Fried Chicken Tales

I got a letter from Mona, who writes: “Sean, will you write more about food? It makes me feel better during these scary times.”

Mona, as it happens I am looking at a cookbook right now. The cookbook I am holding is old. It is every hometown recipe book you’ve ever seen. Spiral bound, thick, stained, and there is a sketch on the cover featuring stately oaks draping over a shaded street.

Inside are the four gospels: church food, wedding food, funeral food, and congealed salads.

You won’t find many things holier than these recipes. They are American history, described in standard measurement form.

I once knew an old Sunday school teacher who made buttermilk pie that made grown men loosen their neckties. Once, at a Fourth of July supper, she gave me a slice and told me:

“God wants all his children to be a little soft in the middle.”

And I’ve always believed that.

This particular cookbook I am holding, however, comes from the Brewton Civic League. The recipes within are everything you need to find a happy life.

Cheese grits, Squirrel D’ete, Congealed Cantaloupe Salad, mint juleps, Miss Paula’s pickled shrimp, and Coca-Cola salad—whatever that is.

None of them use the word “margarine,” but “Oleo.” And in this book, you will also find the secret to perfect fried chicken—peanut oil and Jesus.

You will discover that measurements are open to loose interpretation. A “handful” here, a “passel” there. A “dash,” a “pinch,” a “dusting,” or a “touch.”

Also, there are a dozen variations of chicken-broccoli casserole. Though, the only discernible differences are the varying amounts of cheese.

In this book you will find the exact deviled eggs approved by the Methodist church.

But anyway, I have a long history with homemade cookbooks. In fact, the article you’re reading was typed on a manual typewriter that once typed a similar cookbook.

Many moons ago, I typed 418 recipes using only my index fingers. The recipes were then fed through a Xerox machine which resided in the church office.

After that, the finished recipes were placed into position based on pure favoritism according Mrs. Bellmaker. And a cookbook was born.

The women’s Baptist Bible study group reimbursed me 4 dollars for the sleepless hours of work I put into it. And it was a pleasure.

Some younger people might not remember this, but long ago, recipes were not handed down to us by former celebrities with TV cooking shows. Our recipes came from white-haired oracles who knew how to pronounce “ambrosia,” and could make white barbecue sauce with a blindfold on.

These women could transform cholesterol and bleached flour into miracles. Women like my mother, who could use simple ingredients to cure everything from malaria to a broken heart.

They showed their affection in calories. With this fare they could give you the courage to ask Laney Tyler to the dance, or instill within you the confidence to try out for the baseball team.

In my life, I cannot recall an afternoon that my mother didn’t dirty a kitchen counter. And if I had room in this column, I could replay for you my whole life, one dish at a time.

Mama’s ham-hock-and-navy-bean soup, the drop biscuits she prepared when she was in a hurry and didn’t have time to roll any, her homemade bread.

I will forever recall the sweetness of the chocolate cakes she made for my birthdays, and how every year she would decorate them with Superman insignias until I was 35 years old.

These are holy women. They will mash potatoes if they see you wearing a frown. Before they leave town to visit their dying aunt, they will place foil-wrapped casseroles in the freezer.

Freely, they leave us their wisdom in nondescript cookbooks, similar to the one I am holding.

The book belongs to my wife, but it sits above our oven for quick reference. Time has faded the cover. Inside are the secrets to the universe, the key to happiness, to love, to life, and the pathway to type-2 diabetes.

I flipped through the pages just before writing this. I found Triple Orange Ambrosia, Red Beans and Rabbit, Miss Genie’s Crack-a-Lackin’ Cheese Biscuits, Miss Ruby Hagood’s Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes.

I will never be able to taste them all, but I can hold them in my hand, and I can think of the matriarchs who have gone to the other side.

Also, I can remember a boy who believed in food so much that he once typed 418 recipes for a bunch of beautiful white-haired cheapskates who only paid him 4 lousy bucks.

But that boy is not complaining. No. It was worth it. For books like these are not just old recipes, you see.

They are proof that God wants all his children to be a little soft in the middle.


  1. Penny - April 4, 2020 8:36 am

    Send us all a recipe a day to “keep the doctor away”….and start with Miss Genie’s Crack-a-Lackin’ Cheese Biscuits.
    Love you, Sean.

  2. Sandi. - April 4, 2020 9:20 am

    I second Penny’s suggestion!

