Sometimes children can sum things up perfectly. Take Elaine Herron's granddaughter, Sophia Lorenzi.

Writing in a school assignment, the girl tried to explain just how good a cook her grandmother is.

"She wrote. 'I loved her dinners, even if I didn't like them,'" Herron recalled. "I said, 'How precious is that? I guess I can cook.'"

The rest of Herron's family must agree. Holi-days are always over at her house, with about 30 family and friends gathering around the big 10-foot table in Herron's Egg Harbor Township home.

At these gatherings, Herron not only plays the role of cook, but also as teacher to Sophia and whatever other grandchildren can be herded into the kitchen.

"I love to cook, and I like to share that with them," she said. For Herron, there is nothing tough about teaching young children.

"It's just being with them, looking at their eyes and their interest," she said. "Cooking is such a learning experience. You teach them mathematics - they should use it in school."

The holiday sessions in the kitchen are also time for sharing stories, helping the grandchildren learn family history and savoring time together.

"It's also rewarding. When they see the finished product, they get so excited when it finally comes out great," Herron said.

When teaching her the grandchildren, Herron tends to stick to tried and true recipe - "I don't want to teach them something incorrectly," she said.

And like any grandmother, she's always willing to jump in and help, no matter what the situation.

"I'll sometimes get calls if they are doing stuff on their own and things aren't working out too well," she said.

Not bad for someone who is pretty much a self-taught cook herself.

Growing up in Wilmington, Del., Herron's mother didn't do much cooking. Most meals were prepared by Herron's stepfather, who was a butcher.

"We ate steak and potatoes. He did most of the cooking," she said.

Herron did, however, get to watch her Polish grandmother, of Baci, cook on Fridays.

It was when she was in high school Herron developed a love of cooking and of cookbooks.

"Someone once told me if you can read you can cook," she said. "I developed a passion for community cookbooks. They tell a story. I started collecting them, then one thing led to another, and soon I was cooking for parties and baby showers. Then I got married, had kids, and now holidays are always here."

Of course, teaching herself did mean some recipes came out better than others.

Herron swears neighborhood birds grew fat on her early efforts at making babka, a sweet Polish bread.

"But now I've finally got that down pat. It's one of the recipes I want to pass on to my grandchildren," she said.

With four active children, Herron's cooking was appreciated by more than just her immediate family.

"All the kids ended up here after football games and cheerleading and other sporting events," she said. "I wound up feeding a lot of the neighborhood."

Her husband worked as a state trooper, but Herron never pursued a full-time career, instead taking jobs that left her free to care for her children.

To save cash, and through personal inclination, Herron tended to make everything from scratch.

"My kids make fun of me because they never realized that things can come out of a box," she said.

When two of her sons went to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, tailgate parties became elaborate affairs at Navy football games. Her tailgate events grew so large that sometimes Herron didn't know the people lining up for food.

"At one Army-Navy game, a stranger came over and took a plate and started to eat," she said. "There were so many people there that the poor guy thought it was all for free."

Herron still likes to feed a crowd.

She makes her ultra-light custard cake for funerals, parties and special occasions. Around the holidays, the guys at the The Plumbo Buckley Antique Car Foundation in Egg Harbor Township can look forward to her husband bringing around a couple of her delicious banana cream pies.

And while Herron has a lifetime of great recipes, the grandmother in her helps her keep her priorities straight.

"The most important things I make are sugar cookies," she said. "I make them for my grandson's football team."

Contact Steven V. Cronin:

609-272-7242

Hot Custard Chiffon Cake

Ingredients:

•2 cups flour, sifted

•3 teaspoons baking

•powder

•1 1/2 cups sugar

•1 teaspoon salt

•3/4 cup scalded milk

•1 cup cooking oil

•8 egg yolks, beaten

•2 teaspoons vanilla

•8 egg whites,

•stiffly beaten

•1 teaspoon cream

•of tartar

Directions:

Place all dry ingredients in bowl and make well in center. Scald milk (this is the most important step in the success of this cake). Pour milk in center of dry ingredients and mix well. Add oil and mix well. Add yolks and mix well. Add vanilla.

Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry, with cream of tartar. Pour batter over whites, folding gently. Pour into ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees about 70 minutes. Turn pan upside down on bottleneck to cool, about 1 hour. Frost with "The Best Frosting," see recipe.

The Best Frosting

Ingredients:

•2 cups cold milk

•4 tablespoons flour

•1 cup Crisco

•2 sticks

•(1/2 pound) butter

•1/4 teaspoon salt

•2 cups

•granulated sugar

•2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:

Combine milk and flour. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until bubbly and thick. Put in bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cold.

Cream the remaining ingredients. Add cold flour mixture and beat until fluffy (about 8 minutes).

Banana Cream Pie

Ingredients:

•1 9- to 10-inch baked pie crust

•4 to 5 bananas

•Pie custard (see recipe)

•Whipped cream (see recipe)

Pie Custard

Ingredients:

•1 1/2 cups sugar

•1 teaspoon salt

•2 tablespoons flour

•1/2 cup cornstarch

•6 cups whole milk

•6 egg yolks

•4 tablespoons butter, melted

•2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:

In heavy saucepan, mix sugar, salt, flour and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in milk. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Beat egg yolks in bowl. Add a little hot mixture into yolks and then put yolk mixture back into milk. Cook, stirring until bubbly and thick. Add butter and vanilla. Pour into bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pushing down touching custard. Punch holes in plastic wrap with knife to let the steam escape. Cool until slightly firm.

Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

•2 cups heavy cream

•1/4 cup 10X sugar

•2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:

In a chilled mixing bowl, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add surgar and vanilla. Beat until slightly firm peaks form.

To Assemble pie:

Layer custard about 1-inch thick in pie crust. Top with sliced bananas. Fill with the remainder of the custard. Top with whipped cream.

Polish Babka

Ingredients:

•1 1/2 cups milk, scalded

•1/4 pound butter

•2 envelopes (4 1/2 teaspoons) dry yeast disolved in 1/2 cup hot water and 1 tablespoon sugar

•5 egg yolks (save 1 egg white for crumbs)

•1 whole egg

•1 1/2 cups sugar

•1 teaspoon salt

•1 cup sour cream

•1 tablespoon vanilla

•8 cups flour

•1 1/2 cups white raisins soaked in 1/4 cup whiskey

•Crumbs for topping (optional, see recipe)

Directions:

Scald milk and add butter. Prepare yeast and let proof. Beat egg yolks and egg until light and fluffly in mixer bowl with beat attachment. Add sugar, salt, sour cream and vanilla. Beat. Add cooled milk mixture and beat. Add 6 cups of flour, yeast mixture and raisin mixture. Mix well - change to dough hook. Add remaining flour until sticky dough forms. Gradually add additional flour until right consistency of dough. Leave dough a bit sticky. Knead with dough hook until smooth and elastic. Butter large bowl. Turn out dough on floured surface and knead by hand a bit until smooth. Put dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in warm spot until dough doubles. Grease pans. Turn dough out on lightly floured board. Let rest about 10 minutes. Divide dough in pieces to fill pans half full. Knead each piece for about 1 to 2 minutes. Put in prepared pans. If using crumbs, brush lightly with water and 1 egg white. Sprinkle with crumbs. Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let rise again, about 1 hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 325, bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown (Check after 40 minutes to see if bread is browning too much. If so, cover lightly with foil.)

Crumbs

Ingredients:

•3/4 cup flour

•2/3 stick of butter, cold

•1/2 cup sugar

Directions:

Put butter into flour and sugar mixture. Crumble with fingers.