meet along the way: Taffy McMullin

By Jasmine Jones

This story was originally published as “Community Cookbook: Barbecue Brisket, by Taffy McMullin from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Cape Girardeau” in the May 2023 issue of The Best Years.

Taffy McMullin, who attends The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Cape Girardeau, sits at her table with barbecue brisket she made. McMullin hosts dinners every Sunday for her family. (Photo by Jasmine Jones)

Taffy McMullin grew up on a farm between Sikeston, Mo., and Dexter, Mo., with her mother, father and 14 siblings. With such a large family, McMullin says the older children took care of the younger ones, and everyone “had to know their place.” McMullin was the eleventh child in the lineup.

The entire family lived in one old farmhouse, so McMullin says there was next to no privacy, and their bedrooms felt like dormitories. Despite the challenges of growing up in such a large family, McMullin says it was a wonderful and unique childhood.

“I like the fact that I’ve learned a lot of lessons that some people never learn about how to share and appreciate what you have,” McMullin says.

McMullin says they “lived off the land.” Her father, Bernard Hann, had his children help with crops and livestock, and her mother, Esther Hann, worked on canning the leftover food.

“I had so many brothers and sisters, we had our own baseball team. My dad worked hard, but on Sunday, he would not work. He would sit on the front porch, and we would play baseball,” McMullin says. “And [Mom] would always have a big meal, which is probably where my [Sunday dinner] tradition started.”

McMullin graduated from Richland High School in Essex, Mo., and met her husband, John McMullin, when she was working as a telephone operator at Southwestern Bell in Sikeston.

After getting married, they lived in the Kelso, Mo., area at first, but moved to Cape Girardeau approximately 35 years ago, partly because McMullin says they lived “on the wrong side of the tracks.” By this, McMullin means there were actual railroad tracks her husband had to drive over on his commute between home and work.

“My husband would get called out [to work] at night and be waiting on a train that was sitting there,” McMullin says.

The move to Cape Girardeau allowed her family to be closer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which they attended prior to moving. McMullin met her friend and mentor, Marge Kramer, at church.

“She was active in the community. She was active at church. She was one of those put-together people that I was not, but I admired that. It was put-together in a natural way. She was genuine,” McMullin says. “She didn’t mind teaching me even hard lessons. So, I just truly love her.”

Kramer may have taught McMullin hard lessons, but she also taught her fun lessons — such as how to make barbecue brisket. McMullin makes the recipe often in the summer for her five children and 21 grandchildren when they’re all together.

McMullin’s world is centered on family, which is one of the reasons she loves her church, because of its “family-centeredness.”

On April 18, 2021, the Latter-Day Saints church in Cape Girardeau was destroyed by a fire. McMullin says she could see it burning from her house. Although losing their church was traumatic, McMullin says it also helped their community become closer.

“We have all kind of pulled together with this and realized it’s just a church. It’s just like a house. It’s all about the family that lives there,” McMullin says.

The Cape Latter-Day Saints members currently meet in the old Metro Business College building on Kingshighway Street, but they have plans to build a new church soon. Cape is the Latter-Day Saints Stake for the area, so they hold conferences and meetings for any Latter-Day Saints members throughout the area, including wards from Sikeston; Poplar Bluff, Mo.; Farmington, Mo.; and Carbondale, Ill.

McMullin hosts family dinners every Sunday for “anyone that can come.” She says she sees her purpose in life as helping, serving and sharing with others — especially her family.

“That’s my No. 1 priority and job is being a good grandma. That’s my top priority,” McMullin says. “But you do want to continue to grow yourself and pursue your own [interests], so I try to do that. I try to have that balance.”

McMullin is a Master Gardener. She completed the Master Gardening Program through the University of Missouri Extension, and taught fourth and fifth graders about gardening as a volunteer for many years. Now, she’s focusing more on taking care of her own garden and teaching her grandchildren lessons through the practice of planting and growing.

She keeps strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus in permanent garden beds, because they grow back every year, but one of her favorite fruits to grow is the tomato. Sometimes, McMullin says she’ll take a salt shaker with her to the garden and eat tomatoes fresh off of the vine.

“I connect with God working with the earth. … You can think and find peace working outdoors. I notice the nature around me,” McMullin says. “Last fall, I was working outside, and there was an armadillo. First time I saw an armadillo [was] in my backyard, and it was so fascinating to me. And then, of course, I went and read about armadillos.”

Photo by Jasmine Jones

Recipe from Marge Kramer, given to Taffy McMullin:

Barbecue Brisket

4- or 5-pound beef brisket, well-trimmed

Garlic salt

Celery salt

Onion salt

2 teaspoons brown sugar

Worcestershire sauce

Liquid smoke

Barbecue sauce

Place the beef brisket on a large section of heavy foil that has been placed in a broiler pan. Liberally sprinkle all seasonings over both sides of the brisket. Seal the foil tight and place brisket in the refrigerator overnight.

If you wish, you may sprinkle with all the seasonings again, except for the brown sugar, before placing the brisket in a 250-degrees Fahrenheit preheated oven. Make sure the foil is sealed tight. Bake one hour per pound. When brisket is done, take it out of the oven and drain the juices. Uncover the foil from the top of the brisket and pour a mixture of eight ounces BBQ sauce and ¾ cup brown sugar over top. Continue baking for approximately one hour in a 350-degrees Fahrenheit preheated oven, basting every 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes before slicing across the grain.