Saturday, January 24, 2009

HOMETOWN NEWS






I’ve spent waaaay too much time on old-time Family stuff lately; there are more and more times and people to speak of, but that’s for another time. I SO appreciate your comments and e-mails on all the posts. I’ve been asked by e-mail about what constitutes trashy, and I think I’d have to say that the nit-pickiest of all the criteria is the one that she puts dark meat in her chicken salad.You know, my only forebear who thought like that was my mother, who based every opinion she ever had on what would people think?---especially the few outspoken mesdames (Yes, nobody had a name of her own---they were listed as "Mesdames John Doe and BooRay Pendleton motored to Greenville on Wednesday of last week for Mrs. Doe's appointment with the Eye Doctor”---And woe betide the hostess who addressed even a widow's correspondence to Mrs JANE Doe---hubby's name lived FOREVER, bless his heart). I always found the Mesdames thing amusingly affected, but practical, as well---it would be hard to keep up with the plural of all those Mizzeses.

Those Mesdames and their doings were prominently featured in the little local paper. They motored to Memphis, they had their sister-and-HER-husband over for coffee, their daughter attended a dance---whatever it was, our little hometown conduit sniffed it out and printed it in the paper.

Our own reporter Mrs. Allman was an elderly, soft-spoken widow lady, of demure dark shirtwaists and garters-below-the-knee, mother of one daughter, always spoken of by her entire name, as were legion of us---Anne Rivers was smart and pretty and quiet and married well, I think; I lost track of her social career when her mother went into a nursing home in another town. I shopped for groceries there every week or so, and lots of times I'd run by to say hello to several of the old dears from our town.

Mrs. Allman was always out in the common room, and she would start standing up as soon as she saw me pass reception---knowing it was just HER that I was coming to see---her little flat slippers skritching along behind the clunk of her rigidly-dutiful walker as she approached. Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode mirrored much of my visitation with Mrs. A, whose phone conversations of her reporter days were abrupt for such a kind, soft woman.


You'd say "Hello?" and you'd hear a gentle "Got any news?"

You'd report that you'd had the Goodpastures over to dinner on Friday (she'd take down the menu if you'd give it) and that you'd heard that Miss Eller Duncan was in the hospital. If you ventured past that into the weather or the children, you'd hear, "Well, Bye," and she was gone.

And if you've read Fried Green Tomatoes you know exactly what I'm talking about---their own Society Reporter Dot Weems is the embodiment of half the Southern women I've known---grimly tolerant of a slightly no-count husband, a fond Mother, fierce friend, jealously possessive of her standing appointment at the beauty shop, and nosy-as-all-getout. The little asides between chapters of the book, the little "articles" from the local paper are chillingly and charmingly true to all the little unimportances so vital to the gossip and commerce and manners of a small Southern town.

And chicken salad figured prominently in most of those social occasions which were so unerringly reported, down to the color of hat and shoes of the guest of honor. (Evening occasions of a widely-social nature were prone to feature "Chicken Spaghetti," made with the same broth and bird, but with the inclusion of a pound of soft-cooked spaghetti and a can of Schoolday English peas---don't ask). Whole menus were lovingly enunciated in all their glory, (lots with the originator's name appended, which is only right and proper) and the elaboration on wedding decor and collation---well, the day the paper arrived, you could settle in with a whole percolator, to soak up all the atmosphere and Alencon you could stand.

But my forebears were hardy, hard-working folk, lucky sometimes to have the peas and cornbread on the table, let alone something so dainty and frivolous as a salad with mannaze in it. (story of my Daddy and his love of mannaze for another time). No real social set for them, save for the folks they knew at church, spoke to in the store, waved "Hay" to from the rickety porch, passed by on those rutty gumbo roads.

So---I don't think we had a single chicken salad snob in our bunch, though it's mighty important to some people---believe me. I've catered for the Country-Club set, the Plaaaaanters’ daughters, the wanna-bes, and for some so humbly grateful that they remain sweetly in my memory, like the sweet young bride whose parents owned one tablecloth, and it a red-checked oilcloth, eternally set with salt, pepper, a bottle of peppersauce, and a clean coffeecan holding a bouquet of silverware washed and replaced after every meal.


But everybody wanted Chicken Salad---we’ve probably made enough over the years to fill the beds of several BIG pickups.

So, as an afterthought---here it is—full circle to Chicken Salad. It's Southern all the way, and may not appeal to folks in other areas of the country---indeed, my mention of powdered sugar elicited more gasps from eGullet folks than the Paminna Cheese made with Miracle Whip and set down on the Church Supper table like the REAL food did at Third-Sunday Gathering.

Makes a big bowl:

6 chicken breast halves, skin and bone still on (roast them like Miss Ina if you like---they are rich and savory, but the original has them simmered at a mere shimmer-in-the-pan, with a big handful of celery, tops and all, a few carrot slices or a handful of the babies, and a large cut-up onion. Salt and pepper as everything goes in; give it about thirty minutes at a not-quite-bubble, then cool it in the liquid. Or if you're in a hurry, take them out to a platter til you can handle them.) Broth and veggies make splendid soup, and the creamy-tender veggies are the ulitimate "cook's treat."


Bone and shred or chop meat and put into a large bowl. Sprinkle on several tablespoons of special syrup, toss, then leave to absorb.

1 apple (Gala or Fuji or some such nice sweet snappy one), peeled and chopped
About a cup of celery, cut in thin slices for sandwiches, or wider for salad plate
3 to 6 boiled eggs, peeled and chopped, depending on how much you like

A coupla big handfuls of red seedless grapes, halved (omit for dainty sandwiches)
2 cups good Mayo---Kraft is fine, but we use Duke's or Blue Plate---they both have a good Southern tang like homemade.
1/2 cup toasted pecans (halves for salad, chopped for sandwiches or choux puffs
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Fresh-ground black pepper

Special Syrup, below

Toss everything well with chicken in bowl, put into Tupperware to chill. Keeps in fridge three days from the moment you took the chicken off the fire (Mammaw's standard, and she'd toss out half a bowl after the time expired---life in a hot climate, I guess).

THE BEST TOASTED PECANS: 200 degrees for one hour---cookie sheet. Then toss with a bit of butter, sprinkle any kind of salt.

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Special Syrup---this is essential to the final dish---make the day before and keep in fridge in a jar---we're never without it. This makes a scant cup:

In a small saucepan, put 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, five or six cloves. Simmer like simple syrup just til sugar dissolves, then put into a small jar and chill.

This is also the secret of the potato salad, and I've never before parted with either recipe this thoroughly. (And a confession from my TRASHY heart: I LIKE dark meat included---it's richer, somehow).


Pickup loads, I tell you. Pickup loads.

3 comments:

Jon said...

Rachel,
Your heart is as far from being trashy as Natchez is from Hong Kong. To share such wonderful writing and treasured recipes shows you are kind-hearted and generous with your skills and talents. There is a genuine honesty in your writing that is so refreshing. You can say in a hundred words what some writers cannot in a hundred pages. You are blessed to have such a gift of magic with words.

Jon at Mississippi Garden

Kouign Aman said...

Huh. Sweet and tangy. Sounds like Miracle Whip. Whyfor the gasping, I wonders me.

I hope I someday get around to trying this recipe. It sounds a treat.

racheld said...

Jon,

There's no need to embellish with THIS family!! The funny and the STRANGE are just there. And of that place---people ARE interesting, aren't they?

KA---I hope you'll like it. But NOT MW, NOT MW, OK?
(In the fervent whispers of Harry pleading with the Sorting Hat).

That would feel like stirring in marshmallow creme.