by Bob Ann Breland
As I was growing up in the country, chicken pie was something reserved for special occasions. It wasn't the typical Sunday dinner fare either—it was more special than that. My father was a hunter and it was much more likely that we would have squirrel pie than chicken pie.
But we did have a few scattered chickens around the place, and on a super, super occasion, Mom would wring the neck of one of our chickens, plunge it into boiling water and scald the creature, so the feathers would come off easily. She would proceed to pluck it, then butcher it, which included all sorts of gross things that I don't care to remember. Happily, chickens come ready to cook now, so all that isn't necessary.
Besides, if somebody tried to wring the neck of a chicken today, even for a special occasion, the neighbors would no doubt report it to the SPCA and get somebody into trouble. But in those days, many a chicken gave their life for many a special occasion.
Getting back to the subject, Mama would take the chicken, usually a mature hen or rooster, and boil it for hours, because usually it was tough. That good flavor cannot be duplicated with today's pale young fryers available in the supermarket. It takes aging to get chicken with that much flavor. You can still buy hens, but most people just get a fryer.
Now, for the uninitiated, when I say chicken pie, I don't mean a sweet pie like apple pie or blueberry pie. Chicken pie is a delectable concoction made with dumplings, butter and milk. You probably know a similar version as chicken pot pie, but chicken pie is still different.
When I was a child, nobody that we knew even owned a roasting pan. Can you imagine that? My children can't. When one wanted to make a "sure enough" big chicken pie for a big birthday dinner or "Big Meeting", the fall revival at church, the biggest container for baking in the house was a dishpan.
It wasn't unusual. In fact, you could tell whose chicken pie you were eating by the dishpan. Mama would get her dishpan out, a white enamelware pan, scrub it to a fair-thee-well, and then sterilize it with scalding water. Then and only then was it ready for chicken pie-making.
She put that big pan on the stove with the chicken and salted water, boiled it until it was tender, then started dropping in those rolled-out dumplings, added golden butter made from the cream from the milk of our cow, Reddy.
Real butter was made by shaking the cream in a quart jar until the golden drops of butter separated from the cream, leaving buttermilk. Many times we were called into service to "shake the jar" for awhile.
When the dumplings were dropped into the boiling pot of chicken, you could hear Mama shake the pan to keep it from sticking. You don't stir chicken pie, you just shake the pot or the dumplings get "gummy."
When those dumplings started to get firm, more dumplings were rolled out and put on top of the pie before it was put in the oven. This "cover" was then brushed with more butter and put in the oven and baked until the crust was brown. You could tell from the smell emanating from the kitchen that the chicken pie was going to be delicious. What a treat!
Some folks call this dish chicken and dumplings, but there's a slight difference between chicken pie and chicken and dumplings. Chicken and dumplings are cooked until done in the pot, and not covered with a "blanket" of golden crust and baked.
Chicken and dumplings have a lot of liquid white gravy and are usually served with rice. with chicken pie, the dumplings usually absorb most of the liquid while baking.
Nobody makes chicken pie in a dishpan anymore. Hardly anybody even has a metal or enamel dishpan anymore. Most likely if they have a dishpan at all it is plastic—hardly suitable for making chicken pie.
I've personally never made a chicken pie in a dishpan, but I've eaten plenty. Believe me, there's something about it that is special.
—Bob Ann Breland is editor and publisher of Fun with Food, a monthly food newsletter, featuring southern cooking. A sample was available in 1996 by sending $2 to Fun with Food, 53296 Highway 436, Angie LA 70426.
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