Home Cooking With... Undra Jeter
CAMPOBELLO. If you ask Undra Jeter how he learned to cook, he’ll tell you he “just learned from everybody.” Despite being a fitness guru with an impeccable diet, Undra is as relaxed as they come. If he wants to eat something, he grows it in his garden. If he wants to try something, he cooks it in his kitchen. “If I like the recipe, I like the recipe. If not, I just change it up and make it the way I want to make it.”
Undra’s fuss-free approach to cooking is refreshing in our era of molecular gastronomy and lavish cooking shows found every hour of the day on television. He makes waffles because his kids request them, he cooks casseroles because they taste good, he bakes chicken leg quarters because they are crowd-pleasers, and he can entertain as many as 50 family members at once. “I’ll decide what I want to cook one day and just call everybody up, and they’ll come up. Free food!”
It is 28 degrees the morning I step into Undra’s home, and I am grateful to be inside. It is his day off, and he has been sitting with his mother, who visits from down the road, in front of his big screen television. Even if he hadn’t told me he is “a health nut,” I might have guessed it from his muscular build. Today he wears track pants and a sleeveless t-shirt, and as we talk he is preparing a squash casserole without measuring a single thing. When I ask him how much mayonnaise he uses, he frowns. “Bout a cup,” he decides, but I can tell his brain doesn’t work according to recipes. It works according to practice and taste. This, I imagine, is how he manages to cook for 50 people and remain unruffled. “Why do you like to cook?” I ask him, though I imagine I can predict his answer. “Because it relaxes me,” he says.
The eggs in Undra’s casserole are straight from his backyard, where his 500 chickens produce thousands of eggs every year. When Undra started his poultry farm, it was because his kids ate too many eggs. “I was tired of paying for them,” he says. Of course, he is also glad to benefit from the better flavor and accessibility of homegrown eggs. Eventually friends wanted to buy eggs from Undra, and along with his brother he grew a business from 25 chickens into 500.
He started a vegetable farm (“I needed to do something with all that chicken manure,” he says) to grow spinach, kale, onions, eggplants and peppers, and he now raises 60 ducks. When I ask him who eats his duck eggs, I realize just how much nutritional knowledge Undra posseses. “They have 15 grams of protein and omega-3 fatty acids! These are good fats, so you trick your body…” he begins, and I receive a much-needed lesson in nutrition. He concludes: “Healthy people eat duck eggs, that’s who.”
Undra has plans to expand his farm into other livestock. “I want to get some goats and have goat milk,” he says, laughing, “but I can’t get nobody to help me milk ‘em.” Something tells me he’ll find a way to make it work.