By Robert Lucke
If youve lived in Havre any length of time, chances are youve had Olive Watson cook for you, even if you didnt know it.
Watson is the head cook in the Havre VFW kitchen. She manages the kitchen at Van Orsdel Methodist Church and, until a few years ago, she was a cooks helper at the Eagles Club.
Add to that volunteer work at the hospital two days a week and helping run foot clinics four times a month, this is a busy lady.
When the Daily News caught up to her, it was the day before a banquet for 250 serving of chicken cordon bleu and Watsons feathers were unruffled.
You know I had nine kids and six neighbor kids all the time, and I ran a restaurant and bar in Hogeland for five years, Watson said. The bar and restaurant was a living even though my family didnt like it. And back then, trains came through twice a week and I cooked for the train crews.
Watsons philosophy behind how much to cook is simple.
You know how much you would cook for your family, Watson continued. Just think of that and multiply that by how many you have to cook for and always cook a little less.
Watson came by her cooking ability naturally.
My mother was a good cook. We had a house full of people, and when they didnt have the money to buy food, we still had things to eat, Watson exclaimed. It is amazing that 70 years ago how people had all the food they did. Where did they get the money?
As the hours drew closer to feeding those 250 people, still Watson was calm as a cucumber.
I am going down to the club after awhile. You know, when feeding that many people, it is good to go down the day before and see if all the salt shakers are filled. Things like that, Watson said. And I still have time to go down to the senior center on Wednesdays and play cards; in between times, I do get out to visit my children.
Visiting her nine children can be quite a challenge in itself. Four live in Washington. One is in Havre, and one each is in Billings, Chester, Minnesota and Georgia.
With all that cooking, what really bugs Watson?
That we wont get it all out on time or am I going to have enough help? I do have very good help and that is fortunate, said Watson. And worst of all is to look out of the kitchen and see a long, line of people and wonder if we are going to have enough to eat.
Watson said she doesnt worry about any of that during the day, but going to sleep nights, well, just before a big dinner, sometimes it is hard to get to sleep.
The bright side of most dinners is to have them over.
I am so happy when they are all over, especially if someone has come up and said how good things tasted, Watson explained. And when the dinners are smaller, it is easier. Last night, we fed Swiss steak to 80. That was simple.
The meals people seem to like the most that Watson cooks are beef.
People really like baron of beef and it is so simple a meal to prepare, Watson said. And prime rib always goes over well.
As in any kitchen, buying is important.
We have to be careful that we dont cook too much at the club, Watson admitted. Our womens auxiliary gets its money from these dinners and we take care of five veterans homes around Montana, the Ronald McDonald House in Billings and help out in money for cancer aid and research. All that money has to come from making money at dinners.
Economy in the kitchen is right up Olive Watsons alley. She lost her first husband when her youngest child was six and had tough times for a long time.
But you know, I think those times made for better kids, Watson confided.
Then when times got a little better financially, Watson had four boys in Vietnam for 10 years.
Those werent easy times, either, Watson added. Most of my boys were there at the same time. But they all came home. That is what was good.
What about cooking drives Watson day after day?
I get a lot of satisfaction. I like cooking, Watson said with a smile. Doing something for people, that is what keeps me going. It keeps me thinking and keeps me moving around.
Watson might be awake at night, but today anyway, cooking for 250 piece of cake!