Happy Monday, happy July, and happy National Fried Chicken Day! As always, #TGIM – I continually look forward to Mondays because they are my #52Chances each year, in which I have to share my memories of Mom!
I can’t believe it’s July already! I hope everyone enjoyed the nice, long Independence Day weekend in some way, safely. A lot of people around us, were having their own backyard celebrations all weekend.
As I mentioned above, today is National Fried Chicken Day – which makes it a finger licking good day in my book – and tomorrow will actually be the 39th anniversary of when Mom FIRST appeared on the Phil Donahue Show (July 7, 1981); demonstrating, among other things, how she imitated fried chicken like the Colonel’s right at home!
As I’ve written about previously, that show was definitely a milestone event, to say the least – for our family as well as our community! Because of Mom’s appearance, our small post office in St. Clair was swamped with about a million letters, throughout that summer and fall. The requests and orders generated from that show, as it aired and re-aired around the world for about a year, just kept pouring in! It was truly an overwhelming response that none of us ever expected.
Mom has written many stories about her experiences, on TV and radio shows, related to her KFC-style chicken imitation, which she called “Big Bucket In The Sky! Chicken”. Below is just one of those stories, from her book, My Cup Runneth Over And I Can’t Find My Mop, and a copy of that recipe.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, pp. 71-72)
KFC & THE COLONEL
HISTORY BOOKS have said little of the one person who really put the state of Kentucky on the map, namely the gentleman whom will always be associated with ‘finger-lickin’-good’ fried chicken, Harland Sanders. He was born in Henryville, Indiana in 1890, and died in late 1980.
Harland was one of the food industry’s most successful men. In 1956, Harland Sanders was an out-of-work 66-year-old [man]. When he died, he left a multi-million-dollar food empire. One survey said that, next to Santa Claus, he was the world’s most recognized personality.
When he founded KFC, he had taken his Social Security check, a pressure-Fryer, a can of spices and herbs and set out across the country to show a few restaurant owners how to fry chicken the ‘right’ way! If they liked it, he promised to supply them with the secret coding.
He was a born salesman! And successfully so, considering the number of jobs he held in a lifetime. Once, over WFAA-Radio, in Dallas, I had the pleasure of speaking with the Colonel and it was that conversation, set up by the host of the show I worked with every Thursday, that gave me the clue on how to season flower at home so that it would taste like the Colonel’s coating on his Kentucky fried chicken.
He had just sold that business to the Heublein liquor and food conglomerate, for around $2 million and it was (quote) ‘the dumbest thing I ever did do!’ He complained that the gravy tasted like ‘wallpaper paste’ and the chicken was ‘dry as cardboard’ and that his recipe and technique had been so terribly altered that he was sick about it.
But he was also being taken to court by the company to which he sold KFC. To prove his point, he told me, in court, he prepared his chicken the right way and passed it out to the jury, the judge and the court along with the bucket of chicken purchased down the street from a KFC unit. The court ruled in his favor.
He told me he had read about our recipes in the Corbin, Kentucky newspaper and that he was flattered with my version of his product, but that I didn’t have to go to all of the trouble of imitating 11 herbs and spices.
He said he wanted to see just what kind of a detective I REALLY was, so he told me to go to the supermarket and find one product in a (quote) ‘package’ that would do the same job as those 11 herbs and spices. And I was to report back to him on the radio show the following Thursday. We tested a dozen or more products during the next six days. And finally I found Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix! It was wonderful!
‘You really are a detective after all,’ Colonel Sanders told me on the air that next week, by telephone from his home in Kentucky. I was on the phone from our home in St. Clair. So it was, indeed, the Colonel himself who put me on the right track with this recipe, and with thousands of people listening in the Dallas area. I am so grateful for this wonderful experience. My cup runneth over!
It was also in the conversation with the Colonel that I was urged not to sell my business as long, he told me, as I had the energy and the aptitude to run it myself. At the conclusion of the lawsuit, I was pleased to see that the company was moved to improve the product and give it back its original goodness. Harland remained as a public relations representative for them until the time he passed away.
