Sunday, January 14, 2007

MY MOTHER’S ANNUAL FAMILY REUNION


Written by: Larry Hamby
larryhamby@mac.com


In the 1930’s and 1940’s my mother’s family: her mother, sisters and their families, her brothers and their families, and all the various aunts, uncles, cousins once, twice and thrice removed, and my brothers and me, all descendants of one Mary Savannah Reagin, the matriarch, my grandmother, met on the grounds of the little Rock Hill Baptist church in Lithonia, Georgia on the second Sunday in July.

The night before, some of the men of the family would dig a pit, fill it with hickory and burn it. When the wood settled down into coals, they would begin roasting a whole split pig, and sometimes a goat, basting them as they cooked with barbecue sauce.

Flanking the pits were two black iron wash pots filled with Brunswick Stew, the likes of which no one makes anymore, using squirrels and chickens. And of course, since most of the male cooks were Baptist, there was no drinking. Officially, anyway. But there was never any lack of volunteers to stay up all night and cook.

Sunday morning found plank tables on sawhorses meandering through the pine trees and literally hundreds of Mills’ and Reagan's and Blake’s and Ivey’s and who knew who else’s children (all originally from the Reagans, of course), adults and elders setting up casseroles, fried chicken, side dishes, desserts, salads. Once my mother brought a whole hand of bananas which disappeared almost immediately – many of the rural kids had never seen a banana before.

Then we all went to church (as many as could squeeze in the little building) after the service. Then we ate – we ate Brunswick Stew, Barbeque and everything else which we could stuff down while drinking lemonade from a sweating barrel. I remember the banana puddings – made from real boiled custard. No one then used store bought pudding mixes.

The hot afternoon we spent singing (dozing?) in the church and listening to the local gospel quartets.

Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we children were taken to a pond where we might catch a 2” fish.

So, when I hear someone say, “Singing all day and chicken n the ground,“ I remember what it was like to be a boy in a simpler rural world.

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Southern Fried Chicken

Colonel Sanders has done more to destroy Southern Fried Chicken than any other single person in history. But then, he comes from Kentucky, which was never a truly Southern state, so perhaps he might be forgiven. In any event, he and other restaurant operators have insured that almost everyone in this country of ours thinks that fried chicken is cooked in deep fat. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! It is time we recovered our culinary heritage and learned again how to fry a chicken.

Sadly, few people today will fry chicken properly. It takes too long and if you have never tasted good fried chicken you probably won’t be interested in preparing it properly. Believe me, it’s worth the effort.

Here’s what you do.

Start by going out in the back yard and killing a young fryer which you have raised and properly fed. OOOOPS! No one does that now, so go to a local farmer who takes proper care of his chickens, or a health food store and buy a properly fed young fryer.

Cut it up into fourteen pieces: two drumsticks, thighs, wings, breasts, backs and one each “pully-bone,” neck, liver and gizzard.

Shake it up in a brown paper bag in a mixture of flour and salt and pepper. Some say dip it in buttermilk first, or even marinate it overnight in buttermilk. I guess that’s all right, but not really necessary. If you do, salt the buttermilk.

Meantime in a large heavy iron frying pan, heat up the breakfast bacon grease leftovers, or lard (NEVER use vegetable oil!) or both so that you have no more than 1/4” melted fat. When it is good and hot, start browning the chicken pieces, all of which ought to fit in one pan (Some people will hold the liver out until later so as not to over cook it). Turn the pieces constantly until they are lightly browned. Then, cover the pan, turn the heat low and let the whole works cook for about 20-30 minutes.

Finally, take the over off, raise the heat and cook the chicken until it is crisp, turning it occasionally.

Remove the chicken to a platter, add some of the flour left over from shaking the chicken to the leftover grease and after it dissolves, add milk and cook until it is appropriately gravy. This is known as “cream gravy,” and unless you have homemade biscuits to go under it, don’t bother or you can save it for tomorrow’s breakfast with fresh biscuits.

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