Sixty-nine-year-old Martha Stewart from Mays Landing isn't THAT Martha Stewart, but that does not stop her from talking about the famous TV personality who shares her name.
That's because the local Stewart has met the TV Stewart - even cooked for her - and is more than happy to tell others about her impressions.
"She was a nice lady - it's funny, every single person I talk to asks me that," Stewart said. "She was very complimentary of me. She said she thought I dressed very nice."
The TV Stewart, famous for her home decorating and cooking skills, also loved the local Stewart's Red Velvet Cake, a recipe the local woman first found in a magazine.
"I love looking at recipes. I go through different magazines. I like to make things that aren't difficult to make, but appear difficult," Stewart said. "When people see it, they go 'Wow!'"
Stewart is no slouch in the kitchen. She's been cooking since she was Martha Williams, a 6-year-old girl growing up in Ozark, Ala. When everyone in her family got the flu, her mother told the girl it was up to her to prepare them dinner.
"I couldn't reach the stove, so she told me to stand on a box," Stewart recalls. "She told me from her bed what to do."
Stewart took home economics courses in high school, and when it was time to go to college, she went to Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she studied nutrition, with the goal to become a dietitian.
"It wasn't easy. My mom and dad didn't have a lot of money," Stewart said. "The people I baby-sat for paid my room and board for the first year. After that, I worked in the hospital food service and made my room and board so I could continue. "
After college, she married George Wesley Stewart Jr. The couple had two children, sons Wesley and Tyrone. The marriage also set Stewart on a path to her own kind of stardom.
Stewart moved to Montclair, Essex County, where she worked in food and nutrition services at Mountainside Hospital for more than three decades. During that time, she became aware of another Martha Stewart making a name for herself with everything from books on cooking and decorating to a magazine bearing her name.
The local Stewart suggested the hospital try to get the famous Stewart to come to Mountainside's annual picnic.
"She wanted too much money, so I said 'OK, you guys are stuck with me,'" Stewart said.
The local Stewart, however, began to attract attention for her name. First she was featured in a magazine article about people who share names with famous folk. When the TV Stewart was going to prison, the local Stewart got a call from producers at David Letterman's show. She appeared on TV to read a list of "The Top 10 Reasons Why It's Not Good to be Named Martha Stewart Right Now."
It was good be named Martha Stewart after the domestic diva was released from prison, and in the fall of 2005 producers of her show were looking to do an episode featuring women sharing the same name. They asked the local Martha Stewart to do a commercial promoting the episode.
She brought one of her Red Velvet cakes and her recipe to the taping.
"Her chef made the recipe. The next time I went in she said my cake tasted better than her chef's," Stewart said. "I said 'I made it out of love because I love the recipe. He made it because he had to make it' - that's the difference."
The producers invited Stewart to cook a Red Velvet Cake on the show. A picture taken at the time shows the two apron-clad Martha Stewarts enjoying slices of Red Velvet Cake.
The two Stewarts share more than a name and a love of cooking. They are both the same age (although the local Stewart is quick to point out she's three months older than the TV Stewart.)
"I crochet, she does a lot of crafts. Her chef at the time I was on the show was named Wesley, my oldest son's named Wesley," Stewart said.
Stewart, now a widow, moved to Mays Landing in 2007 after retiring as director of food service for a West Orange nursing home.
She now works as an activities assistant at Sunrise Assisted Living in Galloway Township, where the residents are treated to a Martha Stewart cooking lesson four times a week.
"We do activities other than cooking, but cooking is my favorite," she said.
Stewart also cooks for her four grandchildren, who particularly like her beef roulade.
"Every time they come over they are like 'Nanny, make that,'" she said.
Lee Weed, a family friend from Pleasantville, has tried Stewart's cooking, enjoying everything from spiral ham to the Red Velvet Cake.
"It's great, it's moist, very sweet, and the icing is great on it too," he said. As for the other Martha Stewart: "I never had her cooking, but I think (the local Stewart) is just as great," he said.
And like that other Martha Stewart, the Mays Landing Stewart is working on a cookbook. It's a project she's been working on for a while, but she hopes to eventually finish it.
She's also working to assure her Red Velvet Cake becomes a tradition within her family.
"This is a recipe I'm passing down to my grandchildren," she said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Martha Stewart's Red Velvet Cake
•2 1/2 cups sifted flour
•1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
•1 1/2 sticks margarine
•2 cups sugar
•1 teaspoon vanilla
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•2 1-ounce bottles liquid red food coloring
•3 tablespoons lukewarm water
•1 cup buttermilk
•1 teaspoon baking soda
•1 tablespoon white
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 8-inch cake pans with cooking spray, then coat with flour. Sift together flour, cocoa and baking powder in a large bowl. Set aside. Beat margarine and sugar until light and fluffy with electric mixer on medium speed, about 15 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla and salt. Beat in food coloring, then add water, using a spatula to scrape down sides. Beat in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk for a total of four additions, ending with buttermilk. Dissolve the baking soda in vinegar in a small cup. Add to batter on medium speed until just blended, about 10 seconds. Do not overbeat. Pour into prepared pans. Bake approximately
35 minutes. Frost with Cream Cheese Icing.
Cream Cheese Icing
•1 stick margarine
•1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
•1 pound powdered sugar
•1 teaspoon vanilla
•1/2 to 1 cup finely chopped nuts
Beat together margarine and cream cheese until fluffy. Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Mix until smooth. Add nuts, spread on cake.