In 1939 my Aunt Bec (Bessie) made the long and perilous train journey from rural Alabama to New England. She needed to check out my newborn eldest brother to make certain he was a fitting heir to the Radford name.
Wedding photo Miriam Elizabeth Bentley and Edwin Smith Radford December 26, 1937
My parents hadn’t much money at the time and tried hard to put together an economical meal that was “fancy” enough for company. In other words, cheap and filling. My mother and grandmother hit upon an old family favorite, chicken pie.
Aunt Bec, of course had to supervise the preparation. She knew about chicken pot pie with a flaky pie crust on top. After all, she served it often to her company. But she had never seen a chicken pie like this one!
Mom stewed up a chicken with rice and celery and a few spices like salt and pepper right and proper according to Aunt Bec. Then she committed the ultimate heresy for chicken pot pie. She removed all of the meat from the bones, discarding the skin, fat, gristle, giblets, and the bones. “You going to waste all that good chicken? Why, what are we going to chew on?” Aunt Bec exclaimed. She had always been taught to serve the chicken parts whole for her guests to pick out of the stew and gnaw clean. It made a much more satisfying meal. What was her Damn Yankee sister-in-law thinking?
My mother looked at her in abject puzzlement. Leave the bones in? Why? You can not eat the bones.
Later when the dish was served, hot and bubbling, thick with gravy and vegetables and topped with mashed potatoes (another heresy) Aunt Bec admitted that yes, this was indeed a decent chicken pie but not a pot pie. When she returned home, she served my mother’s variation of chicken pie to her friends and relatives. They all agreed it tasted all right, but it was like no chicken pot pie they had ever seen.
Aunt Bec proudly replied that it was Damn Yankee Chicken Pie and she had a Damn Yankee sister-in-law who was a right good cook.
1 stewing chicken
3 stalks celery chopped
1 medium onion chopped
½ C uncooked rice or barley
1 C water
salt & pepper to taste.
1 lb carrots peeled, and sliced
12 oz bag frozen peas — they did not have frozen in 1939
3 cups mashed potatoes
butter or margarine
In pressure cooker or stew pot, cook the chicken with the celery, onion, rice, water, and salt and pepper. When the meat falls off the bones, remove the chicken from heat and let cool just long enough to be able to handle. Take the meat off the bones and place in a large casserole dish, discard skin, fat, gristle, giblets (unless you like them in which case dice them up and toss into the casserole dish). Cook the carrots in the chicken broth, when they are tender, add the peas and remove from heat (do not overcook). Add the rice, vegetables, and broth from the original stew pot to the chicken — should be fairly thick. Mix gently. Top with mashed potatoes, dot with a butter or margarine and broil for about 2 min to brown the mashed potato peaks.
If this makes too much, freeze in smaller batches without potatoes. Thaw and reheat, top with fresh potatoes and broil as above.
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