An Alabama Feast With All The Fixin’s


Paying homage to the memory of her father, the late Alphonse J. Campbell, Karin Campbell prepared a feast of Alabama specialties that her father would have loved, except she didn’t hold back on the onions. Her father didn’t like onions, but she says she and her brother could cook a 50-pound bag of onions a week.

Karin Campbell
Karin Campbell

Alphonse, who was a staple of the Westbury community before he died in 2003, was a native of Mobile in southern Alabama. His wife, Mary, hailed from Tuscaloosa in the North. They met in college at Tuskegee University, married and then came to Long Island when Alphonse answered the call for minority teachers in Port Washington, where he taught science and later became assistant principal at Schreiber High School. Mary’s degree was in food and home economics and she worked as the head dietitian at Deepdale Hospital in Queens.

The Campbell family moved to Westbury in 1972 and Karin says that when her father saw the divisions in the community, he made it his mission to bridge the gap, becoming president of the Sherwood Civic Association and receiving the MVP Award from Westbury High School.

Karin, who received a BS from Fisk University and MS from NYIT, continues the family’s commitment to education as a member of the Westbury School Board. “When I see the students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, I really feel a sense of pride because I know the challenges they faced,” she said.

In her varied work life she has worked for AMTRAK in charge of the café and dining cars, covering the eastern half of the U.S. and at the Long Island Rail Road working as a block operator, between Brooklyn and Montauk.

The meal we shared was typical of a Sunday dinner in Mobile: jambalaya, brown sugar honey-glazed ham, cornbread with chilies, and green and red peppers, squash and onions (sorry, Alphonse), macaroni and cheese featuring sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack and pepper cheese, and string beans. Of course there was sweet ice tea. “It wouldn’t be Alabama without the tea,” said Karin.

Dessert was sweet potato pie, her father’s favorite. “That’s how I knew my mother loved my father,” she said. “She didn’t like it but she made it for him.” The menu would have been quite different had we dined on her mother’s food from northern Alabama with dishes such as fried chicken, collard greens, potato salad and black walnut ice cream on the menu.

Karin’s commitment to Westbury runs deep. “There are so many people instrumental in the lives of the children,” she said. “I don’t know any doors that are closed.”

She says she has never had a thought of leaving Westbury but if she realizes a life-long dream, it will have her away from home for extended periods of time. “I’ve always wanted to be a cross-country trucker,” she said but her father convinced her to get a degree first.

She realized part of the dream by opening a trucking company, but getting behind the wheel is still on her bucket list. “I’d rather drive to Tennessee than go to the mall,” she said.

Shrimp Jambalaya
6 servings

1 ½ pounds unpeeled fresh shrimp
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup butter or margarine, melted
1 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp chili powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp pepper
⅛ tsp red pepper
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp vinegar
2 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
1 (10 oz) package frozen sliced okra, thawed
2 cups cooked rice

1. Peel and devein shrimp
2. Sauté onion and green pepper in butter until tender.
3. Combine flour and dry seasonings; blend into onion mixture.
4. Stir Worcestershire sauce and vinegar until smooth. Add tomatoes and okra, stirring constantly until thickened. Add shrimp and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes. Stir in rice.

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