Our cooking today is so much different from days gone by. When my granddaughter was three, she stood in front on my oven door where a whole chicken baked in a glass pan. With wide eyes she said, "Is that a chicken?"
You see, her mother only bought chicken parts. She'd never seen a whole chicken. How different from when I was a child. Below is a recollection when I visited Grandma at about age five. I've included it in my cookbook Family Favorites from the Heartland.
Fried Chicken-Grandma’s Style
During the late 40s and early 50s I spent many weeks in the summer at my grandmother Sally’s house. That’s when polio epidemics infected many. Mom felt there were “less germs,” as she put it, in the rural area where my grandparents lived.
I had a hand in everything while there from gathering eggs to milking cows.
One afternoon when I was about six, Grandma announced, “I think we’ll have fried chicken for supper.”
She filled a large pot with water and set it on the stove to boil.
“Grandma, how can you fry chicken in boiling water?”
“Never mind. You’ll see,” she said as we went out the front door. “Now stay here on the front porch while I get one.”
She approached the chickens in the corner of the fenced yard and grabbed one by its leg. The startled hen squawked as feathers flew from her flopping wings. Grandma grabbed the hen’s head from behind and swung it around and around as if she was about to deliver a line drive pitch.
Suddenly, the squawking stopped. The chicken fell to the ground. With blood spurting everywhere, the chicken ran all over the yard. Grandma set the chicken head on the sidewalk. The involuntary muscle contractions made the head hop. I watched wide-eyed.
When the chicken’s body slumped to the ground, Grandma picked it up and said, “Let’s go inside and get the feathers off this old hen.”
I was still watching the head jump but managed to tear myself away. Inside, she plunged the chicken into a big pot of boiling water. The smell made me gag. The odor reminded me of burning hair. I began to wonder if I could eat supper after this.
Grandma put the wet bird in the sink and pulled the feathers off till it was as clean as a newborn babe. There were a few pin feathers left which she singed in the flame on the gas stove. More burnt hair smell. Then she took the insides out and cut the bird in pieces with a large meat cleaver.
In her big iron skillet she spooned bacon drippings from a can she kept on the back on the stove. While the grease heated, she dredged the chicken in flour. Gently she laid each piece in the grease and turned the flame down. When the chicken browned on one side, she turned each piece over while she peeled potatoes and put them on to boil. When they were boiled she handed me a potato masher and poured the water off so I could mash them.
She put the chicken on a plate and said, “While you mash the potatoes, I’ll make the gravy.”
Three heaping tablespoons of flour went into the grease while Grandma stirred the mixture and then ladled enough fresh cows’ milk to make a cream gravy.
I had never tasted such a delicious chicken, although today I prefer to pick my chicken from the meat counter rather than the yard.