Anna Cook of Mabel stands in her kitchen where she works her magic, creating delicious sweet rolls, breads and donuts.  PHOTO BY AMY NORBY/NEWS-RECORD
Anna Cook of Mabel stands in her kitchen where she works her magic, creating delicious sweet rolls, breads and donuts. PHOTO BY AMY NORBY/NEWS-RECORD
The wonderful aroma is overwhelming as one enters the home of Anna Cook in Mabel. The sweet smell of mouthwatering cinnamon rolls, irresistible homemade bread and scrumptious homemade donuts greets visitors and guests to her home.

If one is not invited to enjoy these tasty creations at her home, one can also find Cook and her delectable baked goods at the Simple Living Farmer's Market in Mabel every Saturday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., from May through October.

The Simple Living Farmer's Market is located just one-quarter mile west of Mabel on Highway 44.

Cook brings decades of experience to the kitchen.

Growing up

Anna (Riha) Cook grew up in Fort Atkinson, Iowa. She had two sisters and one brother.

"My sisters could do no wrong - they could do anything!" shared Cook. While her sisters helped with the baking, cooking and sewing, she spent her waking hours with her father.

"I was the chore boy," laughed Cook.

She explained that when she grew up, her family raised most of their food. "The only items Mom and Dad bought in town were butter, sugar, flour and yeast," she added.

Cook said her family raised beef, chickens and ducks. She said they ate pheasant, squirrel, rabbit and even turtle! They had a huge garden and canned everything they could.

"I remember eating watermelons in the middle of the winter," Cook shared. "We would cover them with hay bales or loose hay or put them in the oat bin and cover them with oats and in the middle of winter we would eat them!"

On her own

"When I left home I had to learn to cook, bake and sew on my own," she said.

Cook has four children, a son, Duane in Montana, and daughters, Cathy and Diane in Mabel, and a daughter, Sandy in Washington state. She has five grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren.

Cook's husband, Orville, passed away four years ago. They were able to travel 24 states together. "We were always together," reflected Cook.

A year after they were married, Cook managed a 15-room bed and breakfast in Colorado. "I was in charge of the continental breakfast."

At one point of her marriage, she and her husband both worked for Carlson's for some time. Cook started out flagging and driving the pilot car - taking traffic from point A to point B. She then moved on to taking road samples to the lab in Mason City, Ames or Cedar Rapids.

"I would just as soon bake as to cook," she exclaimed. "I love looking through cookbooks and magazines and trying out recipes."

When asked if she passed her baking skills onto her children, Cook shared that her daughter, Diane Wilder, does bake and decorate cakes.

Secrets

Imagine parting with a friend after 52 years. Just recently Cook said she had done just that...having to leave behind her old stainless steel pot.

Soon afterwards her daughter purchased a Fry Daddy for her. "It does the job," giggled Cook. She claims that it is not hard to make donuts. "After I drop them in, they come up from the bottom and I flip them," she gives a hand gesture, "and after they brown I flip them again."

Sounds easy, right?

Another important factor in making donuts is the lard. Cook shared that she specifically prefers to use home rendered lard. "It has been increasingly more difficult to find." She has substituted Morrell Lard and is not happy with the results. Currently she is purchasing her rendered lard in Spillville.

Kolaches (also spelled kolace, kolach, or kolacky, from the Czech and Slovak plural koláče) is a type of pastry that holds a dollop of fruit rimmed by a puffy pillow of supple dough. The dollop of fruit or filling is another key ingredient that has become increasingly difficult to find.

Cook travels to her hometown, Fort Atkinson, every once in awhile and purchases her filling for her scrumptious kolaches. Kolache fillings can be everything from raspberry, apple, plum, to apricot.

She also revealed that although she used to make her dough for her kolaches from scratch, she just recently began using frozen bread dough. "I stretch it and pat the dough to the desired size and let it rise just a bit. Too much working with it makes them tough."

Today

Cook is a vendor at the Simple Living Farmer's Market of Mabel for the second year. She really enjoys the market and feels it is a really great idea that can be a real asset to the community.

"I wish we could get more vendors and get more people to check it out," she laughed, "and the weather would cooperate!"

This fall, she collected 18 flats of walnuts - once shucked the 18 flats became eight flats and a project for the winter!

"It's a pastime...it gives me something to do." Cook explained she watches TV and prepares the nuts. She not only uses walnuts in her baking but also sells the nutmeat and heaping cups of nuts stored in Ziplocs at the farmer's market.

Cook shared that out of everything she bakes she prefers to make donuts and kolaches, but her cinnamon rolls sell the best.

In her free time, Cook also enjoys puzzles. "I have been working on a puzzle of 18 cat faces. It has been sitting back in the corner since last fall," she added. This challenge is a 1,000-piece puzzle of 18 cat faces! She also enjoys crossword puzzles.

Cook graciously shared her homemade donuts and one young child said, sampling their goodness, "Her grandkids sure are lucky!"