Years ago, a recipe went round the South for a tasty chicken dish, marinated in Wishbone Italian, rolled in crushed cornflakes, baked til tender and golden. It turned up at church suppers, funeral feasts, potlucks, pitch-ins, and Tupperware gatherings.
We were invited to the home of friends for dinner (we knew the husband well, as he and the men of our family were members of several organizations and all were farmers. I had met the wife briefly on occasion). Now, for the life of me, I cannot imagine what prompted the invitation, except possibly the husband's urging of a social occasion amongst us four.
And I was delighted for an evening which entailed real shoes, a dining room, and someone else's cooking. The idea of sitting down for an entire meal, without jumping up for the salt, refilling glasses, or wiping up spilt ones---that had its charms, as well. And though I did not know these people well, it was going out for the evening, an unusual and lovely thing, indeed.
Living-room-served Appetizer was rumaki, but not bacon-wrapped. The livers and whole water chestnuts had been marinated in the soy mixture, dumped in a baking dish, marinade and all, topped with slices of bacon, and baked til the bacon was brown around the edges.
The whole panful was poured into a clear glass dish, which then resembled some science experiment gone awry---graybrown chunks of boiled liver, long flappy strands of ecru boiled bacon, the whole floating in a brownish fluid flecked with liver crumbs and congealed lumps of blood. We were given toothpicks and told how much easier this recipe was than wrapping all those yucky, bloody livers. And there we stood, all dressed for special, probing our toothpicks into the brothy clumps with the enthusiasm of folks poking a bear with a stick. We emerged with a dripping bit, held our tiny plates beneath on the way to our mouths, and hoped for the best.
But you know, if you could get past appearances, they weren't so bad; the crispy chestnuts had taken on the hue of the sauce as well, so you weren't sure which you might be putting into your mouth, and would be surprised that the soft unctuousness you were expecting might turn out to be a not-unpleasant crunch.
But then came the True Crunch: the famed Cornflake Chicken. But they were out of cornflakes, it seems, so the hostess made do with the next best thing in the cereal cupboard: Grape-Nuts. Now, Grape-Nuts, on a good day and in its natural state, perhaps with a little pool of milk and a scatter of blueberries, is a passably pleasant breakfast. But those hard little nuggets, already baked into a shelf-life of ninety-nine years---well, baking them further still---that was not a good idea.
After the surprise of the first bite, we cut and scraped and managed to eat the INSIDE of the chicken pieces---the outsides resembled wallpaper flocked with BB's. Hoping to avoid a trip to the dentist for repair work, we did some meticulous carving and managed to carry on a conversation, all at the same time. Even after all this time, I can remember trying to separate those little stone crumbs from the tender chicken, corral them in my cheek, then swallow them like aspirin with a few sips of tea, whilst maintaining a conversation.
Side dish was a lovely platter of baked sweet potato surprise, another favorite au courant on the hairdryer circuit. The recipe included mashing the potatoes, then forming them into a ball around a marshmallow, then rolling the balls in: (developing a theme here) TADAAAAAAAA!!! Cornflakes.
Repeat chicken chorus ad lib, with a nice gravelly coating of Grape-Nuts around those mooshy sweet potatoes---like a mouthful of sweet aquarium rocks. How anyone could have thought TWO dishes rolled in cereal would make a balanced meal is beyond me, but the Grape-Nuts carried both recipes to heights undreamed of by the original cooks.
I think of that nice lady occasionally, how she opened her home to us, set her table nicely and cooked us dinner, and how ungratefully snarky my memories are. And I don't think I ever told the story from that day to this---it just seemed so ungrateful, somehow, after all that effort, and not befitting the hospitality.
But I still can't pass the cereal aisle without thinking of that chicken.