As everyone knows, there’s nothing like chicken dinner on a Sunday. My menu came together fairly easily – oven-fried chicken, jalapeno cornbread, and lemon chess pie were a no-brainer for Pine Bluff, Arkansas week – except for the problem of a vegetable. I needed something green on the plate to break up all that brown and yellow, maybe some nice sugar snap peas or roasted asparagus. Unfortunately, every single vegetable dish in Southern Accent involved bacon drippings, a cup of cheese, heavy cream, or a sugary glaze, and this plate already had plenty of those things on it.
In a vague nod to good health, I opted for oven-fried chicken over a traditional deep fried chicken, although to be honest, this had less to do with nutrition than the contributor of the fried chicken recipe. I just did not care for her tone.
I started with dessert, in order to give the pie time to set up and cool.
Lemon Chess Pie
1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice of 2 lemons
Grated rind of 2 lemons
5 Tbsp. melted butter
Mix ingredients together, and pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes until mixture is firm and brown on top.
-Mrs. Charles Scarbrough
Much to my surprise, Brady did not know the origins of the name “chess pie,” though to be fair, there are actually three common narratives, all of them rooted in that charming condition known as “South-mouth.” The first is that because the pie was stored in an ice chest, it came to be known as “chest pie,” shortened by regional dialect to “chess pie.” The second is that because of the similarity of its filling to the English treat, lemon curd, the name comes from a regionalization of “cheese pie” (though this involves a cognitive leap from curd to cheese that I find messy). My favorite of the three has probably the weakest etymological leg to stand on, but makes up for it with sheer style. The story goes that someone came into a diner and asked what kind of pie they had. The waitress looked in the cooler, and seeing only a plain old custard replied, “Jes’ pie.”
I have strong feelings on the subject of freezer pie crust. I’m agin’ it. Making your own pie crust takes next to no time – I had this puppy mixed, rolled, crimped, and photographed in 10 minutes, and as I’m sure I’ve demonstrated quite clearly in previous posts, my love of cooking far outstrips my skill. Here’s a simple recipe for a single pie crust:
1 cup of flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of Crisco
4-6 tablespoons ice water
Mix the flour and salt together. With a pastry cutter or a potato masher, mix in the Crisco until the dough is crumbly. Then, add about 4 tablespoons of ice water and give it a few stirs to see if that’s enough to hold the dough together. Depending on the weather, you might need more. Once the dough forms a ball, turn it onto a floured surface and roll it out. Then put it in a pie pan and crimp the edges.
- Dough Handling: The first trick to a flaky crust is the ice water. You want to keep the Crisco as cool as possible. This also means that you should try to avoid touching the dough. Basically, if you screw up the crust the first time you roll it out and it tears or something, just start over again. If you have to smoosh the dough back into a ball and roll it out again, you’ll wind up with rubbery crust.
- Dough Rolling: Pat flour on the top of the dough and on your rolling pin. Once you’ve given it three or four rolls, lift up the edges and scoop more flour underneath the dough. That way, it won’t stick to the counter.
- Successful Transfer to the Pie Pan: Once the dough is rolled out, wrap it once around your rolling pin. Then gently lift it up and drag it into the pan, unrolling it once you have it centered.
- Tasty trick: If you’re making a savory pie or a quiche, substitute one tablespoon of white vinegar for the same quantity of ice water.
Anyhow, I don’t expect anyone to share my pie crust mania, but give it a try at least once. For me.
Next up, I dispatched the jalapeno cornbread, which surely contains several times the recommended daily allowance of bacon drippings for growing boys and girls.
Jalapeno Corn Bread
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
1 (8 3/4 oz.) can cream style corn
1/4-1/2 cup chopped Jalapeno peppers
1/2 cup shortening or bacon drippings
Melt bacon drippings in a 9-inch iron skillet until very hot. During this time, sift dry ingredients in bowl. Add remaining ingredients, plus hot drippings, and mix well. Pour batter into skillet and bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes. Muffin tins may be used, filling half full, and baked 15-20 minutes. Serves 6.
-Mrs. Royce O. Johnson, Jr.
My cast iron skillet is much larger than 9 inches, so I opted to bake the cornbread in a regular round pan (though I did grease it with bacon drippings). Also, if you wear contacts, wear latex gloves (or in a pinch, stick a sandwich bag over your hand) while you chop the jalapenos, or there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth the next time you put in your lenses.
Oven Fried Chicken
3/4 cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 cups dry breadcrumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 fryer, cut up
Melt butter with garlic in it. Combine salt, pepper, crumbs, cheese, and parsley. Dip chicken pieces in butter, then in crumbs. Lay in shallow baking pan. Do not overlap! Do not turn! Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 1 hour. Serves 4.
-Mrs. Jasper Pyeatt (Searcy, Arkansas)
I’d worried that an hour in the oven would be too long, and that the chicken would be tough, but it was moist, juicy, and very flavorful. Also, I stuck the Parmesan and parsley in the food processor before adding them to the breadcrumbs so they’d stick to the chicken better. I learned this lesson after once making an ill-fated pecan-crusted tilapia.
And here’s our little red table laid for Sunday dinner, note the centerpiece:
Among its many admirable features, Bob Frank and John Murry’s new record is excellent dinner music, and in fact, promotes stimulating conversation, aids digestion, and takes the sting out of doing the dishes.