As the holiday season approaches, popular home cook and social media personality Brenda Gantt celebrates with a lots of inspiration for upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. Gantt, who has become a Facebook sensation with more than three million followers, reaches out to the world from her home in Andalusia, Ala. through her “Cooking with Brenda Gantt” videos and a brand new cookbook, Linger Around the Table Y’all. Her popularity exploded in 2020 when she began sharing her simple, Southern recipes online. Today, she continues to build a loyal following–while expanding with speaking engagements and the publication of two popular cookbooks. Ultimately, Gantt says that her story is one of faith. She makes sure that all of her work is sprinkled with the love of Jesus. “People tell me that they feel a connection to me and my faith,” she says. “Along with my recipes, I make sure I share Jesus with my followers.”
A Continuing Witness. Gantt, who operates The Cottle House Bed and Breakfast in Andalusia, has always been an avid cook; she cooked for her family and often encouraged young people to learn how to cook. One day during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic, a young man from her church asked her how to make homemade biscuits; on a whim, she recorded a video on her personal Facebook page and shared it with church members who’d requested the biscuit recipe. The video was shared thousands of times, and within two weeks it had a million views. Her son-in-law, Walt, soon suggested that she set up a separate page away from her personal information. “Cooking with Brenda Gantt” debuted in April 2020, and she began recording “official” videos almost immediately.
Since then, her visibility and popularity have continued to grow–and so has her feeling of responsibility to reach out and help people. While her followers are in the multi-millions, Gantt attempts to stay personal and accessible. She wants to always be a strong Christian witness, helping people when she can. “It’s overwhelming sometimes because I can’t answer all of the questions,” she says. “I encourage my followers to help me out. If someone asks a simple question–maybe the difference between plain and self-rising flour–I encourage followers to answer that person.” She gave as an example a recent video about peach cobbler that garnered 60,000 comments. “I just can’t get to all of them,” she says, “so I love it when my followers help.”
Even more meaningful than the questions she gets about cooking are the situations that involve people’s personal lives and struggles. Gantt says that she always strives to provide encouragement and love and has been bolstered by how her “simple” videos seem to touch people. “I’ve encountered all kinds of situations,” she says. “Divorce, wayward children, illnesses. I’ve had some people fighting stage-4 cancer who said they don’t have the energy to cook, but they can sit and watch me cook. My videos are uplifting to them, and they looked forward to my smile. Hearing things like that is just wonderful. It reminds me of how I can make a difference.” Gantt says she is particularly attuned to any needs and requests online that are spiritual in nature. She scrolls through comments on her videos and responds whenever there’s the opportunity to build someone up. You never know, she says, when you may be introducing Christ’s love to someone for the first time. “I want to get my followers into their kitchens, to give them confidence in cooking,” she says, “but I also want to let them know that Jesus loves them. I always bring some Scripture into my videos, and I tell stories that show my faith in a non-threatening way.” According to Gantt, she understands the way some people will react to her faith story. “You have to be careful because not everyone wants to hear that much about Jesus. I do it gently and try not to come across as pushy,” she says. “I follow God’s lead and give what I can.”
Recipes & Stories. Once Gantt’s cooking videos went viral, requests for her recipes came in on an almost constant basis. Her first cookbook, It’s Gonna Be Good Y’all, was published in 2021 by Birmingham’s Hoffman Media; it included more than 100 recipes from Gantt’s private collection. Gantt’s newest cookbook, Linger Around the Table Y’all, was released in October of this year and works as a companion to her first book–but with additional recipes and more personal stories. The book, which sold out of its original pre-orders, is available now from www.brendaganttbook.com with limited inventory. The title of her second cookbook, Gantt says, was a very deliberate choice. “There’s something to be said about families sitting around the table together,” she says. “We need to find at least one meal a day–it can be breakfast, lunch, or supper–where we can gather around the table together with no phone and no television.” According to Gantt, families today are busier than ever before; it’s especially important to find time to eat together, amid travel ball, dance lessons, school, church events, and other activities. She says she and her late husband prioritized mealtime with their children. “When I was raising my children, we didn’t have cell phones. But we had phones that had to be taken off the hook, and our kids knew at mealtime that the phones were off the hook,” she recalls. “We ate together and talked. When they were teenagers, they wanted to eat and quickly get up from the table. I’d say no, we’re going to sit here and talk.”
Gantt’s new cookbook provides more than 100 additional recipes (“it’s not fancy recipes, just common sense food”), as well as inspirations from Scripture and stories about how she grew up “lingering” around the dinner table and then fostering table time with her own family. She says she still treasures the memories of having breakfast each morning with her parents since her father worked late into the night. “He worked at Hunt Oil in Tuscaloosa, and Momma would often take us to his office for supper and we’d visit while he ate,” she says. “I vividly remember those times of eating together. It showed my Momma’s love for my Daddy.” Gantt’s original motivation to write a cookbook was to pass along such stories (and recipes) to her children and grandchildren. “It’s important to leave that legacy to our family.”
Holiday Celebrations. Linger Around the Table Y’all includes recipes for holiday dishes (with a chapter on holidays titled “O Holy Night”) and Gantt says that her memories of the holidays are often intertwined with food. She’ll never forget the Christmas when her father smashed a real coconut with a hammer on their family’s carport. Her mother planned ahead and punched holes beforehand so that the children could drink the milk from the coconut. “Mother and Daddy peeled the skin off the coconut and then she made a tall, 3-tiered coconut cake,” she remembers. “She put it under a big glass dome and set the entire cake on the back balcony. If we wanted cake, we had to go outside to get it.”
Gantt says that holidays are about making memories, and she encourages families today to teach that they are special times. “We always dressed up for Christmas dinner,” she says. “Dress up, even if it’s just you and your little bunch because we are celebrating something great. We’re celebrating Jesus!” Just as her new cookbook proclaims, it’s the gathering together that’s vital. She stresses that being together doesn’t have to be fancy; it just needs to be intentional. “There’s nothing fancy to a lot of my recipes and ideas,” she says. “You can have a picnic with your children out in the woods. Or you can gather together on the porch or in the kitchen. Just eat together and talk. It doesn’t have to be complicated.”
Future Plans. When asked what her plans are for the future, Gantt says that she will “keep doing what I’m doing until the Lord changes my direction, and I haven’t heard that yet.” She plans on continuing to post on her “Cooking with Brenda Gantt” Facebook page and being open to new avenues and challenges. She limits her speaking engagements to select events and continues to welcome people into The Cottle House–where she serves as hostess and cooks meals for guests. “It’s a 1905 farmhouse with a wraparound porch. We redid it and it has that country feeling,” she explains. “I cook breakfast every morning for guests, and they tend to want to eat together these days. People are coming from all over the United States, and I think they need that connection.” She also continues to support and love her children and grandchildren (Dallas and Hannah, their spouses Anna and Walt, and grandchildren Isabella, William, Bay, Cate, and Banks) and honor the memory of her husband, George, who passed away in 2018.
Gantt encourages people to continue visiting her Facebook page and inviting new people to discover her online. She finds it hard to believe she has more than 3 million followers, but she is always ready to welcome more. “It’s crazy when you think about it, and I don’t know how big it will get,” she says. “But I want people to keep finding me, so I can help them. I’ll keep doing my thing until God tells me otherwise.”