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Tom Chaney: Chicken Necks and Gizzards

Of Writers And Their Books: Chicken Necks and Gizzards. Tom decries how few friers of chicken entered the fray at the fair. This column first appeared 12 July 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Not As Seen By God Looking Down

By Tom Chaney

Chicken Necks and Gizzards

Last week was the Hart County Fair. The fair book said it was the hundred and twenty something-est fair. I reckon that is true if you consider the current child the grandson of a bastard relationship that goes back to the old fairgrounds in Horse Cave just across the road from the graveyard. We get mighty picky about ancestry hereabouts. Sometimes I think we'd be better off living like the goose -- waking up every morning to a new world.

But, no. If it's old it is better, especially if you can trace the rickety lineage back through a couple of illegitimate births and a bastard or two.

I don't care much for the carnival side of the fair. I used to get sick on the Ferris wheel -- that mildest of rides. But that doesn't stop the young folks. Seems like the shrieking of young girls snuggling into the arms of their young swains at the top of the ride has ever been the music that carries across the midway. It also seems prelude to pregnancy if not marriage.

Enough of joys long past. I went to the fair last week to judge the fried chicken contest.

Now fried chicken is serious business. For eight years I strove for perfection in the art of chicken frying here at the Bookstore Café. I was in training for that for at least forty years as a fryer of chicken for myself and friends, and longer than that as an eater of fried chicken.

I have been a fryer of chicken from Philadelphia to San Diego to the wiles of North Dakota. A reader of Bon Appetite sought out my receipt. A café owner near the banks of the Seine in Paris invited me to have free run of his kitchen one night in 1993 to fix fried chicken and cornbread for the benighted denizens of the City of Lights. Soon after that triumph the Philadelphia Daily News sent an ace reporter and a photographer to my kitchen in the Fishtown section so that folks in that City of Brotherly Love could know about real fried chicken from Hart County.

So, off I went last week to the fairgrounds and the lovely new floral hall where I expected an array of Hart County's fairest fried fowl to be laid before the trio of salivating judges.

I must speak of the quality of the judges lined up to do justice to the culinary skills at their peak. I was accompanied by a banker and a doctor of physic -- both accomplished eaters, persons of delicate palettes able to sense the nuances of spice, the various crispnesses of crust, the perfect presentation to set juices flowing before the first bite.

We were armed to do great feats of judgment. The trio was ready to confront the twenty entrees of yesteryear.

Alas! and alack! Only four cooks chose to do battle with frying pans.

For years I have touted this part of Kentucky as the home of chicken fryers down every lane, in every bend of the river.

Thirty some years ago, my own fried chicken caught the eye of a New York writer on matters gustatory. Some time later he asked me to help him rescue Kentucky's culinary reputation from the clutches of Colonel Sanders. He was mainly interested in barbecued mutton, but I persuaded him to sample local fried chicken and country ham 'ere he started his sheepish search.

I had thought to suggest him as a judge for the fair, thinking a trip from his home in Greenwich Village to fried chicken central would be a real plus to his career. What a disgrace it would be to ask a man to travel 800 miles for just four chickens.

Chicken fryers arise!

You have nothing to lose but your feathers (and perhaps a gizzard or two)! Twelve months hence let us once again overwhelm the judges with crisp calories and flavorful cholesterol.

I heard noises at the fair the other night -- rumors that a fried pie contest might be in the offing. As fine as they are, it would be a shame for pie fryers to outnumber the chicken folks.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-07-13 03:11:31
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