Lucky recipients of New Orleans native Linda Jumonville’s cooking don’t believe her when she tells them what a terrible cook she was when she married in 1968.
Jumonville, who will be among the 100 contestants participating in the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off on Nov. 3 in Nashville, Tennessee, for the $1 million grand prize, said of her cooking early in her marriage, “I could do nothing. I didn’t know how to even boil an egg. My mother was an excellent cook, but she never taught me the basics.” Jumonville had taken a home economics class in high school, “but I was not someone who knew her way around the kitchen.”
Nineteen years old when she married husband, Harold, and moved to Metairie, Jumonville winged it when it came to cooking. Discussing her early efforts to hard-cook eggs, she said, “I would boil the water out of the pot and the eggs would explode.”
Her worst cooking experience occurred when she turned on what she describes as an old gas oven and then walked away to get a match. When she lit the match, the resulting explosion knocked her against the wall.
When she made mashed potatoes in a Teflon-coated pan with an electric mixer, resulting in Teflon-flecked potatoes, Harold Jumonville decided his bride needed help. He called his mother.
“My mother-in-law would come over every Sunday to teach me how to cook,” Linda Jumonville recalled.
Now Jumonville is Louisiana’s only representative in the upcoming Pillsbury Bake-off Contest. Pillsbury says finalists hail from 32 states, including 17 from California and 10 from Pennsylvania. (See more at pillsbury.com/our-makers/bake-off-contest.) She will be competing in the Amazing Doable Dinners category with her recipe for Open-Face Italian Turkey Sandwiches, which she says is “a leaner version of the muffuletta. I’m using an olive mix made locally — Boscoli Italian Olive Salad. Pillsbury will be ordering it from here and shipping it to Nashville for me.”
According to information on the Pillsbury’s website, the Amazing Doable Dinners category requires original recipes for weeknight “tried and true family favorites such as pizza, flatbreads, pot pies and hand pies, sandwiches, wraps and casseroles” that will “leave everyone satisfied so you can focus on family time.”
Recipes must use two or more different eligible products made by the contest’s sponsors and no more than seven total ingredients, not including salt, black pepper, water, cooking spray or flour used for dusting to minimize sticking. Jumonville’s recipe has six ingredients.
The other categories are Simply Sweet Treats, Savory Snacks & Sides, and Weekend Breakfast Wows.
As part of the contest, for the first time in 60 years, “they are letting America have an opportunity to vote to determine who the grand prize winner will be,” she said. “The public vote counts for 45 percent of the vote and the vote of the judges who actually taste it counts for 55 percent. On the night of the awards ceremony, the four finalists will be announced.”
After the judging panel makes its decision, the four category finalists will be placed online at facebook.com/pillsbury for public voting. The voting period will run from Nov. 3 through Dec. 2, said Shera Balgobin, Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest manager.
“I’ve been entering the contest for eight years, but I was never chosen,” Linda Jumonville said. Her four grandchildren have been helping her with her contest entries since she first submitted a recipe to the Pillsbury Bake-Off. “My grandchildren are my inspiration for doing this. They range in age now from 13 to 19.”
The eldest, Emily, is an LSU student attending the honors exchange program in Nottingham, England, so she won’t be able to watch the competition, but her three siblings, Gaines, Sylvia and Audrey, will be cheering their grandmother on.
“My daughter, CJ Jumonville, is a good cook and my grandchildren are wonderful cooks. It’s thrilling to see them prepare meals I’ve taught them. They know their way around the kitchen.”
Her open-face sandwich recipe “is made with Pillsbury’s Crusty French Loaf — it comes in a container like a can of biscuits,” she said. “You cut the dough down the middle, not quite all the way to the bottom, make a ‘V’ and flatten.
“Put four slices of your favorite deli turkey on the dough. Drain the Italian olive salad very well. You don’t want all that oil and spread it on top of the turkey. Take a quarter teaspoon of basil and sprinkle on top of the olive salad. Then add 10 mild banana pepper rings. You have to put four more slices of turkey on top of the banana pepper rings and four slices of mozzarella cheese, deli style.”
In describing her sandwich, Jumonville said, “Remember this is a leaner version of the muffuletta. No ham and no salami. Bake it in a preheated 350-degree oven — gas is 325 F — for 25 minutes or until golden brown. There’s only 12 minutes of prepping, it’s easy. That’s what Pillsbury likes, the easier the better.”
Jumonville added, “Everyone loves this. It comes out perfect every time. This is the only thing I’ve ever made for the contest my husband’s loved. This he just raves about. I’ll fix it for a quick dinner. It makes four nice size sandwiches.”
She noted that the photograph accompanying her recipe on the Pillsbury website “doesn’t look like the real deal” because “Yankees up there prepared it.”
When Jumonville works on a potential contest entry, she does a taste-test among her Metairie neighbors. “They let me know what they like or don’t like and we go from there. My Bible study class, I’ve made (the open-face sandwich recipe) for them and for get-togethers with friends.”
Jumonville said she dreamed “back on March 30 that I would be the only Louisiana finalist going to the Bake-off. This is the only cooking contest I’ve ever entered. It’s because of the grand prize — $1 million plus $10,000 in GE kitchen appliances. … A woman who cooks could always use a new kitchen.”