A New Recipe for a Traditional Southern Dish
by Terry Thornton
My Sweetie's grandmother, the late Nancy Thideosia Beaver Williams (Mrs. Richard Williams) of Arkansas, used to talk about Chicken Pudding. The pudding, baked slow and gentle in a wood-burning stove, was a long-ago favorite. "Thid" was from the Ozark Mountains and, according to Sweetie, was an excellent country cook.
Making Chicken Pudding today is much easier than it was in Thid's day. Then if a person wanted chicken pudding she first had to raise the chickens, gather the eggs, milk the cow, churn the butter, and make sure there was flour, baking powder, and salt on hand not to mention that someone had to cut the tree and split out the wood for the cook-stove fire box.
Imagine Sweetie's surprise recently when our local paper, The Itawamba County Times of Fulton, Mississippi, printed a recipe called "Better 'n Chicken and Dumplings" by Grace Hammock from Our Daily Bread. Sweetie read the recipe and thought it just might be a modern version of the much older traditional dish Chicken Pudding, a baked main course dish that forms its own crust/topping which browns like a Yorkshire Pudding.
Also knowing how much I love chicken and dumplings, Sweetie decided today to try the dish. She made a few modifications to the recipe and got it started using modern ingredients --- we didn't have to grow chickens, slaughter them and dress them, milk our cow and churn butter or go gather freshly laid eggs --- all of the ingredients were on the panty shelf, in the freezer, or in the refrigerator. The the "fire" in the oven was as simple as turning a dial on the gas stove to heat it up.
While our Chicken Pudding was baking, I was commissioned to get on the computer and determine how close it was to traditional Chicken Pudding. I found recipes from President James Monroe's family cookbook, a recipe from London England of 1882 for making this "American" dish, and from an 1885 New York recipe book, good directions for making "Southern" Chicken Pudding the traditional way.
Below are three versions of Chicken Pudding. The first two are much how Thid's mother, Mrs. Thomas Hix Shadrack Beaver, may have prepared this pudding -- a labor of love -- to feed a hungry family in the1880s. The third recipe is Sweetie's version of Grace Hammock's "Better 'n Chicken and Dumplings" which Sweetie has re-named "Thideosia's Baked Chicken Pudding."
Version 1 from 1882, by Mrs. Henry Reeve, Cookery and Housekeeping. London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1882, page 203.
CHICKEN PUDDING (An American Recipe)
Cut up a chicken as for fricassee, and parboil, seasoning well with pepper, salt, and a lump of butter the size of an egg, to each chicken. The fowls should be young and tender, and divided at every joint. Stew slowly for half an hour, take them out, and lay on a flat dish to cool. Set aside the water in which they were stewed for your gravy.
Make a batter of one quart of milk, three cups of flour, three tablespoonsful of metled butter, half a teaspoonful of carbnate of soda, and a small pinch of cream of tartar, with four eggs well beaten, and a little salt. Put a layer of chicken in the bottom of the dish, and pour about half a cupful of batter over it --- enough to conceal the meat; then another layer of chicken, and more batter, until the dish is full. The batter must form the crust. Bake one hour, in a moderate oven.
Version 2 from 1885, by Juliet Corson, Juliet Corson's New Family Cook Book. New York: George Munro, 1885, page 117.
Chicken Pudding, Southern Style
Dress two small chickens and cut them in joints; put them over the fire in just enough boiling water to cover them, with a level teaspoonful of salt, and stew them gently for half an hour; then take up the chicken, saving the broth.
Make a smooth batter of a pound of flour, a teaspoonful of salt, a quart of milk, and six eggs beaten smooth; butter an earthern dish, and put the chicken and batter into it in layers, with batter at the bottom and top, and bake the pudding until brown in a moderate oven.
When the pudding is nearly done, heat the broth in which the chicken was stewed, season it palatably, draw it to the side of the fire where it will not boil, and stir into it eggs enough beaten smooth, to thicken it so as to form a sauce to use with the pudding; the eggs should be added only just before serving the sauce.
Version 3, adapted from Grace Hammock's "Better 'n Chicken and Dumplings" by Betty Rooker Thornton, December 13, 2009.
Thideosia's Baked Chicken Pudding
4 frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 cups chicken broth reserved from cooking the chicken breasts
3/4 stick of butter
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 can cream of chicken soup
To prepare chicken place frozen breasts in a saucepan and cover with water; bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove cooked meat from pan to a bowl. Save the broth. Allow the meat to cool slightly and cut into bite-sized pieces. Spread chicken pieces over the bottom of a baking dish.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Pour the melted butter over the cooked chicken.
In a small bowl, mix the flour and the milk thoroughly; pour over chicken and butter.
In a small bowl, mix the chicken broth and the chicken soup thoroughly; pour over chicken, butter, and flour/milk mixture.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir very gently.
Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes. You may wish to brown the top edges by running under the broiler for a few minutes after the dish it done.
Serve hot with extra salt and pepper for individual tastes.
Now a review of the dish:
I've never eaten Chicken Pudding before --- but, golly, I've eaten my fair share of chicken and dumplings and of chicken pie. This dish is better than either --- Ms. Hammock was correct. It is better than chicken and dumplings. I ate a large serving and then I went back for seconds. It is a hearty, soul-pleasing dish. While I am sure it would be tasty made from a freshly killed chicken and made with an egg sauce cooked the old-fashioned way, this modern version is simple to make, simple to cook, and oh so very good to eat. It will be cooked again and again at our house --- even I can make this great-tasting main-course pudding.
The main thing I like about this version of Chicken Pudding is I know my late grand-mother-in-law would have loved it too. Try "Thid's Chicken Pudding --- I think you will enjoy making and eating it too.