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Memories Through Recipes: part one

November 23, 2011

A few weeks ago I headed back to Chicago to take care of business. The contents of my parents’ condo had been sitting in storage for almost two years. It was finally time to go back through it to determine what was worth saving and what would be better off going to Salvation Army. There wasn’t much left in terms of furniture or clothes. We were able to get rid of most of that a couple of years ago. What was left were boxes of photos, slides (yes there were still slide wheels), linens, china, kitchen utensils and one box of my parents’ most cherished cookbooks.

Before my folks moved out of their giant townhouse and into the condo, they had a large collection of Bon Appetit magazines and various cookbooks ranging from the classics like Joy of Cooking to a book dedicated entirely to muffins…when they ever cooked a recipe from that book I do not know. My mother did not bake. Ever. Thankfully came along with an archive of all the past Bon Appetits that my mother had been hanging on to and Mike and Sue Flynn gave away all but the most important culinary tomes. The remaining texts were splattered with tomato sauce, caked in flour and filled with memories of meals past. Interestingly enough, this collection numbered only six…and of those, four were cookbooks by Julia Child. The other two? First was the 1972 printing of Joy of Cooking and second was the 1948 edition of the Antoinette Pope School Cookbook.

Because my parents are no longer around, I can’t ask them, why these six. I will never know for sure what was so important about these books that they kept them while forsaking dozens of others. I can only dig through my own memories…trying to remember the dishes that they held sacred. My parents cooked a lot, but a few dishes stand out in my mind… French Baguettes with Chicken Soup…Spinach Casserole for Thanksgiving (one with mushrooms for me, one without for my aunts)…Chocolate Mousse…Grand Marnier Souffle…but the meal that always warms my heart and makes my stomach growl when I remember it, is my mother’s Chicken A La King. My father and I tried to make it for my aunties after my mom died…something was missing. My brother and I attempted it again a few weeks ago…too rich. Sometimes, I wonder if there was some special ingredient that she never told us about. Now looking through the cookbooks, I am curious…did she use the Pope Cookbook of Joy of Cooking Recipe? I guess I have a lifetime of my own to figure that out.

What other recipes from my childhood are hidden between the covers of these publications? Time and a lot of cooking will tell. Thankfully, my quest will not only bring back old memories but will also create new ones.

Chicken A La King


(Antoinette Pope School Cookbook version which has a stain on the page…does this mean this is THE recipe)?

  • 5 lb roasting or stewing chicken or 4 lb quick frosted drawn chicken (?)
  • 1/2 lb fresh mushrooms or 4 oz can of mushrooms 🙂
  • about 1/2 c pimentos (my mom used red bell pepper)
  • 1 package frosted peas
  • 1/2 c butter (or rendered chicken fat)
  • 1 c sifted bread flour
  • about 4 c lukewarm chicken stock or milk (remove some of fat from stock if it appears too rich, or reduce amount of butter)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wash chicken thoroughly, and cook it whole on a trivet, until tender in 4 cups hot water, in covered saucepan. Roasting chickens will take about 1 to 1 1/2 hours; stewing chickens will take several hours. Drain well, and when cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and cut into about 1inch pieces. Saute mushrooms for 5 minutes and then combine with peas.

In medium-sized saucepan, melt butter; add bread flour forming a paste. When well blended, add to it very slowly stock (or milk) and cook over low flame until smooth and thick, stirring constantly. Cook several minutes longer after it thickens. If too thick, add more stock or milk. Season with about 1 tablespoon salt. Add chicken, mushrooms, peas and pimento. Cook slowly all together about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, just before serving. Taste and season further if necessary.

If Chicken a la King is to stand for more than a few minutes after it is cooked, keep in a cool place, or it might sour. May be reheated in a double boiler, or directly over very low flame, adding a little milk if very thick, and stirring gently until smooth and hot. Serves 8-10 large portions, or 12 small.

*If you are Sue Flynn, you serve this in little Pepperridge Farm Puff Pastry Shells. If you are a 7 year old Melissa Flynn, you eat the raw doughthat Sue Flynn pulls from the center of the lids after the shells are cooked. If you are Sue Flynn, you find this disgusting, but just shake your head at your odd little daughter.*

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