong military presence in Hampton Roads. Her father worked at the Navy shipyard for many years, and her husband is a retired military chaplain.

Since those courtship days in Bible college, their travels together as husband and wife have taken them and their five children all over the United States and abroad. But when it was time to settle in somewhere, Banks was sure to let her husband know she wanted to come back to Virginia. They did exactly that and have been here in Suffolk for more than 20 years.

Joe’s military service had taken the Banks family to the American southwest and two separate stints in Berlin, Germany, during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

“I loved all the quaint little towns in Germany,” Banks says. “I loved all the old cathedrals and the sheep. And the food was always fresh and had such variety.”

No matter where she’s been, though, Jeanne Banks has always been a giver, a provider, someone who likes to get involved.

She has served as chair of Suffolk’s Rockin’ Relay for Life, benefiting the American Cancer Society. She’s been a three-time president of the King’s Fork Woman’s Club, president and governor of the state for the Nansemond River Pilot Club, and head of the volunteer organization at Sentara Obici Hospital. While in Germany, Banks served as president of the Protestant Women of the Chapel in the European Council. That position gave her the opportunity to travel and speak in places like Turkey and the Azores.

She also managed to prepare her well-received chicken spaghetti for the masses of the American Association of Retired People once a month back here in Suffolk. That’s one case where her passion for involvement has intersected with her now-commendable skills in the kitchen.

Considering the active life she leads, it’s not surprising that stepping into Jeanne Banks’ kitchen is a lot like stepping into the busy headquarters of a growing family enterprise. It’s hectic, with family members coming and going, and there’s always something good in the works.

As a wife and mother, Banks knows that a kitchen needs a lived-in, welcoming appeal. “I like an open space in the kitchen,” she says. Plus, with five children and a husband who loves vegetables and leftovers, Banks has accepted a key compromise one must make in a busy kitchen.

“I don’t mind a mess,” she says.

In the open space of her welcoming kitchen, reminders of her travels are tastefully scattered across countertops and on a greeting-card and note-laden refrigerator door. There’s a giant breadbox with the words, “Give us this day our daily bread” written in German.

A small cache of tomatoes sits by the sink, bathing in the sunshine coming through the window. Near the stove is a cluster of cooking essentials — Pam cooking spray, eggs, vanilla flavoring, a box of Hershey’s cocoa, and a bottle of hot sauce — further signifying that Jeanne Banks knows what is required for good cooking. And in the middle of it all is a little wood-topped island, a perfect place to cool a cherry cobbler, loaves of bread or a fresh batch of chocolate surprise cupcakes.

Spending time with Jeanne Banks in her kitchen, one is enveloped in the warmth and compassion that flow from this family environment. Banks works tirelessly to create that environment in her kitchen and in everything to which she lends a hand in Suffolk.

Those who have enjoyed Banks’ chicken spaghetti or a bite of her chocolate surprise cupcakes can attest that she has, in fact, gotten better in the kitchen.

And as her cooking has improved, so have the lives of countless people around Suffolk who have come into contact with her. Including one writer and graphic designer, who now has a new spaghetti recipe to try at home.

Jeanne Banks’ recipes

Chicken Spaghetti

Ingredients

1 lb. chicken breast

1 cup of chopped onions

1 cup celery

4 oz. spaghetti

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 can chicken soup

Parmesan cheese

Directions

Boil chicken breast whole until done. Save broth. In a sauté pan, cook chopped onions and celery. Stir in the tomatoes and chicken soup.

Cook spaghetti in chicken broth until tender. Add to mixture of other ingredients in oven safe casserole.

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Chocolate surprise cupcakes

Ingredients

Chocolate or devil’s food cake mix

1.8 oz. cream cheese

1 egg

1/3 cup sugar

Directions

Mix cake mix as directed with ingredients suggested. Put cake mixture in cupcake paper. Fill until about 1/3 full.

Mix cream cheese, egg and and sugar thoroughly. Add 1 teaspoon of mixture in center of cupcake cups. Cover with cake batter.

Bake as directed on cake mix box.

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