Sometimes cooking is a cause for gratitude. Other times, it's an occasion for blame.

In Kay Myers' case, it can be either.

Myers, of Ventnor, is famous for her preserves - creations she shares with friends, serves at church suppers and contributes to bake sales at Margate Community Church.

She says with gratitude the accolades she receives are due in part to skills she learned from Ruth Rudderow, the mother of her first husband. Myers lived with Ruth and Ruth's husband while Myers' husband was overseas serving in the Navy.

The blame figures in another dish Myers is known for, her beans and kielbasa casserole. Her first husband, Claude Rudderow, loved the dish - though he had a different name for it.

"Since it contains three kinds of beans, he would jokingly call it "that Blame the Dog casserole." Depending on where it was served, I'd just call it Beans and Kielbasa. But you get the idea," said Myers, a 72-year-old mother of two who brings the same sense of fun to her life she applies to her cooking.

Born and raised in Bridgeton, Myers has been cooking for almost all of her life. Her mother and father divorced when she was young, and her mother, Mary Rofypal, worked at Seabrook Farms in Upper Deerfield, and Armstrong Cork in Millville to support her four children.

Being the oldest, Myers was the one "who did all the cooking."

"Once in a while I could get my sister, Nora, to peel potatoes - but very seldom," she said.

Meals back then were simple, meatloaf, hamburgers and even pancakes when the family couldn't afford anything else.

"We didn't have much choice," Myers said. "We were very poor growing up, but somehow we all made it. We did well with a single mother who loved us and did her best to raise us."

At first, making the family meals was a job, but Myers eventually began to enjoy her time in the kitchen. She grew to love baking, making cakes and pies her siblings would happily tear into. She remembers once making a pie and setting it aside to cool. When she returned to the house, she found her brothers and sisters had already eaten most of the pie.

"I said, 'Did you save me a piece?' They said, 'Oh yes.' They did all right, they saved me the crust," she recalls.

Life wasn't all work. She found time to hang out with friends, and it was while visiting Russ' Roller Rink in Bridgeton one night Myers met Calude Rudderow. She was 15 at the time and he was five years older. Rudderow joined the Navy at about that time, but the couple met again about three years later.

"Something clicked," Myers said simply. "We were married six months later."

Rudderow was serving in the Sixth Fleet. When he shipped out to the Middle East, Myers moved to the Cedarville section of Lawrence Township to live with her in-laws.

The couple lived on a farm. And while they didn't work the place commercially, Ruth Rudderow had a large home garden.

"She was in heaven when she was in her garden," Myers said."She taught me everything I knew about gardening. You name it, she grew it."

The family couldn't eat all that produce at once, so Ruth Rudderow would can it or make preserves. Myers was expected to help.

"My mother had taught me the basics of cooking, but my mother-in-law taught me things that were even more basic than the basics - to get food, first you had to grow it," Myers said.

Myers and her husband eventually built their own house and started a family. However, her interest in preserving food continued to grow.

Using the Ball Blue Book of canning and instructions on pectin packages, Myers began teaching herself how to make jams and jellies.

She would use cherries, strawberries and grapes she grew as well as peaches and other fruit she would purchase at local farm stands.

Working as a reporter for the former Bridgeton Evening News for 41 years, Myers found her time in the kitchen helped her unwind from the stress of her job.

When she'd run short of fruit, she would make up her own recipes, using whatever was on hand to fill out the batch.

"One day I didn't have enough peaches, so I thought 'What can I do?' I started adding raspberries. It turned out well, everyone liked it," Myers said. "It's all trial and error, I had to dream up my own recipe for pineapple. Luckily, it worked on the first try."

Now retired and with her children out of the house, Myers continues to put up her preserves. Friends and family who stop by the house are sure to leave with a jar or two of preserves.

"I can't make enough of it. People want it all the time," she said. She puts up about 200 jars per year. Most she'll give away, she'll donate many of those to her church - four dozen jars of hers were recently snapped up at a church bake sale. But people who can't find them at a bake sale must rely on Myers' generosity.

