A tattered, stained, broken-back cookbook, lying on her counter, sealed in a gallon-sized zip-lock baggy, contains treasured recipes from women in her community from a generation or two before. On the side, homemade french fries sizzle while ground sausage, seasoned with oregano, onions and bell pepper, warms on the stove. Lining her kitchen bar to-go boxes wait for the evening's fare and her granddaughter's signature love note written on the lid to her daddy, Josh, and her grandfather, who she affectionately refers to as Tater.
For 34 years Kayla Parkey has cooked harvest meals to take to her husband Ricky and his harvest crew in fields near Olton, Texas.
As she rotates between mixing the ingredients for pizza sandwiches -- a harvest favorite -- and emptying the french fries from the basket fryer onto a plate, she confesses, "I always wanted to marry a farmer. My mom's family were farmers and my dad's family were farmers and I just thought that would be the most wonderful life in the world.
"And it is, not the way I thought, but it is."
See Harvest Photo Gallery, Harvest: Don't forget to kiss the cook
As she cuts a block of Velveeta into chunks and drops them into the pan with the sausage, she continues, "I didn't know we couldn't go on a vacation in the summer because we were working, or that he might not be able to sit down for Thanksgiving with my family because he was harvesting, or he might not get to go to one of the kid's games or something. I didn't know all of that. He's his own boss, I thought. Boy, was I wrong."
She laughs and dumps another basket of fries. "Don’t get me wrong, I love the farm life, but it's hard."
With a blue and white checked apron tied around her waist, still rotating between the stove and her fryer, she talks about the best thing about taking meals to the field: "It's a symbol of how faithful God is."
Still busy, her voice cracks, and she says, "You see them work so hard all year and then you drive up in the field and there's my husband and my son. And getting to see them pull in what they've worked so hard for and… I just can't explain it. It just brings that God is faithful.
"You want to experience God? Take a meal to the field. Because the sunsets and the quietness and seeing them bringing in what they've worked so hard for, it kind of parallels our lives, the seasons you go through."
As she spreads the sausage and cheese mixture on half-slices of bread, carefully placing them in rows on the seasoned cookie sheet, she continues, "It's just so special and not everybody gets it. It's not something everybody gets to see, and probably not everybody feels that way. I probably didn't always feel that way. But the older I get, it makes me so incredibly thankful, especially when you've got a husband and son out there, it's very rewarding."
With a timer clicking loudly in the background as the pizza sandwiches broil in the oven, her daughter-in-law, Brittnee Parkey, and her granddaughter, Macee, arrive through the back door. Macee immediately stations herself at the bar armed with a sharpie in hand and begins to write on the outside of the to-go boxes. "Have a good day," she pens on one of the employee's boxes. "Love you, Tater," "Love you, daddy," in her fourth-grade handwriting on the others.
Brittnee, who alternates with Kayla by taking lunch to the field, puts a slice of chocolate cake in the smaller containers and prepares the drinks. Kayla talks of how much she appreciates Brittnee and her willingness to jump in and help.
Once the containers are full, the basket is packed, Kayla and her girls head to the field. Greeted by hungry men, Josh and Rickey take their meals, kiss their cooks and head back to the cotton stripper and the tractor pulling the boll buggy. Time is of the essence.
Macee jumps on the tractor with her daddy to make a few rounds, while Brittnee and Kayla visit on the turn row and watch a vibrant sun set on another day in cotton harvest.
Looking for the recipe? See Harvest Photo Gallery, Harvest: Don't forget to kiss the cook