My Imagination Library team has been working hard — really hard. We have affiliates all over the state and we have been working to make sure there is an affiliate in each county so that every single child in Ohio, from birth to 5 years old, could receive the wonderful Dolly Parton Imagination Library books in the mail every single month.
Finally, yesterday, we made the final breakthrough of the last two counties to get on board! We are so excited!
My idea started when I visited the Greene County Library in 2018 while I was campaigning through Ohio. My grandkids in Greene County had been receiving the Dolly Parton Imagination Library books in the mail each month, and I saw their excitement and joy when their book arrived, addressed to them. After talking to Karl Colón, head of the Greene County Library, about their program which they have had for many years, I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every young child in Ohio could receive these books?
After Mike got elected, I decided that this is what I wanted to do — to make it my mission to make these books available to all children under 5. As a home ec major at Miami, I took courses in early childhood development — and of course I learned from my own experience as a mother of eight — just how important reading and books are to the development of the young mind. Eighty percent of a child’s brain is developed by the time they are 3-years-old. So we just need to start reading to these children as soon as they are born. And with all the problems caused by the coronavirus, the need is now more than ever!
Dolly Parton started giving books out to children in her hometown of Sevierville, Tenn. in 1995. The program expanded through Tennessee and many other states and countries. We have been doing it for many years in Greene County and many other counties in Ohio. But now, finally, every single child under 5 in Ohio will be eligible!
Each county has their own affiliate that raises the money and signs up the kids. The state legislature, recognizing the importance of getting kids ready for kindergarten, appropriated $5 million to match the money the counties raise. It’s a wonderful bargain for us because the Dolly Parton Foundation provides the books to us for just $2.10, and that includes the shipping that they do as well.
So to help each of those affiliates raise money, I thought I would do one of my little cookbooks like I have done in all our campaigns, and include some of Dolly’s recipes from her “Dixie Fixin’s” cookbook and some of my recipes from my “Family Favorites” cookbook. This could just be a little gift for all the donors that help us raise money for the Imagination Library. The library books are absolutely free to the children, but I want to encourage people like me, grandmothers and aunts and friends, to contribute $25 a year to sponsor a child, or maybe $250 to sponsor 10 children for a year.
So I’ve been picking my own favorite recipes and testing Dolly’s! I love her stories that go with the recipes. This weekend I’m going to make Mama Dean’s Chili Spaghetti. As Dolly tells it, she met her husband Carl Dean on the day she arrived in Nashville. She was doing some laundry at the Wishy Washy Laundromat, and “There he was, the most handsome man I’d ever laid eyes on.” She continued, “The first time he brought me home to meet his Mama and Daddy was also the same night he told them we were getting married!” This is what Mama Dean served.
Mama Dean’s Chili Spaghetti
from “Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s: Love, Laughter, and Lots of Good Food”
3 medium onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds ground beef (preferably chuck)
1/3 cup chili powder
2 Tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 teaspoon ground cloves
1 bay leaf
1 (16 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons molasses
salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti, cooked and drained
In a large heavy bottomed pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the oil over medium heat, stirring, until the onions are softened. Add the beef and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until the beef loses its pink color. Add the spices and cook the mixture, stirring for 1 minute. Add the bay leaf, 3 cups water, the tomato sauce, vinegar and molasses and simmer the mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary to keep the beef barely covered, for 2 hours, or until it is slightly thickened like a stew. Discard the bay leaf and season the chili with salt and pepper. Laddle the chili over the hot spaghetti and serve. Serves 6.
P.S. Make sure the little ones under 5 in your life are signed up to get free books. Go to OhioImaginationLibrary.org. Then have fun reading to them!
Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine is a Cedarville resident, Yellow Springs native and guest columnist.