As seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 94)… [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition).]*
The German community of Frankenmuth, Michigan, which for decades has celebrated the art of fried chicken (served family-style) has had thousands of customers lined up every weekend and holiday, waiting to be seated in one of their 2 large restaurants. Their fried chicken is like ‘Grandma used to make’ – richly flavored, moist inside and never greasy. The family-style dinner provides the table with large bowls of homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, moist and spicy dressing (called “stuffing” in other parts of the country), a fresh-from-scratch cranberry-orange relish, hot breads and beverages.
The fried chicken method:
Begin by setting your electric skillet at 400°F and melting ¼ pound margarine and ½ cup corn oil in it. Blend only until the margarine bubbles, without letting it change color. Don’t let it brown, please!
Run the pieces of a cut-up chicken fryer under cold water. Shake off the excess water but don’t let it get too dry. Dredge each piece evenly in flour, turning it over and over about 3 or 4 times to let the moisture of the chicken absorb the flour as you turn it and form a coating.
Place the floured pieces skin-side down in the oil/margarine mixture and, as it brown’s, sprinkle each piece with the following: 1/8 teaspoon onion salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, ¼ teaspoon paprika and a dash of sage.
When the skin-side of each piece is golden brown, turn and let the bone-side that you just seasoned, brown as well. Dust the browned side with the same 4 ingredients given above. Also sprinkle each piece, skin-side up and nicely browned, with 1 tablespoon flour per piece and then about 2 teaspoons of the drippings in which the chicken is being fried.
Rinse a baking pan in hot water and shake it off, but don’t dry it. Transfer chicken pieces to the moist pan, skin-side up, in a single layer. Put it in a 400°F oven to bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes – for a moister coating cover the pan with foil as the chicken is baking. Serves 4.
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 imitatedfried 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)
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.
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 BavarianInn. 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.
As seen in Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective ( Balboa Press, January 2018; 1st Printing, p. 88)
THE FRIED CHICKEN RECIPE that first called attention to my recipes nationally – through the ‘National Enquirer’, ‘Money Magazine’, ‘Catholic Digest’, ‘The Christian Science Monitor’, ‘Campus Life Magazine’ and, yes, even ‘Playboy Magazine’ – was this following combination of ingredients. The method is quite unorthodox and the original idea for developing it in this manner, came from a conversation I had with ‘Col. Sanders’ over the air with radio station WFAA in Dallas when I was a regular guest on a talk show with them for several months. We discussed the secrets of the food industry with listeners by phone from our homes. The Colonel was fascinated by the publicity I had received for my ‘Big Bucket in the Sky’ fried chicken recipe and agreed that I was on the right track if I’d add more pepper. He loved pepper! He also suggested browning the chicken in a skillet and, then, oven-baking it until tender to achieve a likeness more to the original recipe he had created in 1964. He told me to look around the grocery store for 1 packaged product to replace the 11 spices – which I did diligently – and discovered that powdered Italian salad dressing mix was the secret!
So, I set to work to revamp the recipe. My original recipe was quite close to the famous Colonel’s product, but the coating kept falling off – because, as he explained, I couldn’t get the oil hot enough. He liked peanut oil, himself, but suggested that I could achieve a similar result by using corn or Crisco oil – with 1 cup solid Crisco for every 4 cups of oil. He talked about the quality in his product changing after turning the business over to new owners.
When Heublein Conglomerate bought out the franchise, they paid a few million dollars for ‘The Colonel’s’ recipe and technique. It seemed unlikely that a home-kitchen-rendition of such a famous product could be had for the price of my book. But the letters came in – ‘best chicken we ever had’; ‘l-o-v-e-d that fried chicken recipe’; ‘our favorite chicken recipe – so, please don’t change it’; and ‘maybe the colonel should have YOUR recipe!’
3 pounds of chicken fryer parts – cut small
2 packages Good Season’s Italian Salad Dressing mix
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 ½ pints of corn oil
2/3 cup Crisco solid shortening
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups boxed pancake mix combined with: 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp powdered sage and 1/4 tsp pepper
Rinse chicken and wipe pieces dry.
Make a paste out of the first five ingredients. Brush to coat chicken evenly with the paste…the underside as well. Stack pieces in a large refrigerator container, seal in foil and refrigerate several hours or, better yet, overnight.
1 ½ hours before serving, heat oil and Crisco, until melted, in a heavy saucepan. Put just enough of this into two large heavy skillets so that it covers the bottom of each 1-inch deep and just set the rest aside, as the oil will have to be replaced as you remove fried pieces and continue to fry more.
Dip each pasty chicken piece, 1st in milk and then in pancake mixture (having combined it as directed above with the last three ingredients.) Dust off excess mix and place skin-side down in the very hot oil mixture.
Brown the chicken on each side until golden. Then, place browned pieces in shallow baking pans, single-layered with skin-side up. Spoon remaining milk over pieces. Seal with foil on only 3 sides of the pan.
Bake for 40 minutes at 375°F or until chicken is fork-tender, basting with milk and pan drippings every few minutes. Remove foil and bake another 8-10 minutes or until crispy. Serves 6-8. Leftovers keep up to a week refrigerated.
THIS RECIPE was created on-the-spot when I discovered that my usual ingredients and…most familiar utensils were not ready…to use on The Donahue Show (… July 7, 1981) …I had to adlib the experience, calling upon every possible thing I could remember about good cooking. It was luck! And luck – of course – is when preparation and experience meet opportunity!
There was a toaster oven on the table the staff had set up for me to use during the live–telecast of the show. At 8 o’clock in the morning, the producer of the show was driving around Chicago, trying to find a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant that was open, so that the audience could later compare what I had prepared to what the restaurant prepared. So, I looked at the ingredients I had on hand and tried to improvise with what was there. The on-the-spot recipe was every bit as good as what Paul & I had been publishing and was so much easier, that again we could prove that there will always be more than one way to arrive at a given result!
3 C self-rising flour
1 TB paprika
2 packages Lipton Tomato Cup-a-Soup powder mix (see Index of “Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective” for my “Cup-of-Thoup” recipe)
2 packages Good Seasons’ Italian dressing powder mix
1 tsp salt
In doubled plastic food bags, combine all ingredients well, twisting the end of the bags tightly and creating an inflated balloon affect. Shake well to combine.
Spray a jellyroll pan (10 x 15 x 3/4-inch) with Pam or wipe it well with oil.
Run a cut-up chicken fryer under cold water and let excess water drip off, putting all the pieces into a colander to drain a few minutes.
Dredge pieces one at a time in the seasoned flour mixture, by placing each piece in the bag and shaking to coat. Arrange the coated pieces, skin-side up on prepared pan.
Melt ¼ pound margarine or butter and, using a 1-inch-wide, soft-bristled, pastry brush (or one from a paint store with soft hair bristles – NOT plastic bristles,) dab the melted butter or margarine over the floured surface (skin-side only) of each chicken piece until all the melted butter or margarine has been divided between the pieces.
FOR CRISPY COATING: After applying melted butter or margarine, dust pieces with a few additional tablespoons of seasoned flour and drizzle with more melted butter or margarine before baking.
Bake it in a 350°F oven, uncovered, for 1 hour or until golden brown and tender.