Julie and Jeremy Calvert’s peaches grown in Cullman County a few miles off Highway 69 in Brushy Pond are a reason in and of themselves to take the trip to the farmer’s market, regardless of the pouring rain or hour. This young farming family’s products are grown and tended with intelligent care and never disappoint their faithful, consistently returning customers. But their wonderful peaches actually lure you to the Calvert stand as that sweet peach fragrance floats on the slightest of breezes to find you wherever you are wandering at the market.
Easily enjoyed in their most natural form by simply washing, peeling, and eating without utensils or dishes, Calvert peaches have also found their way into a quick, simple peach pie recipe from Katherine Helms’ compact cookbook gem, Alabama Rich in Flavor. Katherine describes her mother’s recipe as “the easiest and best peach pie around!”
Katherine Helms’ Best Peach Pie
One third cup melted butter
One third cup self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 fresh peaches- peeled and sliced
9- inch, deep dish pie crust- uncooked
1. Place the peaches on the bottom of the piecrust.
2. Combine the egg, butter, flour, sugar, and vanilla. Pour it over the peaches.
3. Bake at 350 about one hour or until the pie bubbles and is nicely browned.
•You may need to vary the number of peaches depending on how large they are.
•Adding a teaspoon or two of cinnamon to the mixture gives the pie a slight zing.
•When this pie looks almost done, after about 45 minutes, take it out of the oven and spread melted butter over the crust. Then put the pie back in the oven for a few more minutes to brown evenly.
While returning to my car with prize Calvert peaches and the refreshing thought of peaches for breakfast and a pie for supper, tempting green tomatoes two stands over caught my eye. We rarely fry food at home and try to limit our consumption of fried food when we eat out. However, we do allow ourselves a break from this rule two or three times in the summer when we must give in to the call of green tomatoes and okra just begging to be fried.
In past summers when all eleven Dabbs gathered at Lake Logan Martin for a family weekend, we celebrated with a “fry party.” Fried green tomatoes, fried okra, and fried chicken hit the menu for this rare splurge. Just-picked, hard green tomatoes sliced paper-thin and petite okra were dipped in whole buttermilk and beaten egg before being shaken in a combination of self-rising flour and white cornmeal seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then both were fried to a dark golden, extra crispy state. These vegetables created the ideal background for the fried chicken- the crowning glory of the meal.
Food writers, chefs, cooks, and connoisseurs of fried food enjoy debating whether or not you truly have to be raised in the South to actually know, understand how to prepare, and appreciate fried chicken. These folks also make a lively game of searching for the secrets of frying chicken.
Since 1946 cooks at Mosca’s, a New Orleans area restaurant landmark, have prepared their pan-fried chicken in the same pans. The owners generously share the recipe for their chicken when customers ask. But those who try to duplicate the taste at home cannot reproduce the distinctive flavor. So some believe the essence of the flavor of Mosca’s chicken comes from the well-worn, seasoned pans.
In Fried Chicken: An American Story, John T. Edge writes about Dot Burton and Lucille Thompson, the “Skillet Sisters of the Chalfonte Hotel” in Cape May, New Jersey. Taught by their mother, who worked and cooked at the hotel for 77 years, these sisters fry their famous chicken in two old, massive cast-iron skillets, each holding twenty to thirty pieces. The secret to their chicken is throwing a heap of thickly sliced onions in the skillet just before putting in the first batch of chicken. Edge notes, “The onions will fry alongside the chicken, batch after batch, turning darker and darker until the shreds of onions resemble flue-cured tobacco leaves.”
Miss Mary Bobo of Lynchburg, Tennessee, opened a boarding house in this tiny, Middle Tennessee town in 1908 and served fried chicken at midday meals until 1983, when she died a month before her 102nd birthday. The Jack Daniel Distillery bought the boarding house the next year and family style dinner is served at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House Restaurant Monday through Saturday at 11:00 a. m. and 1:00 p.m. An extra seating is added at 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays during the “busy season.”
Each table at Miss Mary Bobo’s is hosted by a genteel lady from Lynchburg to assure that both conversation and food flow freely. Many of the home cooked vegetables are grown in gardens on the grounds and the dinner bell rings for each meal. Dinner at Miss Mary Bobo’s justifies this day trip, but taking a delightful tour of the Jack Daniel Distillery, complete with a charming, entertaining, storytelling guide, adds another dimension to a day well-spent.
Although Miss Mary’s entrees might also include meat loaf, country ham, roast beef, or chicken and pastry, her thick crusted, exceptionally crispy fried chicken is frequently requested and served. Cooked in cast-iron skillets, her fried chicken recipe ingredients are simple- eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and self-rising flour. When guests inquire about her secret, they are told there is no secret. However, Miss Mary’s chicken has always been cooked in lard.
Others who thrive on hunting the ultimate secret to fried chicken have suggested cooking bacon in the grease or oil before adding the chicken, soaking the chicken overnight in whole buttermilk, and using hot sauce or Cajun seasoning, among other ideas. While one of these suggestions may be the true key to the best fried chicken, perhaps there is no irrefutable secret and the heart and soul of fried chicken essentially lies in the love, attention, and patience with which it is prepared.
For the Dabbs’ “fry parties” I am the chicken fryer. More than thirty five years ago I watched my friend, who was once my seventh grade social studies teacher, prepare fried chicken. Since she worked without a written recipe, I wrote down every step she took. Her recipe became my basic recipe as subtle changes and refinements appeared over the years. Usually prepared once or twice a year for “fry parties” or a special family birthday, I have pinpointed no particular secret- no cast-iron skillet, no onions, and no lard. But the end product is usually delicious and well-worth the deluge of fat and calories.
Chicken pieces of your choice
Herbes de Provence
Seasonings of your choice- Lawry salt, seasoned pepper, garlic powder, etc.
1. Marinate the chicken in buttermilk and Herbes de Provence overnight in the refrigerator in a large Ziploc bag.
2. Mix the flour and seasonings in a large Ziploc bag.
3. Dip the chicken pieces, one at a time, in a dish of beaten eggs.
4. Put a chicken piece in the flour with seasonings Ziploc and shake until it is completely coated.
5. Refrigerate the coated chicken on a platter for about an hour.
6. Heat the oil in an electric skillet until a pinch of flour sizzles, and then add the chicken. Do not crowd the pieces in the skillet.
7. Fry the chicken about twenty minutes on each side.
8. After the chicken is cooked, drain it on a platter covered with paper towels. As soon as it has drained, move it to another platter.
•The best chicken I ever fried was fresh. It had not been frozen at any point. Try to use fresh chicken if you can.
•This chicken is soul-satisfying served warm, just after frying. It is even better served cold the next day.
•Herbes de Provence is a combination of dried herbs which may include rosemary, fennel seed, thyme, savory, basil, tarragon, dill weed, oregano, lavender, chervil, and marjoram, as well as other herbs. It is available in many grocery stores or you can substitute your own mixture of dried herbs.
Abundant, fresh from the field vegetables and treasured fried chicken recipes join in as summer offers repeated opportunities to fry. A full-blown “fry party” or a simple batch of fried chicken, green tomatoes or okra, finished with fresh peach pie, perfectly defines genuine summer bliss.
Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 387-2890.