Easy as pie, Evens wins Bowl
Diners at Greencastle's Almost Home tea room probably don't realize it, but when they bite into a piece of the restaurant's famous strawberry pizza or sip a spoonful of broccoli cheese soup, they're tasting a bit of history.
The hands behind many of the restaurant's well-known dishes belong to Thursa Evens, a 79-year-old Putnam County native who takes inspiration from her past.
Evens, whose maiden name was Etcheson, grew up in Bainbridge and remembers watching her mother Rosetta make candies and sell them at DePauw University. Having grown up during the Great Depression, Evens learned to appreciate what she had, and this spilled over to her adult life.
"You learned how to make the best with what you had," she said. "I appreciate having lived through the Depression."
Further inspiration came from Evens' home economics teacher Berniece Steward, at Bainbridge High School.
"She taught me a lot and inspired me to do the best I could do," Evens said.
After high school, Evens went on to major in home economics at Indiana University with the thought of becoming a teacher. It was during her time in college that Evens completed an internship in Benton Harbor, Mich., at a place called Fiddleman's Resort. Evens said she learned a lot about the Jewish way of cooking while at the resort.
Added inspiration came from DePauw University where Evens worked for 29 years in the administration office. It was in the cafeteria where Evens remembers watching baker Iva Hanlon make pies. One of the tips Evens learned from Hanlon was to invert her pie dough before putting it into the baking pan. This keeps it from shrinking when it bakes.
"I still do that to this day," Evens said.
Although she was inspired by many cooks through the years, Evens says she never really thought about her own cooking and that it inspired others. But the staff of Almost Home did when they nominated her for the national Golden Bowl Award, given annually by the Women Chef and Restaurateurs organization (WCR).
Evens knew she had been nominated when she and a group of staff from the restaurant went to Rhode Island last weekend for the awards ceremony. But she got the shock of her life when they called her name as the winner from a group of three finalists.
"I was floored," she said. "I was really surprised because I didn't expect that. The whole table erupted and everyone was crying and hugging each other."
Members of the WCR from around the nation voted, based on a profile Evens had written about herself, and picked her as having inspired the most people with her food. The other candidates were from Florida and Washington.
This week, Evens proudly displayed the glass serving platter she received for the award. She said she thinks it will go on display at the restaurant, along with her picture.
Evens herself can still be seen at the restaurant at least once a week. She used to work every day, but arthritis has forced her to cut back. She says she still enjoys cooking at home and experimenting with new recipes.
"My daughter-in-law says, 'Just give her a recipe and she'll change it,'" Evens said with a smile.
Having worked at Almost Home for almost 20 years, Evens' strawberry pizza continues to be a favorite among diners at the restaurant. Her delicious broccoli cheese soup tends to fly out the kitchen as well.
Evens said it was easier to come up with tasty recipes because of the good working atmosphere at Almost Home. She said owner Gail Smith has encouraged her to experiment and has inspired her to give her personal best.
"It's a challenge, but it's been fun," Evens said.