Heather Pilkinton, executive director of Topeka Presbyterian Manor, doesn’t see herself as a chef.
But recently, she metaphorically put on the chef’s hat when she walked into the kitchen and made her corn casserole specialty.
It was a success among the Presbyterian residents of Topeka, especially Bonnie Greenwood.
Greenwood, who has lived in Topeka Presbyterian for almost three years, enjoyed the dish so much that Pilkinton shared the recipe so the Greenwood family could make it on Thanksgiving.
“It was delicious,” Greenwood said.
The residents enjoyed the dish so much that the staff added it to the menu rotation.
It was last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that residents first tasted Pilkinton’s now famous corn casserole.
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Staff adapt to needs during the pandemic
Due to COVID-19-induced closures at the retirement home, the community was unable to celebrate Thanksgiving as they normally would.
Topeka Presbyterian’s management team needed an alternate game plan.
“We thought, ‘How can we make this special in a different way? ”Said Pilkinton. “We asked several staff to submit some of their favorite Thanksgiving recipes.… I submitted my corn casserole.”
Pilkinton said the recipe was one she inherited several years ago while attending a family event, and has become a popular dish among her family.
“I’ve always done this for everything,” Pilkinton said.
So what makes the corn casserole recipe so good?
You simply combine butter, a can of Jiffy Cornbread Mix, sugar, creamed corn, kernel corn, sour cream, and an egg and bake it. The dish is then garnished with cheese.
The act of engaging with residents is nothing new for Pilkinton, who has been the executive director of Topeka Presbyterian since 2015.
Pilkinton said she understands the importance of communicating and building relationships with her residents. This is what matters most to her.
Being able to share their casserole recipe with residents allowed them to bond.
“They are the only reason I’m here,” Pilkinton said. “My heart is to serve Bonnie and everyone here, to learn more about their lives, to learn who they are – past, present – and their future goals.”
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The link comes from common characteristics
The friendship that developed between Pilkinton and Greenwood is not surprising.
“Bonnie and I are a lot alike,” Pilkinton said. “We’re chatty. As I go around it’s very easy to talk to her. She and I just formed a friendship.”
“Amen,” Greenwood adds. “We just did.”
For over a year now, Topeka Presbyterian has faced the same challenges as so many other nursing homes and retirement communities nationwide.
Dealing with the pandemic has been difficult, Pilkinton said, but she was grateful to community residents like Greenwood who are making the job easier.
“When I have the chance to spend time with Bonnie or other residents, it’s the best part of my day,” said Pilkinton.
Brianna Childers is the food and fun journalist for Capital-Journal. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ brichilders3.