Would anyone care to venture a guess as to what I’m making on this cold, wintry, icy morning?
If you guessed cobbler, then you’d be very close because my piecrusts are why they call it cobbler – all patched and pieced together, messy and uneven and irregular. Decidedly imperfect. But no, I’m not making anything with fruit today. Instead, I’m making something that is absolutely suffused with memories for me. I had cooked some chicken for another purpose and had extra, and as I looked through my recipe file of casseroles, I came across one I hadn't seen in a while. I remember exactly how I got this recipe. I begged for it. And for good reason.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, we were living on our farm in Mississippi, and every single Wednesday night we had a covered-dish supper at church, in conjunction with children’s activities and Bible study for grownups. And every single Wednesday night, Mrs. Helen Hunter, sweet-faced and smiling with four hungry kids in tow, came bearing one of these pies for supper. Oh, my. Oh, my goodness!
To a girl who had grown up thinking Swanson’s invented chicken pot pies (and that they were pretty darn good!), the revelation of HOMEMADE CHICKEN PIE was a culinary epiphany. I truly thought it was the best thing I’d ever eaten. I knew this was something I had to master, even with my limited cooking skills. So I read recipes and I tried – and failed. My pies were too dry. The crust was soggy. The filling ran out and burned in the bottom of my oven. My worst Chicken Pie Moment was when I pulled what I thought was going to be a fair success from the oven and placed it on the stovetop – on top of a hot burner. Shall I just say the dish exploded and leave it at that? I probably said a bad word or two, right about then.
In the meantime, I kept enjoying weekly servings of Miss Helen’s wonderful chicken pie, knowing those Wednesday night services would never be the same if she decided she’d made enough chicken pies to last her a lifetime. Fortunately for me, I finally had a brilliant stroke of inspiration and asked Miss Helen for her recipe. As with so many wonderful southern cooks, she didn’t have one and just scoffed at the idea that I would even need a recipe to make this simple dish. But I asked again, armed with recipe card and pen, and she told me how she did it, guessing at amounts.
Since then, for about the last 30 years, I’ve been practicing, using her directions.
As you can see, I don’t have this thing perfected yet. My chicken pies are homely (I really can't believe I took a picture of that!), and sometimes I still get them too dry. Or don’t roll out the crust thin enough. Or make any number of mistakes in my quest to make a Really Good Chicken Pie. But I do know that this recipe is a good one, and if I keep trying, one day I’ll get it all to come together just right.BONUS MATERIAL: If you decide to try a chicken pie (or any kind of pie) this holiday season, here’s a special treat that cooks who make their crust from scratch get to enjoy. Roll out the trimmings (make sure it isn’t enough for a whole pie crust or you’ll feel guilty for using it this way) and fit them into a Sister Shubert foil pan. Yes, I buy frozen rolls. I justify this sacreligious action by thinking that if I make pie crust from scratch, I’m allowed to buy frozen rolls. I do have a great recipe for refrigerator rolls from Marion Ogletree that is fabulous and brings up a whole slew of other wonderful Mississippi memories, but that’s a story for another day. Back to the treat: prick the pieces of pastry all over, dot with butter bits, sprinkle with white sugar and cinnamon, and bake at 400 for about 10 minutes or till lightly browned.
Eat it all yourself, if you’re lucky enough to be the only one in the house at the time. In fact, plan your baking so that you are the only one.
So, I’ve just had my lunch (guess what it was?? ) and now I must tackle my tornado-stricken kitchen. Hope you are finding time to do a little Christmas cooking. I’m trying to get ahead because I will wake up one morning soon and realize I’m WAY behind and will get in a panic. What’s your favorite Christmas recipe? Chicken pie isn’t my favorite Christmas recipe; it just happened to bring up memories. Wonderful memories! And memories are usually what make a recipe special.