  3. fannieinez - April 4, 2020 11:19 am

    I love cookbooks! Every time I look for a recipe when I am hungry, it never fails that when I spend hours reading recipes I am not hungry when I finish😊. I would like to have some of my grandmother’s teacakes, but I will have to talk my sister into making them..she is the only one of us with the recipe.

  4. Sharon Brock - April 4, 2020 11:23 am

    Among the items taken with me to my shelter when the tornado sirens wail are my phone, glasses, medicine bag, and two cookbooks. One is the first published Southern Living cookbook, and the other is my Granny’s which is annotated in her handwriting. Both are priceless to me.

    Two years ago my youngest granddaughter requested I share the recipe for my hash brown casserole and my Granny’s cherry dessert. I could feel the approval emanating from Heaven. It is not just the recipes in those cookbooks, it is the memories shared over five generations.

    Thank you Sean.

  5. Julie - April 4, 2020 11:38 am

    When I was getting married, my grandmother gave me a small, green spiral bound cookbook produced by her Sunday School class. It is one of my pride and joys. I use it every gathering to produce something luscious for my family. I, too, look at those recipes and think of the silver haired women, long gone, who ruled my young life and molded me into the woman I am today. If my children want a reminder of who I was, fight over the green cookbook.

  6. Cathi Russell - April 4, 2020 12:04 pm

    Sandi & Penny have the best idea ever! Cookbooks are truly sent from heaven. I have my grandmother’s as well & the notes in her handwriting are the very best part. Now, Sean, get right on sending us the Crack-a-lacking Cheese Biscuit recipe…it’s 7am & I’m feeling a mite peckish. 😉 Love you Sean!

  7. Emily - April 4, 2020 12:06 pm

    Love this post so much, Sean. Thanks a million for writing it and for Mona’s suggestion to write it! I would LOVE to know the recipe for a good ole fashioned buttermilk pie. : – )

  8. Brenda - April 4, 2020 12:12 pm

    Smiles and great memories

  9. Sindra - April 4, 2020 12:58 pm

    Thank you!! I needed to read this today. Be safe and wash your hands!

  10. Jenna - April 4, 2020 12:59 pm

    My Aunt Joann has always said, “Food is love!” I think you agree!

  11. Jean - April 4, 2020 1:06 pm

    You can tell if it’s a southern cookbook. There are mostly recipes for all types of sweets. I have my Grandmothers cookbooks with her handwritten notes on every bare spot of paper. When I first got it…it was crammed full of little Crisco can labels with sweet recipes of course. Food is comforting and yep we are all a little soft in the middle!

  12. Marc Besver - April 4, 2020 1:46 pm

    Exactly! I love it.

  13. Peggy - April 4, 2020 2:03 pm

    Loved today’s column. in these bad times you give us joy and light. After my mom died I went through her recipe collection which was in a large and very worn shoe box. There were recipes clipped from newspapers, recipes written on tiny slips of paper, around the edges of church bulletins, in letters from friends. And at least twenty squash casserole recipes. Priceless collection, even though I don’t like squash casserole!

  14. Gwen@ Monroe - April 4, 2020 2:48 pm

    O, my weakness… cookbooks. Love, collect, read and use them. So glad someone else enjoys these treasures.

  15. Carey - April 4, 2020 2:58 pm

    I third it! Have mercy on us, Sean, and share some of yor favorites, starting with the biscuits. Let Jamie guest write for a day.

  16. Becky Smith - April 4, 2020 3:08 pm


  17. Becky Smith - April 4, 2020 3:10 pm

    Love this article and I would love to have the pickled shrimp recipe!

  18. Trina - April 4, 2020 3:15 pm

    Keep telling the stories of our youth and living in the South! Bless you!

  19. Kate Medina Writes - April 4, 2020 3:27 pm

    Love this so very very much.

  20. Linda Moon - April 4, 2020 4:54 pm

    Ambrosia from white-haired ladies and old cookbooks are pleasing for me! I think one of the many old cookbooks I own has a recipe for Coca-Cola Salad….or maybe you just made this up as artistic license to make us feel good in these scary times. You made me feel even better with some history of those books. Since I’m staying put in the house because of the dreaded C-19, I’ll pull them out of my kitchen drawers today and find some old recipes! You are a Soft Superman for giving me something happy to think about and do!

  21. Becky Malone - April 4, 2020 5:09 pm

    Sean, this is one of my favorites! It reminds me of my mother-in-law who was like a grandmother to me. She was one of the white-haired ladies you described perfectly, who would whip up homemade yeast rolls, fried chicken, tea cakes or coconut cream pie if she knew you were coming for dinner. She truly served love along with the food she prepared!

