Meet May O’Nays

Photography by: Josh Astor

Written by: May O’Nays

Like so many country women before her, my mom, Chris, often supplemented our household income selling baked goods from the home kitchen during lean times. In our family we could mark time by noticing which baked goods mom was making.

My favorite annual tradition was her Easter Sunday cinnamon rolls. As a pastor, my dad was responsible for reminding people that Christ had risen. As a pastor’s wife, my mom’s self-appointed responsibility was making sure her cinnamon rolls had, too! The night before Easter my mom would get to work making untold dozens of cinnamon rolls in her industrial sized mixing bowl. Did she bake them the night before? Absolutely not. “You can’t serve people day-old bread,” I can hear her say, as she brushed the tops with a thin glaze, justifying her Easter all-nighter.

So many drag queens develop our personas based on the women we loved and idolized as children. For me, this includes my mother, her four sisters, my grandmother, and the scores of church ladies who imprinted their knowledge and know-how onto me. The kind of know-how you can only gain by waiting around in the kitchen for the exact moment a beater can be licked, or the moment when taking a pinch of dough is allowed. The know-how of a farmer’s wife who showed you how to split hostas, collect volunteer black-eyed Susans, and warned against planting mint outside of a pot. Or the know-how of where to place your food on the potluck table so it gets eaten and you don’t have the ultimate humiliation of leaving with a full casserole dish. It’s these intimate moments of quiet care I strive to embody through my drag.

While I’ve traded small town Indiana for an urban setting in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, I use my kitchen and postage-stamp-sized backyard to echo the can-do attitude of great country women. My garden is equal parts flowers and raised vegetable beds. My well tended beds supply plenty of summer produce even in my limited space. Just three or four healthy zinnias (correctly pronounced ZEEN-yah…just ask Peggy) can provide fresh flowers all summer long. And making the most of every square inch, I converted a seldom used second story side porch into a cozy spot for beekeeping.

In honor of Pride month, I want to share my home-making skills and pay homage to the women who passed down classic Hoosier recipes for generations. This is that good ol’ country food you might not eat every day, but that pops up at every special occasion. In these dishes you’ll see German, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Quaker ancestry on display. Also on display is poverty cooking; simple starches and meats that can be stretched (sometimes quite literally) to feed untold masses.

I extend a world of gratitude to the church ladies who raised me, and whose legacies reverberate through me today. Thank you to Peggy, Tammy, April, Ethel, Ruth, Dorothy, Janet, Patrice, Lori, and Carol for your generosity of spirit that made me who I am today.

Find these recipes and more at

Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Recipe Inspired by Artie’s Tenderloin in Kokomo, Indiana

In Indiana, the pork tenderloin sandwiches need to be pounded paper thin and as wide as possible. It should be at least two times (preferably three or more) the size of your bun and typically is dressed with yellow mustard and pickles.

Chicken and Noodles

This recipe has been handed down at least five generations from my second great grandmother, Edith (b. 1895).

The echoes of spaetzle can be seen in this dish. Chicken and noodles is a cousin of dumplings and has a similar consistency. You should serve your chicken and noodles on top of a bed of mashed potatoes and your favorite dinner roll on the side (mine is my mother’s, of course).

Sugar Cream Pie

This recipe is from one of our beloved church homes from the kitchen of Irene by way of a beloved church matriarch, Avonelle.

Similar to desperation pie, the appeal here is simplicity; cream, sugar, a few tablespoons of flour and vanilla on a perfect crust. My perfect crust came from a dear friend and neighbor, Sandy. If you’re feeling fancy, you can dust the top with cinnamon.