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Big Mama's Series on Food and Cooking
Dedicated to the Fried Chicken Wing
Recently I saw a news story about a woman who wrote a cookbook about her mother’s kitchen. The cookbook was not just about the recipes, but it was about the stories that come along with the food. This made me think: What would people say about Big Mama’s kitchen? The first thing that came to my mind was my fried chicken wings! Sometimes it is not about the food, but it is also about the circumstances surrounding the food. This story is about my ongoing relationship with the fried chicken wing.
In the Spring of 2000 our young family had to pare down from a six bedroom house in Louisville, KY to move across the country to Jersey City, NJ. As I decided what items to keep and what items to throw away, the first kitchen item I packed was my trusty deep fryer. It made me think of this following story.
Over the years in Louisville, I was known for making a mean fried chicken wing. One summer Wynton Marsalis brought a young ensemble to Louisville to play, and I invited the band to our home for a home cooked meal. I got busy making enough fried wings for us and our invited guests. This meant several batches of wings in the deep fryer. As the band began to trickle in one by one and making their plates, one member, Carlos showed up a little late. He quickly made his way in, made his plate, and put a few wings on his plate just to start. After finishing his few wings he looked around the room and saw that everyone was finished eating and said, ”Everyone’s already done eating?”. He looked at me and said, “Good”. He picked up the whole platter of wings and placed them in front of himself at the table and exclaimed, “I am about to eat all of the chicken wings left!”
Taking my deep fryer to New Jersey meant that I could always cook and have a little taste of the South even if I was living on the East Coast. It didn’t take long for my southern chicken wings to gain a reputation there.
While in New Jersey I joined a book club where we would enjoy discussing books, eating food, drinking, and cooking for one another. Of course I would pull out the deep fryer for the wings and give them a little taste of the South along with caramel cream cheese pound cake or monkey bread, With my trusty old deep fryer, I could quickly cook up a batch and instantly have a little taste of home.
One year while we lived in Montclair, New Jersey, my daughter’s kindergarten class decided to make a cookbook with recipes from the families of the students. Most people came to class to share baking or sweets recipes with the children, but me? I packed up the seasonings, flour, and breadcrumbs to have the children help me make southern fried chicken wings. The kids had a ball tossing the wings and getting them in the basket to fry and afterwards had even more fun eating them. That day another parent volunteer was helping assist and got a chance to get a taste of the chicken wings. He left the class and made a stop to buy his wife a deep fryer and a bag of wings. Later that week I ran into his wife and she said “What the heck did you do to those chicken wings? My husband brought home a deep fryer and I fried some wings and he said, no, these are not the same as Mrs. Guess’ wings.”
I have many more stories but this final one involves a young group of musicians from the Juilliard School of Music who came to our church to play for a party and picnic it was hosting. After the concert I had the young musicians over for a home cooked meal, for good food and fellowship. Ten years later I run into Etienne Charles at a festival in St Lucia. He is there performing with his own band. I walk up to him to reintroduce myself, “You may not remember me but—”. He interrupts me and the first thing that came out of his mouth was, “In 2007, I had the pleasure of eating your chicken wings! Of course I know who you are!”
Who knew that I was deep fryer famous on the jazz scene! You can take Big Mama out of the South but you can’t take the South out of Big Mama’s kitchen!