65943_512818872074181_2095364581_nBy Franklin Abbott

Rebecca Lang grew up between two grandmothers – Say and Tom – in McRae, Georgia not far from Vidalia’s sweet onion fields. Her grandmother Say taught her about vegetables and her grandmother Tom about friend chicken. Rebecca dedicates her new book Fried Chicken to her grandmother Tom, “who taught me the real gospel of fried chicken.” There was fried chicken for Sunday dinner at Tom’s every week, so Rebecca watched her grandmother in action breading and frying until the ritual became second nature to her.

Rebecca says “the love of cooking skipped my mom,” and she became the keeper of the family recipes. She even has her grandmother Tom’s cast iron skillet which she uses at home. She says her children know just which one it is. It is a touchstone for them to another time. She and her family eat around what was once Tom’s table passed on to her. During the research phase for Fried Chicken, her family enduring untold numbers of fried chicken dinners. Rebecca said her kids never complained, but she felt like a bad mother those nights when there was nothing green on their plates.

Creating a cookbook is labor intensive, and it took Rebecca a full year – “nine to five and sometimes into the night” – to test her recipes. She had cooking stations set up in her back yard and over 800 chickens were used to test recipes. Ultimately 51 recipes were vetted and included in the book. They range from sweet tea-brined to chicken marinated in cream and spices and cooked in duck fat. Of course the recipe for Tom’s fried chicken is included complete with instructions on how to shake it in a brown paper bag to coat the pieces evenly with flour. Rebecca also carefully instructs first time fryers in the art of frying. She gives detailed explanations right down to the difference between regional flours. She says she always travels with a bag of White Lily Flower, a stable of the Southern kitchen, wherever she goes.

Rebecca’s research on fried chicken took her around the world and back in time. She says fried chicken came to the South relatively late having been part of more ancient cuisines in Asia and Europe for centuries. She says recipes vary because of different approaches to food. For instance in Africa where older chickens are used frying techniques differ. In the American South fried chicken was once the food of farmers before it became the centerpiece of the Southern table.

Rebecca has been writing about Southern food for a number of years. Her books include Mary Mac’s Tearoom, Quick-Fix Southern, and Around the Southern Table. She has been featured on television in food features for Southern Living and in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She believes that promoting and refining the art of Southern cooking promotes a “soulful connection to our food.” Her next book, out in 2016, will be The Southern Vegetable Book.

Rebecca is part of this year’s Decatur Book Festival. She and Virginia Willis will be presenting on Saturday, Sept. 5, at 5:30-6:15 p.m. on the Food & Cooking stage presented by Springer Mountain Farms.

Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and poet. For more, visit www.franklinabbott.com.

 

Okra Fritters

 

Makes 20

 

Sa made fried okra patties that were to die for. We made the truly regrettable mistake of not writing down the recipe before she passed away. Now, we have the difficult job of cooking and tasting fried okra fairly often, in hopes of getting it just like hers. This version comes very close.

 

1/2 pound okra

3/4 cup cornmeal

1/3 cup self-rising flour

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup vegetable oil

 

Cut the okra into 1/8-inch-thick slices. You should have about 2 cups of sliced okra. Combine the cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, egg, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until everything is combined. Stir in the okra.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

Scoop out heaping tablespoons of the okra batter and carefully place in the hot oil. Use the back of a spoon to flatten slightly in the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until browned and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining batter.

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.