"I don't sell them. It's a gift, and it's a gift of love, because I love doing this," she said.

Myers knows what everyone in her family likes - her daughter, Donna Clendaniel, loves cherry; her son, John Rudderow, likes grape; her brother, Walt, loves her peach preserves -and makes sure to make a little bit of everyone's favorites.

This takes some time, she figures she gets about eight jars per batch, though she can go through a couple of batches in an hour.

Myers has help. Claude Rudderow died 13 years ago. She married her second husband, Charley Myers, in 2006. He participates in preparing the preserves, helping her crank her circa 1903 cherry pitter when preparing cherry preserves.

"The results are well worth it," Charley Myers said of his efforts. Myers said he knew before they married his wife enjoyed making preserves, but he hadn't sampled them until after the wedding. He was happily surprised at how good they were, and counts the strawberry as his personal favorite.

While the couple is busy around harvest season, making jams and preserves is a year-round job in the Myers home.

"I buy the fruit for the preserves in season, and cut it up into recipe-size freezer bags, keeping it frozen until I feel like making it," Myers said. "It's kind of fun when someone asks how my husband Charley and I are making out in the middle of a snowstorm, and I say, 'He's helping me make strawberry jam.'"

Contact Steven V. Cronin:

609-272-7242

Raspberry-White

Nectarine Preserves

Ingredients:

•3 cups finely chopped ripe white nectarines (or white peaches)

•Raspberries, mashed

•slightly to measure 1 cup

•7 1/2 cups sugar

•1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

•1 pouch of liquid fruit pectin, such as Certo

Directions:

Combine fruits and sugar, add lemon juice. Bring to full, rolling boil, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from stovetop and quickly stir in one pouch of liquid pectin, such as Certo.

Ladle into 8- ounce canning jars, wipe threads of opening with damp cloth, and seal with two piece canning lids. Allow to cool for several hours. Lids will pop when seal is complete. Store in cool, dry place.

Makes: About 7 jars.

Pineapple Jam

Ingredients:

•4 cups finely chopped fresh pineapple. (1 large or 2 medium sweet-smelling pineapples.)

•6 1/2 cups sugar

•1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

•1 pouch of liquid fruit pectin, such as Certo

Directions:

Combine pineapple, sugar and lemon juice in large pot ( at least 6 quarts). Bring to full, rolling boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Remove from stovetop and immediately stir in the liquid pectin. Skim off any foam with a metal spoon.

Ladle into 8-ounce canning jars that have been boiled and kept warm, cleaning off the threads of the jar opening with a damp cloth, and seal with two-piece canning lids. You'll hear the lids pop when the seal is complete a few minutes later.

Allow to cool for several hours before storing in a cool dark place, such as a basement closet or shelf.

Makes: About 7 jars.

Blame The Dog Casserole

Ingredients:

•1 28-ounce can baked beans

•1 16- to 20-ounce can drained, dark red kidney beans

•1 16-ounce can of chick peas, drained, (we don't like chickpeas so I don't put them in. Doesn't affect taste.)

•1/2 cup chopped onions ( I use the frozen kind)

•1/4 cup chopped celery

•1 pound polish kielbasa, sliced 1/4 inch thick

•1 pound smoked sausage, sliced 1/4 inch thick

•1/2 cup catsup

•8-ounce can tomato sauce

•1/2 cup brown sugar or molasses

•1 teaspoon garlic (or to taste)

•Dash of Worcestershire sauce

•1 teaspoon mustard (dry)

•1/2 cup red wine

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in 3-quart baking dish and bake at 350 for about an hour. Spoon off any excess liquid, but save it in case the casserole gets too thick. Or toss in some more wine.

You can also cook it in a slow cooker, but will need to drain off more of the liquid from time to time. Takes about 5 hours on high.( I prefer to bake it, and sometimes lay slices of bacon on top.)

Serve this alone as a main dish with coleslaw and crusty rolls, or is great as a side dish with burgers.

Servings: 6 to 8