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Nadine Johnson with her cookbook, “Camp Stew, Etc.”

Nadine Johnson has a mission:
Bringing comfort and a smile

By Jaine Treadwell

At the time of year when folks are looking back with one eye and ahead with the other, Nadine John-son was content to settle back in her kitchen chair and bask a bit in the past that has brought her to where she is today.

All around Pike County and far beyond, Johnson is known as the "Herb Lady."

She probably knows more about herbs than most folks know about these wonders of the world. However, Johnson is quick to point out that she is not a doctor and that herbs should be used only under the watchful eye of the family physician and as a supplement to prescribed medical treatment.

But on this day in December, Johnson was not thinking or talking herbs. She was not remembering the days when she made the hop, skip and jump down to the Goshen Farmers Co-op to purchase garden and lawn supplies. Most of those days are long past. Now a trip to the Co-op is for the purpose of buying Christmas gifts for family and friends or for tires for her car.

No, on this day, Johnson was looking back to the time when she was forming physical friendships that would last perhaps six weeks at the most, but linger in her heart for always.

Johnson was a nurse in the cardiac unit in the Mobile Infirmary in the 1970s. It was a well-known fact that she had a special bedside manner that had a calming effect on most of the patients who were awaiting serious surgery or in the recovery period.

"I’ve just always had compassion for people and cardiac care back then was very different from the way it is today," she said. "The pre-operative and recovery periods were much longer. Sometimes we would have a patient for up to six weeks. And, nurses did almost every thing for the patient, even give them bed baths.

"And, when you are giving a bed bath, you don’t just stand there with your mouth shut, you talk." And, talk Johnson did, whether the patients were listening or not.

She talked about things that were going on in her life and things that she felt were important. If the patients listened, all was fine and good. If they didn’t, she at least had filled the silence between them.

"I remember distinctly one day, the doctor came out of a patient’s room and told me to go in there and talk to the patient because she had hurt the patient’s feelings," Johnson said. "She knew that I could find the words to make her feel better. I always tried to do that."

Johnson remembered another time when a man was hospitalized with an inoperable heart condition.

"Back then heart patients could not have whole milk," she said. "They could only have skimmed milk. That man had asked and asked for whole milk. He was dying and I didn’t see where it would hurt for him to have a little whole milk. So I went to the doctor and asked him. The doctor said, ‘Get it for him.’"

The patient had not smiled or shown any emotion for a long time. "I walked in the door and held up that bottle of milk and said, ‘If you’ll give me a smile, I’ll give you this.’ And he smiled for the first time in a long time," she said. "I’ll never forget that."

Bringing comfort and a smile to her patients was Johnson’s reward for the work she did, but little did she know that her patients would be among those who would open the door to a new world of joys of her own.

"As I would talk to my patients and tell them about my life, they learned that I enjoyed cooking and collecting good recipes," she said. "Often times, their family members would share recipes with me and sometimes even the patients would give me their favorite recipes."

Soon Johnson began to compile those recipes and the many others she collected from family and friends into a little cookbook that she called "Camp Stew, Etc."

"I was living in Baldwin County and you couldn’t find a recipe for camp stew anywhere," she said, with a smile. "They didn’t know about camp stew down there so I had to make up my own recipe."

She did and her "made up recipe" was so popular that, before she knew it, she was on a television cooking show making camp stew. From there, everything just seemed to mushroom.

“Camp Stew, Etc.”

"Mobile Infirmary was a big place," she said. "And, at one time or another, just about everybody came in there. So, I knew everybody in Mobile up to the archbishop of the Catholic church."

And, everybody, including the archbishop, wanted a copy of "Camp Stew, Etc." The first printing in 1979 was 1,000 copies and they sold like hot cakes. The second printing was also 1,000 copies and they, too, were gone in a flash.

But, Johnson didn’t get rich off her newfound celebrity. In fact, she barely broke even.

"Back then I couldn’t type on those old manual typewriters so I had to find somebody who would print the cookbook from longhand," she said, laughing.

"It cost me."

But it also paid off for Johnson.

The project was Johnson’s initial attempt at a writing venture and it gave her the confidence that, as her mentor, Dr. Jane Day, told her, "You can do anything you want to do."

Johnson has long been a prolific writer on the subject that she knows like the back of her hand: herbs.

Her shared knowledge through her writings; and her consultations have helped others to feel better and get better. She will never know how many people have benefited from her knowledge of the medicinal wonders of herbs.

And, to think that it all began with good bedside manner and a pot of camp stew.

Nadine Johnson’s Camp Stew
1 large stewing hen
3 pounds of beef
2 pounds of lean pork
Broth from boiling meats, skim
off grease
3 pounds onions
5 pounds potatoes
1 lemon, squeezed
2 cups hot barbecue sauce
2 cups catsup
8 cups creamed corn
Salt and pepper

Boil meats until well done with salt, pepper and lemon added. Remove from broth, debone and chop into fine pieces. Peel and dice onions and potatoes. Add to broth and cook until tender. Add meat, barbecue sauce and catsup. Bring to a good boil. Add corn and turn off heat in order to prevent sticking.

Note: Goat, venison or other wild game may be added or used instead of the above named meats.

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.



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Date Last Updated January, 2006