This blog originally ran on November 12, 2013. I like this particular post because it includes fond memories of my mother, who I miss every day.
A few weeks ago, when Bill and I were still in Arizona, my brother David and I were sitting outside late in the afternoon. Talk turned towards our childhood, as it often does whenever any combination of the siblings gathers.
I think we all agree that we had a wonderful childhood. None of us ever doubted that our parents loved us. Times were different, however. There wasn’t a lot of “I love you’s” tossed around though we knew they did. A term you hear thrown around these days is “helicopter parent.” You know, the parent who hovers around their child making sure no harm ever comes to little Junior or Juniorette. I think it’s safe to say that neither my mother nor my father would ever have been accused of being a helicopter parent.
Here’s an example: My mother was a very sound sleeper. Because of this, it really took a lot of guts for any of us to wake her up in the middle of the night. We knew it would involve a lot of shaking of her shoulders. Eventually, she would leap up in bed with a loud, “What is it?” Gulp. It had better be good because by this time Dad was awake.
For me, it was either “I’m going to throw up,” or “I can’t sleep.” If I was going to throw up, she was liable to ask me why I was telling her this in her bedroom instead of leaning over the toilet in the bathroom. And the “I can’t sleep”, well, that just got on her very last nerve.
Her answer to that particular complaint, without exception, was (say it with me Siblings), “Nobody ever died from a lack of sleep. Go back to bed.” I have no recollection of her ever getting out of her bed to tuck me back into my bed.
By the way, as an adult, I can certainly see, clear as day, just how silly it is to awaken someone to tell them that you can’t sleep. But for some reason it made perfect sense to me as a 7-year-old.
On the other hand, it wasn’t a good idea for anyone to bring harm or even angst to any of her children. Do so, and out came the Mother Lion. I clearly remember when a neighbor boy who was a year or so older than me and a bully before people became concerned about bullies chased me down, held me to the ground, and kissed me on the lips. I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I broke free and ran to my mother in tears. I vividly remember that she went to her closet, got the broom, and chased him all the way back to his house. She may not have caught him, but I’m sure he felt the bristles on the back of his neck.
But back to David and my conversation that day. We were talking about Mom’s good cooking. He told me his favorite meal and I told him mine. It got me to thinking about her cooking, so this week I asked all my siblings what meal they would have Mom make if she could come back to cook one dinner for them.
My sister Beckie’s response: Mom’s fried chicken. My mom, by the way, always claimed that she couldn’t cook a lick when she got married. All of her cooking skills were learned from her mother-in-law. I’m sure that’s true as my mom was the youngest of 13 kids, and her mom died before my mom was married, and sick for much longer than that. Not in a position to teach my mom to cook. So Mom’s fried chicken is actually my grandmother’s fried chicken, and now my fried chicken. Don’t confuse this chicken with southern-style because it isn’t crunchy. Instead, it is tender and flavorful.
My Family’s Fried Chicken
1 frying chicken, cut into 10 pieces (my mother always cut each breast into two pieces}
1-2 c. flour, well-seasoned with salt and pepper
Butter and vegetable oil, half and half, deep enough to fill a pan to a depth of about a quarter of an inch
Preheat the butter and oil in the fry pan until it’s hot enough to sizzle if you flick a drop of water into the pan. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess. Lay the pieces skin-side-down into the hot oil. Cook until it’s nicely brown, 5-6 minutes. Turn over and do the same on the other side. It doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through. Only fry a few pieces at a time or your shortening will cool down too much and your chicken pieces won’t brown nicely.
As you remove the chicken pieces from the pan, place them into a roasting pan. (Conversely, you can place them temporarily on a plate and return all of the pieces to the pan to finish. Make sure your pan is oven-proof and has a lid if you choose this option.) Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and place into a preheated 350 degree oven for an hour or so until the chicken is cooked through and falls off the bone.
Nana’s Notes: Personally, I believe a cast iron skillet is imperative to make good fried chicken. Having said this, I must say I don’t believe my mother used a cast iron skillet. Still, you would have to pry my lovely well-seasoned iron skillet out of my hand to make me fry chicken in a regular skillet. I used to fry the chicken, place the pieces on a plate until finished, pour out most of the grease, return the chicken to that pan, cover and finish cooking it in the oven. Now, however, I fry the chicken and put the pieces into a toss-away aluminum roasting pan, cover it with tin foil and finish it in the oven. There is no getting around it. Frying chicken is messy business. Also, I add a bit of cayenne pepper to my seasoned flour. Don’t tell my mother.