Jan. 25—TUPELO — In October 2022, Marty Brown walked into the Regional Rehabilitation Center in Tupelo and handed over the gift that keeps on giving.
It was a flash drive containing more than 500 recipes from the late Tom Evans, a longtime Tupelo resident known for hosting the annual Kentucky Derby Day parties benefiting Regional Rehab.
"Mr. Tom had gotten all his recipes together and gave them to a lady to type, and she put them on a flash drive, all organized and everything," said Bre Ashe, developmental director at RRC. "It was all done before he passed, but he never got a chance to do anything with it."
Brown was a dear friend of Evans and was actually the one who suggested to Evans that he gather his recipes together for a cookbook.
"A friend of mine, Penny Gafford, had retired from teaching in Louisiana, and she had given me a cookbook of her recipes that she'd collected over the years," Brown said. "I said, 'Tom, this would be great for you to do — for Penny to do — and then you could give your cookbook as gifts to family, friends and people in the neighborhood,'" Brown said.
Gafford had almost finished typing the recipes — transcribed largely from business ledgers Evans used to write them in — when Evans died in August 2020.
"After he died, people had already started asking for his recipes, especially things he made at the Derby Day party," Brown said. "Tom wasn't one to change things up. He believed in tradition, but he didn't necessarily believe in frou-frou food. He might make something and put it on a silver tray, but it was still made from things he had in his cabinet, you have in your cabinet."
As Brown settled Evans' estate, he decided Regional Rehab should have the flash drive so it could sell the cookbook as a fundraiser.
"He was passionate about Regional Rehab, he was on their board," Brown said. "I felt like it was a perfect fit."
Brown and Ashe worked to tidy up some loose ends and get the last few recipes in. Then Ashe made sure the recipes were properly organized, designed the cookbook's cover and sent it to the publisher just before Thanksgiving.
"We're a nonprofit, so we're always conservative with money," said Robby Parman, executive director of RRC. "We ordered 100 cookbooks, just to see how they'd sell. Those went fast. They were gone before Christmas."
Regional Rehab ordered another 200 cookbooks, and those were delivered the first of January. They're just about gone, and RRC is about to place an order for another 500.
"Every recipe in there had to pass Tom's taste test," said Kay Mathews, former executive director of Regional Rehab and a longtime friend of Evans. "When I think about Tom, food is always in the picture. He made food fun, and he made it competitive."
"The Tom Evans Cookbook" costs $25, and is available at Regional Rehab, Holland Funeral Home, Room to Room, the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, and J. Britt Lighting & Interiors, all in Tupelo; Marty's Hair Studio in Pontotoc; and Will Wood Insurance Agency in Fulton. It's also available online at www.regionalrehabcenter.com.
It's divided into 19 chapters: appetizers; beverages; breads; cakes and icings; candy; cookies; custards and puddings; desserts; fruits and vegetables; ice creams; lagniappe; main dish casseroles; meats; pies; relishes, pickles, sauces, gravies, etc.; rice and pasta; salads and dressings; sandwiches; and soups.
"I had no idea the impact the cookbook would have," Mathews said. "We've gotten calls, we've gotten emails. People understood that Tom meant good food, no matter what. And it makes sense that he would want to share it with the future."
Parman stressed that the cookbook is really more than just a cookbook.
"It just shows that even after his passing, Tom is still benefiting the Regional Rehab," Parman said. "It's a way for us to continue his legacy."