my magic skillet….
Yes, I really do own a magic skillet. It belonged to my Memaw and it was probably used when she got it, wish I knew for sure. Now Memaw was born in 1893, got married at 17 and died when she was 89. The skillet is all steel, handle and all, the bottom is warped and no longer sits level on the burner and it is totally black, seasoned really well….Memaw used it to fry chicken and to make cornbread in for as long as I can remember and it still holds that magical ability to perfectly perform its duties.
Every time I get that skillet out of the cupboard I can see Memaw in her kitchen doing what she did better than anyone ever, frying chicken. I was probably around 6 years old when I first learned the secret of the skillet. I was watching her cook the noon meal, which we called dinner, not lunch.
Let me back up here a bit….before she could fry the chicken we went out to the chicken house to get one. She handed me a long piece of heavy gauge wire that had a crook on the end of it and told me which chicken to snag. I got it and grabbed it by the feet and handed it to Memaw. She handed me the butcher knife to hold, reached into her apron pocket (that apron pocket always had whatever she needed in it) and pulled out a small piece of thin rope, in about 2 seconds she made a loop which she slipped around the chicken’s feet and tied it to the clothesline. Then she took the finely honed butcher knife and whacked off the chicken’s head in one stroke, we both stood back a bit and waited till it was still. After that the chicken had to be scalded by dipping in a pot of boiling water so that the feathers could be removed, then singed to remove the pin feathers, then gutted, washed, and cut up. I had already been taught the proper way to cut up a chicken. If you do it right you end up with two wings, two breast pieces, a pulley bone, two legs, two thighs, the back and the push back, gizzard, heart and liver. I still cut up my own chickens today because the pre-cut ones aren’t done properly and they are also too large for optimal frying. A fryer should weigh no more than about 3 lbs. Then we were ready to fry.
After washing the cut up chicken again, Memaw then reached into her salt crock and sprinkled the chicken, then rolled the pieces in flour. She put some Crisco in the skillet and heated it till a bit of flour sizzled just right and then she placed the chicken in the skillet, the legs and the breast pieces were placed on the outside edges of the skillet, the thighs and pulley bone in the center, along with the back and push back. The wings, gizzard and liver were placed wherever you could find a spot to scrunch them in. By this time the Crisco was bubbling gently around the pieces and that’s when the magic began. I asked her how she would know when it was ready to turn and she told me to listen to it. Memaw went about preparing the rest of our meal. She made biscuits from scratch, popped them in the oven and I ate the small pieces of dough that were left and no it didn’t make me sick. She usually had already prepared a vegetable from the garden ahead of time like green pinto beans cooked with some bacon. All this time she seemed to pay no attention to the chicken which I was watching and listening to, like a hawk. Then right in the middle of doing something else she went to the stove and began turning the pieces in the skillet. She asked me if I had heard the chicken tell me it was ready to turn but of course, I hadn’t heard it say a word! It took me some time before I was able to hear the subtle difference in the sound emanating from the skillet, but once you hear it, you always know when to turn the chicken. After turning the pieces the Crisco once again goes wild for a couple of minutes before settling down and once again will tell you when it’s done.
After that the biscuits were done and the gravy was quickly made, that’s another bit of magic I’ll save for another time. Papaw and my Dad would arrive at straight up noon from the field, wash up and sit down at the table. The food was blessed and eaten over conversations about the weather, the crop, the price of pigs or cattle and whatever was going on in town…….then the men went back to the field after taking a nap of exactly 15 minutes on the floor of the living room, while Memaw and I watched As the World Turns. After that we went back to clean up in the kitchen. The last thing to do was clean the skillet which required a fresh pan of hot dish water and a gentle scrubbing with just the dish rag made from one of Papaw’s worn out undershirts, rinsed in hot water and put on a low burner till it was dry, and it was ready to fry the next bird.
Then I got to lay on the green couch and nap while Memaw watched her shows and ironed Papaw’s kachies……..want to know what I had for an afternoon snack?
The skillet is in my cupboard ready to go!
Grace and Mercy to remember the good times……