My Willett grandmother lived in a small Texas town near Lubbock. I stayed with her sometimes in the summer and she made the best crispy fried chicken, velvety smooth mashed potatoes and thick cream gravy that I have ever tasted—makes my mouth water just thinking about it! Grandmother’s meal planning began in her back yard where she kept the hens that laid eggs for the family. I can picture her now, in a dress with an apron covering the front, marching out the kitchen door and into the chicken yard where she grabbed a plump hen by the feet. In a deft maneuver, she popped its neck and left it to run circles around the back yard until it dropped. Next the hen went into a pot of boiling hot water on the back porch. The smell was awful, but soon the wet feathers were plucked off and set aside to dry for a pillow-in-the-making.
Grandmother then gutted the chicken and cut it into pieces. She coated each piece on a big cutting board covered with flour, a pinch of salt and a shake of pepper. Meanwhile, a big cast iron dutch oven on Grandmother’s stove was heating up the oil to cook the chicken. I believe Grandmother used Crisco to fry her chicken—and for lots of other recipes in her kitchen. She might also have added a bit of the bacon drippings that she kept in a metal container on the back of her stove.
After Grandmother had the chicken pieces well covered in flour, she carefully lowered them into the popping hot grease in her dutch oven. The pieces were cooked and turned until they became a crispy golden brown. Meanwhile, Irish potatoes that had been boiled were mashed with big pieces of butter, a dash of milk, a pinch of salt and a little pepper in them. Grandmother mashed them with her electric mixer until nary a lump could be found.
When the chicken was done, Grandmother took the pan and threw flour into the leftover oil and began adding milk as she stirred it over a low flame. Small crunchy bites left over from the fried chicken were stirred into the mixture and it all became wonderful cream gravy to be spread over the mashed potatoes.
Somewhere along the line, Grandmother had time to slice tomatoes from her garden and warm up some of her home-canned green beans. All of this made up a delicious meal on a warm summer’s evening in West Texas—without air conditioning!
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