Despite what you may have heard, chicken-fried bacon is not one of the four food groups. I have spent several years trying to convince Chap that there are foods that do not have to be battered, fried or soaked in salt to be tasty.
He’d been a bachelor so long he’d forgotten–or maybe he never knew–that good, healthy salads do not consist of iceberg lettuce slathered in ranch dressing. The first salad I ever made for Chap was a fresh baby spinach tossed with juicy strawberries, dried cranberries and toasted pecans, with a light drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette.
He came up to the house after doing manly man things out back, shucked off his leather gloves, washed his hands, sat down and stared at my salad masterpiece.
“It looks like leafs,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “And it tastes like leaves. Try it–you’ll like it.”
He looked skeptical, but he took a tentative bite, and of course, after the first bite he wolfed down the entire bowl and asked for more.
But the deliciousness of good, healthy food hasn’t completely quenched his taste for fried globs of fat and processed lard-fried dreck.
On one of the rare occasions he accompanied me to the grocery store, he stared longingly at the rows and rows of bland white boxes of Hamburger Helper and asked, “Have you ever had this stuff?”
After he passed me the smelling salts and I came to in Aisle 13, I said, “No. And I don’t intend to, and if you want to live to see 50, you won’t ask me to make it for you.”
It’s not his fault, really. It’s endemic to this part of the country. Anyone who’s ever walked the midway at the State Fair of Texas under the giant, friendly wave and big, booming voice of “Big Tex” knows that many folks consider deep-fried Twinkies the height of cuisinal culture.
Last year at the fair, we witnessed (and he sampled) fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fried macaroni and cheese, fried Oreos, fried Pop-tarts, fried Krispy Kreme donuts, and I’m not kidding, great big balls of greasy fried butter. Even Chap drew the line at deep-fried Spam.
And while we waltzed our way down the sparkling, carnival aisle of acne-inducing, heaping helpings of fat-fried coronary disease, something bumped in the back of my brain, and it sounded like the shadow of old oak-creaking footsteps down my grandfather’s aging staircase.
My grandfather once told me that folks started “chicken-frying” meat because after the Old South fell, the food supplies were depleted, and rolling a pitiful little piece of meat in flour and frying it up made it more substantial, and a chicken leg could seem like a veritable feast in a hungry child’s tummy.
I thought about my grandfather as Chap and I strolled the chicken-fried smorgasbord of the Dallas midway, and how my grandfather fried chicken with a sense of family pride, with the history of his father and grandfather taking what little they had and creating a feast that warded off hunger and had their children feeling like royalty. It was familial pride–that knowing who you are–that flavored each meager morsel .
Near the end of our stroll down the Dallas midway, Chap offered me some deep-fried ice-cream, and I accepted it. I took a taste. And felt like a princess.
Thanks, Granddad, for helping me remember who I am, and more importantly, where I came from . . . and because I love you, I will still make you eat “leafs”.