Meet Along the Way: Debbie Crane

This story was first published as “Community Cookbook: Rice Casserole with Debbie Crane from Dexter, Mo.” in the April 2024 issue of The Best Years.

By Jasmine Jones

Debbie Crane grew up in Dexter, Mo., but somehow, she says she didn’t know what Branson, Mo., or Silver Dollar City were until her mother asked to take a vacation there. Debbie made arrangements with a travel agency and visited the park for the first time with her mother Virgina Crane in 1996.

Debbie and Virgina fell in love with the park and visited again for Christmas that year. By the next year, around the age of 40 years old, Debbie decided to “pack up and try” moving to Silver Dollar City.

“You know how sometimes it’s just time to go somewhere, do something else? It was time. I needed to go,” Debbie says.

Photo by Jasmine Jones

Debbie ended up staying and working in Branson for 20 years. She started at the Dixie Stampede as a waitress, but she says “some things just aren’t for you;” she left to work at Ann Taylor’s in Branson, Mo., and later, she worked at Silver Dollar City’s toy shop, before getting promoted to merchandise supervisor for the entire park.

“When I left there, I was one of the people who had been [at Silver Dollar City] the longest, and it was great,” Debbie says. “I wouldn’t trade the time I spent there for anything — the kid’s fest, the people that you met, it was just amazing.”

She says there was nothing like riding a golf cart and “having the run of the park at night.” She had a lot of fun adventures at the park, such as filling in for “Frank the Baker” at Sullivan’s Mill and baking all of their bread and famous cinnamon rolls for a few weeks; she also loved learning how to make homemade candy.

“You never knew who you were going to run into in the candy basement,” Debbie says.

If someone famous visited the park, she says they would be in the candy basement, hanging out where workers created hard candy for sale. Debbie says she once met the famous tightrope artist family The Flying Wallendas right there in the basement.

During her last few years at Silver Dollar City, Debbie supervised the Culinary & Craft School, and while there, she learned how to make deviled eggs and brisket. She says she didn’t cook a lot growing up, but in her twenties, she spent a lot of time with her mother, so she learned how to make a few of Virginia’s famous dishes, such as homemade dill pickles.

Debbie is now teaching her nephew Derek’s wife Saren Demaree how to make brisket and rice casserole, along with other favorite recipes in their household. Debbie got the recipe from the “Dexter Centennial Cookbook (1873-1973),” originally issued in 1973, but republished in 2020 by the Historic Downtown Dexter Association.

Debbie says before the cookbook was republished, a lot of people searched auction and estate sales for a copy of the publication. She bought multiple copies of the cookbook for herself.

“You can’t beat a recipe that the people in the town, those women that used to cook, those recipes, you can’t beat them,” Debbie says.

In her free time, Debbie says she spends a lot of time with family, especially her nephew Derek who called her when she was in Silver Dollar City and said it was time to come home — he really missed her cooking.

Derek and Saren built a house on the same hill in Dexter where Debbie grew up. There is a gazebo on the property overlooking a lake that her father dug out with a tractor. She calls it a beautiful spot, especially in the summer when all of the trees are full of leaves.

Debbie’s sister Ja Demaree, nephew and cousin have all gotten married under that gazebo, which her mother originally built for Ja’s wedding and Ja rebuilt for her son Derek’s wedding.

“This was our place, our home. We loved it here,” Debbie says of the property.

Debbie says her church, First Christian Church, helped her get connected with the Dexter community after being away for 20 years. She loves staying involved by decorating for the holidays and cooking for church dinners.

She has also started writing her and her mother’s recipes down on cards, so once she’s gone, her family will know how to cook them.

“I write them down, and I write down what I change [in any recipes],” Crane says. “I think it’s something good to leave.”

Photo by Jasmine Jones

Rice Casserole

Recipe by Mrs. Charles (Judi) Brandon from “Dexter Centennial Cookbook (1873-1973)”

1½ stick oleo (butter)

1¼ cup rice (dry)

½ cup sliced almonds

2 cups consomme soup

1 can water

2 tablespoons soy sauce (Debbie uses 4 tablespoons)

1 cup chopped celery

Brown first three ingredients; add remaining ingredients. Bake covered for 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Tips from Debbie: Cook the first three ingredients until rice starts to turn translucent. Add remaining ingredients into the pan. Give it a few stirs before putting in dishware to bake.)