Most interesting about his background was that he was eight years old when he was turning out entire menus of American delicacies for his widowed mother, while he took care of the house and did the cooking so that she could work.
He said he went on to become a streetcar conductor, a farmhand, (to Cuba as) a soldier, a railroad fireman, section hand, insurance agent, a steamboat promoter, gaslight manufacturer, tire salesman and, finally, as a service station operator in Corbin, Kentucky.
When they could, Harland and his wife, Claudia, enjoy dining at the Elmwood Inn, in Berryville (KY), where as you might expect, his favorite dish was chicken! Given the honorary title of ‘Colonel’ by the state of Kentucky, for his contributions to its cuisine, he remains one of the most respected and recognized figures in the food industry.
Our ‘Better Cookery Cookbook’ [which I rewrote for Mom and it was republished under the title ‘Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective’, in January 2018 by Balboa Press] contains my versions of his products, which you can re-create in your own kitchen from those recipes.
I also tell you in detail, in that book, about our visit to The Donahue Show when I was asked to prepare the famous chicken on camera for millions of viewers and, instead of a deep fryer, the staff provided me, by mistake, with a toaster oven.
The recipe had to be revamped right then and there on camera. It worked out so well that we have, since that experience, included the ‘oven-fried’ version on our sheet of sample recipes, which we have probably sent without charge, just for a self-addressed, stamped envelope, to over a few million people!
Here is a copy of that “Big Bucket In The Sky! Chicken” recipe, as I’ve given out in a previous blog post and, also, posted under the “Recipes” tab, on this website:
July happens to be National Picnic Month, among other things. When I pack up a summer picnic for me and my husband, I like to use the same classics that Mom used to always make. I can’t eat them now, but I always loved her homemade fudge brownies, chocolate chip cookies, coleslaw, potato salad and, of course, fried chicken (which is always great, hot or cold)! My husband still enjoys them, on my behalf, while I now make low-carb dishes for myself. Our favorite picnic standards are very similar to those listed on HowStuffWorks.com, in Sara Elliott’s informative article, Top 10 Picnic Foods.
At our house ‘eating out’ meant roasting hot dogs in the front yard. But then, we didn’t know of many restaurants where 5 children, who hated green vegetables and spilled catsup on the tablecloths, were welcomed. I had to learn to cook by default…the way I saw it, as long as my husband could get marvelous fried chicken at home, why should he take me to Colonel Sanders’? – Gloria Pitzer [“No Laughing Matter”, This Cook is Rated X (or) Yes, Gloria! There Really is a Colonel Sanders (no date available – circa 1970s)]
Frankenmuth, Michigan is a city that has been world-famous, for many decades, for their family-style, sit-down, fried chicken dinners. This wonderful little town is not too far from us, near Saginaw, MI – from where one of Mom’s favorite radio shows still airs, “Listen to the Mrs.”, co-hosted by Art Lewis and Ann Williams on WSGW-Radio. Not now because of the pandemic, but normally tourists flock to this little German-style town from all around the world and will stand in line for hours to get their world-famous chicken dinners at one of the two largest establishments in town.
The two major restaurants in Frankenmuth that serve the famous family-style chicken dinners are Zehnders and the Bavarian Inn. The town’s German heritage exudes from its many restaurants, hotels, breweries and quaint little shops that line the mile-plus length of the main street through town – from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland (which is all Christmas, all year) to the Frankenmuth Brewery!
Mom and Dad loved to take road trips to Frankenmuth, as do my husband and me. Although we can’t right now because of Covid-19 restrictions – we’re looking forward to a great day trip there in the future. I miss all the German culture experience that this small tourist town has to offer! Over the 40 years that Mom investigated different restaurant dishes as “The Recipe DetectiveTM”, she came up with many imitations from Frankenmuth of some of the famous dishes available at the two major restaurants mentioned above; plus, some bread and confection imitations from the local bakeries and fudge shops, as well.
In honor of National Fried Chicken Day, here is Mom’s wonderful copycat recipe for Fried Chicken, Like Frankenmuth…Happy cooking!
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
If you missed last week’s show, you can listen to it at https://www.whby.com/2020/06/29/laura-pitzer-emerich-open-show/!