The Commonsensical Delights of Fried Chicken

leghorn cock

“What are we coming to? Whither are we drifting? And oh, times and oh, manners!”, writes Frank Crane in his 1920 collection of observations and ruminations, Adventures in Common Sense.

What — or who — occasions Crane’s lament? None other than the “chief high worshipful of the United States Food Research Department, Mary E. Pennington,” who in her research findings “deposes that FRIED CHICKEN is bad for us. That is to say, fried chicken that is fresh killed.”

The chief high worshipful decrees that all chicken “should be ripened from three to ten days in a temperature of 32 degrees.” Only then is the fowl fit to eat.

Crane considers this insanity. He writes that he “cannot get over the conviction that these scientific people are set upon robbing us of our most delectable things to eat. Naturally we would not strike a woman, but why does the Pennington lady attack us at the very core and citadel of our national gustatory treasure?”

Why indeed? By way of answer Crane puts to his readers a question of his own: “I put it to the reader as man to man, was any dish ever so downright, plum GOOD as fried chicken?” “I have eaten bouillabaisse at Marseilles, Goulash at Vienna, paprika schnitzel at Munich, goose liver pie at Strasburg, sole at Marguery’s in Paris, whitebait at Greenwich, beans in Boston, and oysters at Baltimore,” Crane continues, alliteratively enlarging on his subject, “but above them all FRIED CHICKEN … has, in the language of an ex-president, got them all beat to a frazzle.”

pair of white hens

It would take a true stoic not to agree with Crane’s argument. If ever you should  find yourself hankering for this delectable dish, try this recipe from the 1902 cookbook May Irwin’s Home Cooking  — and ignore any advice you might receive from so-called “scientific people.”

Fried Chicken with Cream Gravy

Half a pound of fat pork is cut up and put in a frying-pan, and cooked until the fat is extracted. Wash and cut up a broiling chicken; soak in salt and water for half an hour; wipe dry, and season with pepper and dredge with flour; then fry in the hot fat until each piece is a rich brown on both sides. Take up and drain on a brown paper, and set aside in a covered dish. Pour into the gravy left in the frying-pan a cup of milk or cream (preferably the latter), thickened with a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of butter. Add some chopped parsley; let it boil up, and pour over the chicken.


Baumgarthuber, Christine. Fermented Foods: The History and Science of a Microbiological Wonder. Reaktion Books, 2021.

Would you rather receive The Austerity Kitchen by email? Then sign up for my Substack.

And, if you’d like to help the Kitchen keep cookin’, please consider picking up a copy of my book, which you may find on one of the sites listed here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s