  22. Tracy Zeigler - April 4, 2020 5:45 pm

    I just wanted to thank you for just being you and writing from your heart! I so love hearing about the old days and especially the food!🤗 Hope you and your wife and your dogs have a very wonderful day!

  23. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - April 4, 2020 5:47 pm

    A little soft in the middle, is my middle name.

  24. Ala Red Clay Girl - April 4, 2020 6:21 pm

    I love the small town/church cookbooks, and I have a shelf full of them to prove it. I enjoy looking looking through them and sometimes I even cook some of the recipes. Unfortunately for me, my grandmother didn’t write down a lot of her recipes but I do have a few and they are priceless to me. Nothing says “love” like good food.

  25. Mary M Berryman - April 4, 2020 8:12 pm

    The best, Sean! Love it!

  26. Dawn A Bratcher - April 4, 2020 9:40 pm

    I love old cookbooks, too! So fresh, wholesome ingredients! You can just imagine the little ladies cooking away for their families. ❤️📒📝🥣🥄🍞🌽🍓

  27. Tracy - April 4, 2020 10:48 pm

    I have several of those same books! Love them all! Thanks, Sean!

  28. Barbara Pope - April 4, 2020 10:50 pm

    If Mrs. Scharnisky’s Carrot Cake is in that cook book you could sell that recipe–it is delicious!

  29. Robert Chiles - April 4, 2020 11:56 pm

    Two of our favorites are: “White Trash Cooking” and the sequel, “White Trash Cooking II” both by Ernest Matthew Mickler. Wonderful recipes, but even more wonderful side splittingly funny tall tales in between, none better than “Greens cover a multitude of Sins.”

  30. Anne Godwin - April 5, 2020 1:57 am

    I still have a collection of cookbooks. My favorites are stained and notes are written by recipes with dates, ocaasions, which one of the kids or grandchildren made it. Thanks, Sean. I also have some of my Mom’s and Mamaw’s recipes. I need to type them up and share them with my family.

  31. Mary T - April 6, 2020 10:34 pm

    I have asked my grandchildren what item(s) they want me to leave them. One granddaughter said, “Your cookbooks”.

  32. Anne Trawick - April 8, 2020 12:54 am

    Sean, I’ve been a fan for a long time and before you became really big time brought you as our guest speaker to the Donalsonville Woman’s Club. All that is to say this column is outstanding! Definitely one of my top 500.

  33. Aunt Si or Martha Black - May 16, 2020 2:25 am

    Oh Sean how you lift my heart & cause me to sing & as stomach softly begins to rumble with desire to eat of the good food you tell us of. You are doing the Lord’s good work in keeping us soothed & I sleep so well after a dose of your healing calming words as I drift off to dreams of “dinner on the ground” & “family reunions. Bless your heart. Im going to lie down & rest now beforeci drift off & drop my tablet, again….. sweet dreams!

  34. Janis - May 16, 2020 2:47 am

    I was thinking about that pickled shrimp too… 😀

  35. Susan Patterson - May 16, 2020 4:43 am

    If you want to know about Coca-Cola salad I’ve got your back. Black cherry Jell-o, warm Coke, pineapple juice and water. When it sets you mix in the crushed pineapple, cream cheese and some folks add chopped pecans (I personally feel that’s a travesty but that’s just me). Then thrash it until it looks like upchuck. Sorry. That was my first impression. It is deliciously sweet and tangy and has several food groups. Chill and serve. (You must shame guests into trying it because it’s life changing). My darling ex-mom-in-law taught me and if I don’t provide it for holidays my daughters threaten to put me into the worst retirement prison ever.

  36. Nell Key Morton - May 16, 2020 4:57 am

    Home cooking is truly a conveyance of affection and comfort. It is no wonder grocery shelves are bare during this time as people seek refuge in their kitchen and re-create their memories of joyful times. Mr. Sean, your story has done the same…without the calories!

  37. Steve Liedy - May 17, 2020 2:43 am

    I so enjoy the way you write. While I don’t think these kinds of remembrances are lost, they are sadly becoming more rare.

  38. Charlton duncan - May 18, 2020 4:12 pm

    I have no doubt that I have had most of these recipes, and enjoyed everyone of them at church covered dinners! Be it a funeral, wedding, church homecoming, or fund raiser of some sort. I was raised southern baptist but am now a Presbyterian and I promise you that these old ladies can surly cook up a bit of heaven on earth!


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