Larry Eastes and Ann Cox Eastes (TMP Photo/K. Beck)
WATERTOWN, Tenn. -- A monthly fixture on “Talk of the Town,” Kroger spokesperson and consumer specialist Ann Cox Eastes can only guess as to how many dishes she has prepared on live television over the past 40 years.
“There is no telling. I’ve demonstrated 4,000-5,000 recipes,” said Eastes, who since the 1970s has whipped up delectable edibles on Nashville channels 2, 4, 5 and 8 and at numerous TV stations from coast to coast.
“There are no new recipes, just variations of them. I get ideas from everywhere, family reunions, church suppers. We’ve adapted them for years. We take family recipes and tweak them,” said the Memphis native, who called Murfreesboro home for most of her career until marrying Watertown dairy farmer Larry Eastes five years ago.
Her favorite recipe of the thousands she has prepared? Her mother’s chocolate meringue pie.
“I may have mastered that,” says Eastes, who served as executive director of the Tennessee Egg and Poultry Association for 10 years and was inducted into the first Tennessee Poultry Hall of Fame in August.
An alumnus of East High School in the River City, she earned a vocational home economics degree from Memphis State University, but the city girl spent lots of happy hours at her grandparents’ small farms in the West Tennessee towns of Bolivar and Hornsby.
“I had grandmothers who were great cooks, and my mother was also an excellent cook. In her later years, she would pull recipes out of magazines and newspapers for me as I was on television every week,” said Eastes, who will celebrate her 30th anniversary on “Talk of the Town” in March.
“When I graduated, I hoped I would be engaged to be married. I got a job with the Dairy Council right out of college in 1973. I worked in Southern Kentucky and Middle Tennessee basically teaching nutrition, how to properly cook dairy products.
“I did programs for large groups of extension homemakers, traveling for extension agents and teachers for three years. That’s when I got the opportunity to work on television. I had no background for television. I had to make myself learn to know what I was talking about,” said Eastes, who, with Julie Seward, concocted “That Touch of Spice” on WNPT-Channel 8 from 1975-1976.
While she has cooked for millions of viewers on TV, nowadays she cooks six days a week for two. However, on Sundays, she prepares the meat, bread and beverages for her family of 11.
“The children bring the rest. This is a really neat time because families don’t have that opportunity much. Larry says, ‘We don’t care what we’re eating. We just enjoy being together around the table.’’’
Ann’s world as a single woman ended with her marriage to widower Larry Eastes on Feb. 16, 2008.
The relationship was set up by friends, but she did her homework, calling a friend who knew Larry to get an assessment of the dairyman.
“He told me, ‘He’s one of the finest Christian men I’ve ever known,’’’ recalled Ann, who began dating Larry in the summer of 2007.
For their first date, they met in the Murfreesboro Kroger parking lot on Highway 96 and went to Marina’s on the square for dinner. Not long afterward, Larry asked her to church so she could meet his friends.
“Both sets of our parents were deceased,” Ann said. “I told him, ‘This is gonna be like meeting 50 sets of parents.’ But everything went fine. Many of the women in the choir had watched me on TV and talked about my recipes.”
Ann now plays the piano at the Commerce Cumberland Presbyterian Church while Larry leads singing.
Larry recollects that before their first date he did not know what Ann did for a living, but they had many connections and knew a lot of the same people.
“It was an intriguing first date,” he says. “We went to a restaurant, and these ladies kept stopping by and wanting recipes from her. They had seen her on TV. We ate and then drove around Murfreesboro. She knew about the dairy industry so we could talk about that.”
As for what attracted him, he said, “First of all, she was a nice-looking lady, and she was very friendly and outgoing. We were virtually the same age. She’s nine months younger than I am, and we had a lot in common growing up through the ’60s.
“She had to adapt to my world. I told her, ‘I’m not a town guy,’ so she moved to the country. . . . She instantly became a grandparent to five children pretty fast, and she’s done a remarkable job.”
Ann found much to admire about the farmer, noting, “He’s just a genuine person. He’s nice looking. He has a sense of humor and a strong work ethic. He’s a strong Christian, a family person, a very compassionate, caring person and we have the same values.
“He has broadened my horizons. I feel very fortunate and very blessed to be here and enjoying this life that I never thought I would have. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to have a husband, family and grandchildren. I remember what a friend of mine said, ‘God has a plan for everyone: you just have to be patient,’” recalled Ann, acknowledging that she had to coordinate their wedding between the morning and afternoon milkings.
