Family Feast

Darlene Grafton’s weekly meals keep her loved ones close

“Cooking has always been important to me,” says 91-year-old Darlene Grafton.

The 1950 Central High School graduate has a degree from Evansville College in home economics, which serves her well as she whips up weekly family meals … for up to 20 people … for 15 years.

Darlene has picked up many recipes from the 42 different countries she lived in with her late husband Stan, who was in the U.S. Air Force until 1978.

“The boys were always in the kitchen with me,” she says of her and Stan’s six children, Kemit, Brent, Mark, Rod, Tad, and the late Gregory. “Every place I lived, I found something that I like.”

“They made full advantage of where they lived,” Brent says of his parents.

Darlene regretted that her sons never got to know their extended family well, and the weekly meals were borne out of a desire to foster closer family relations. Her own family has grown considerably: Today, Darlene has 19 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren, and one great-greatgrandchild, plus several chosen family members and around 40 relatives living in Evansville.

“I have a big footprint,” Darlene says, adding “The glue that binds family is good eats.”

Darlene Grafton has a full life. She shares a table once a week with immediate and extended relatives plus those close to the family. Though she can no longer enjoy meals herself after surgeries to combat throat cancer, Grafton’s joy does not come from taste, but family.

It’s these “good eats” – salmon salad, handmade sushi, angel food cake, blueberry pie, German chocolate cake, cake balls, cheesecake, Chinese slaw, pumpkin cheesecake, and corn pudding, to name a few – and Darlene’s warm, giving nature that keep loved ones coming around. When Evansville Living visited the week of May 7, Darlene cooked up ground beef with noodles, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut alongside rice and shrimp.

“I love making new recipes,” which she says she finds on Google and Facebook.

“I’m hungry each week, so I can eat my weight,” says Holly, a chosen family friend.

Underscoring Darlene’s love of family and cooking is that she cannot eat what she cooks. After being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2013, subsequent surgeries left “ her unable to swallow even her own saliva. No matter – Darlene cooks for the camaraderie, which her relatives and friends make the most of.

“When you have a handicap, you learn to live with it,” Darlene says.

The family gathers to bake Christmas cookies and carve Halloween jack-o-lanterns. For birthdays, guests take turns sharing what they love about the guest of honor, and Darlene makes them their favorite dessert. She does not cook on her own birthday, preferring instead to order pizza or Chinese takeout. For her 90th birthday in 2023, the family created a cookbook filled with her recipes, a sweet gesture for a woman whose life is devoted to her loved ones.

“It’s not the house that makes a home,” she says.

Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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