Martha Grace “Mooky” Blackburn (1925-1999)
Martha Grace Blackburn Mills was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, a quite southern community nestled between the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and banks of the Tennessee River on January 6, 1925. When Martha was an infant, for some unknown reason an older sibling gave her the nickname “Mooky,” which was shortened to “Mook” as she grew.
In 1946, after a brief career as a secretary during World War II, “Mook” married her high school sweetheart, Harold Fay Mills, upon his return from serving the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. Like many women of her day, Mook’s life work was devoted to the care of her five children and the support of her husband Fay in operating their family hardware store and later other successful businesses. Mook and Fay enjoyed sharing their life with family and friends and together celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1996.
Mook’s passion for living was exemplified through her engaging and vibrant personality. Mook loved visiting with people and sharing her home with friends and family. It was in these Tuscumbia receptions and gatherings that Mook first shared her love for cooking and her now celebrated cheese straws. To the delight of her friends and family, Mook took a common recipe and caringly adjusted the amounts of cheeses, flours, spices and unique ingredients until she finally achieved a taste and texture that everyone agreed were beyond comparison. While recognized in her community for her kindness and caring, Mook was best known for her amazing cheese straws.
Mook continued her pursuit of living and sharing until a brief illness and her passing in May 1, 1999. Mook’s life itself was a recipe for living and it is through her shared experiences and investment in others that her spirit endures.
Beginning in 2001, Mook’s family began to explore the possibility of making her cheese straws available to the public. In concert with the Shoals Commercial Culinary Center, the Mills Family embarked on a two year journey using only ingredients Mook had mandated and aspiring to a singular test “would Mook approve?”
In 2003, Mook Mills Cheese Straws were presented to the public, and can now be found in supermarkets and finer grocers and specialty markets across the southeast.
These cheese straws are incredibly delicious — some of the best we’ve ever had. Now that is saying something because I consider myself a bit of a cheese straw snob. Some are too buttery, many don’t offer that signature cayenne afterburn (which I can’t do without). These babies are made with margarine and have a nice crunchy snap to them. And don’t let me forget to tell you that they are made with extra sharp cheddar – a must for that super strong cheese flavor we love. www.mookscheesestraws.com