At the conclusion of their marriage ceremony inside her Murfreesboro condominium, she had the pianist play the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
A weekly guest on “Talk of the Town” for much of its run, Ann now appears about once a month. It’s a day the Channel 5 studio staff looks forward to.
“At WTVF I tell them they love me through their stomachs because I’ve been feeding them for so many years. I never go home with food. The come out of the woodwork,” laughed Ann, who is like a member of the TV station’s family.
“Before I got married, Channel 5 insisted I bring Larry down there for their approval. He passed with flying colors,” she reported.
One of her bosom friends at the station, “Talk of the Town” co-host Meryll Rose, shares: “Ann has been part of our ‘Talk of the Town’ family since the very beginning, and she’s always been a favorite of our viewers. We know they love her recipes, because we get such a great response to her segments, but I think they love her warm personality too.
“Ann welcomes you into her TV kitchen just like she would at home. She’s such an accomplished cook, but the reason she’s been so successful on television is that she comes up with easy recipes that anyone can make and would be proud to serve to family and friends.
“One thing viewers may not know about Ann is what an accomplished food stylist she is. Her displays on TV always look amazing, but it takes hours to coordinate all the food, dishes, placemats, flowers. She even matches her outfit to the decor or the day, and she makes it all look easy.
“Ann is so much more than just a guest on our show. We've all shared so many life events together—marriages, births, deaths, sad times and happy times — and that friendship is so valuable to me and the rest of the ‘Talk of the Town’ gang,” said Rose.
Previous to her long-running gig on Channel 5, Ann made guest appearances on “The Teddy Bart Show” with Elaine Gannick and for six years hosted weekly cooking segments on “Channel 4 Magazine.”
Since 1980 Ann has operated her own successful consulting business, from which she creates marketing opportunities for new product introductions and utilizes her media contacts for media blitzes. For three years, she had a partner, and they utilized a test kitchen and office in Brentwood and served such retainer clients as Kroger and General Foods.
A highlight of that span came when she and Mary Ann Fowlkes, her partner at CF Marketing, helped design the Pick TN campaign for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
She then decided to go back on her own, noting, “I was a Kroger spokesperson from 1982 up ’till now. For 31 years I’ve been a consumer specialist and speaker, doing food marketing and commercials. I wore a lot of different hats, coordinating press conferences, recycling, making new store appearances and introducing recipes for new product lines, all under the Kroger advertising department.”
Her association with Kroger took her across the nation to such cities as Memphis, Huntsville, Atlanta, Knoxville, Dallas, Tucson, Detroit, Phoenix and Columbus. Along the way she assisted with numerous booklets and brochures for Tennessee Kroger stores at holiday times. She also compiled two cookbooks: “What’s Cooking With Kroger, featuring Ann Cox” and “A Kroger Titans Cookbook.”
Among her numerous clients have been the Dairy and Food Nutrition Council, the Tennessee-Kentucky Egg Council, Tennessee Beef Industry Council, the Catfish Farmers of America, Lipton Iced Tea, General Foods, Kraft Foods, Pillsbury, Centennial Medical Center and Purity Dairies.
“It’s been fun to travel, most of that has been in the South, the Southwest and East Coast.
For example, I’ve done media tours for the Texas Pecan Growers Association, so I would go into a market and make television and radio appearances and work with newspaper writers.
“I enjoyed most meeting the various people. I’ve traveled this state from Memphis to Bristol meeting people and still call many of them friends. I’ve had a really enjoyable, diverse career that made use of my home economics degree,” said Ann, who along the way also judged numerous beauty contests, recipes contests and Christmas parades.
As for hobbies, she says, “I still like to go antiquing and to arts and crafts shows. I like handmade things like pottery, jewelry and paintings. I enjoy redecorating and enjoy traveling and trying out restaurants.
“I hope to travel a bit more with Larry. We’ve been on three cruises, one this year to Alaska. I enjoy taking the five grandchildren to different places. I want the grandchildren to have fond, fun memories of being with us.”
As for her transition to farmer’s wife, which includes helping milk the cows early in the morning, she reports, “I am busier than I have ever been in my entire life. It’s very physical work. I enjoy it.
“Dairy farming is a family thing, and it’s amazing what I’ve learned about the animals and equipment that I never knew before. But today, I had on a sparkly necklace, bracelets and rings. I may be milking at the barn and live on a farm, but I haven’t lost all my sparkle and glitz,” grinned Ann Cox Eastes. “I wear earrings to the barn to milk.”