By Brandei Clifton
November 8, 2023
You may not know Shirley Tolar’s name but we bet a silver dollar you’ve heard about hearty helpings of her culinary claim to fame.
More than 40 years ago, the food services team at Silver Dollar City was brainstorming new tasty treats for the park. Shirley had a flash of inspiration -- right there in her frying pan.
“I remembered my favorite memory at my grandma Lizzie’s house, picking vegetables from her garden and chopping them up for lunch,” she smiles. “It’s the only time she let us use a knife and we felt so big!”
Her family would toss the veggies in a skillet after church along with chunks of chicken or ham and lots of savory spices. It was enough to feed the whole hungry herd of siblings and cousins.
“We loved it so much,” she gushes. “We never got tired of it. I almost think – as a kid – it tasted even better because we got to help make it!”
Flash forward four decades to that meeting about needing new food items at Silver Dollar City.
“I thought it would be a good way to honor grandma if I offered up that old recipe to my bosses at The City as the new hot seller,” Shirley smiles. “One of them said ‘Shirley never fails at anything, let’s give it a go!’ and that became our succotash story.”
The savory mix was such a hot hit that it caught the attention of folks at the okra plant in Stillwell, Oklahoma. Silver Dollar City quickly became the largest private consumer of okra in the United States.
“The plant people invited me to Oklahoma to be their Okra Queen. I got a crown and everything!” she laughs. “Goodness, that was a good time!”
From Okra Queen to “Queen of the Skillet,” Shirley’s royal idea all those years is still one of the park’s best sellers – dishing out more than 120,000 pounds of succotash and harvest skillets each year.
“It really blows my mind every time I think about how this all started by a memory from my childhood,” she says. “It warms my heart when people come up to me and tell me how much they love it. I know my grandma would just gobble this up!”
When guests ask Shirley for the recipe, she often gives them a signed copy.
“Isn’t that a fun legacy for a gal who spoke up four decades ago with a simple idea?” she says. “I’m so glad I threw the idea out there to the team. Just goes to show you should never second-guess suggestions if you believe in them.”
Now in her 43rd year at the theme park, Shirley says she’s thought a few times about retiring, but there’s something about The City that keeps pulling her back.
“I can’t put a finger on it some days, but I know it’s the people, the fun!” She beams. “More than that though, it’s how I feel working here. My team cares about me.”
After all these years, she still chuckles a bit about her famed skillets and the attention it brings.
“You know, I’ve even been in People magazine,” she laughs. “Carrie Underwood was in that same issue so my family always thought that was pretty neat.”
“Stardom” aside, Shirley says the heart of her skillet story always comes back to the encouragement she feels from everyone at the park.
“Even Jack and Peter Herschend have gone out of their way to make me feel like part of the family through the years,” she says. “I just can’t say enough how it’s easy to work hard for folks who value you. My current team is the best of the bunch! I’ve had 43 years of fun here. If I make it to 45, I might as well make it 50.”
1 – 16oz Package Frozen Breaded Okra
1 cup Whole Kernel Corn (Fresh or Frozen)
1 cup Sliced Yellow Squash
½ cup White Onion (julienne sliced)
1 cup Green Bell Pepper (julienne sliced)
½ lb Chicken Breast cut fajita style
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
¼ cup Olive oil
In a large skillet sauté onions and peppers in 1 tsp pf olive oil, remove from skillet. Add corn and squash vegetables to the skillet, cooking until soft. Remove from skillet into a separate bowl. Then add 1 tsp of oil and chicken. Cook on medium until browned and cooked through. Remove from Skillet and reserve until later. Add remaining oil to pan with the okra. Fry until golden brown then add the salt, pepper and garlic. When okra is done add back the vegetables and chicken heating everything through. Serve and enjoy!