Welcome to “Food of Yore,” in which we’ll take trips down culinary memory lane to explore the history of recipes. Food history is as rich as our favorite flourless chocolate cake, so check back every Tuesday as we reveal the stories behind your favorite dishes.
Few animals are more intertwined in the food lore of Appalachia than the humble chicken. Chicks were cheap and easy to transport; they could scratch in the yard for dinner, and they gave eggs as well as meat to hungry families. But some chickens led a more glamorous life: Like tulips in Holland, they were once the subject of near-insane interest and wild financial speculation.
Need proof of the chicken craze? Look no further than the poultry exhibitions held across the country in the 19th century. The first one, which took place in Boston in 1849, attracted more than 10,000 visitors (the celebrated statesman and senator Daniel Webster among them). In the ensuing years, the poultry show was “copied in every city that pretended to be up with the times and in innumerable towns and villages throughout the length and breadth of the land,” Page Smith and Charles Daniel wrote in The Chicken Book, which was published in the same era. Newspapers gushed over blue-ribbon birds, and books on poultry breeding were instant best sellers.
Whether any of these pampered champs would make for better chicken and slicks than the common “yard birds,” though, is another matter. What is chicken and slicks, you might ask? It’s a stew common in Appalachia, made from flour, oil, and water, with fat, tender noodles and simmered, shredded bits of the chicken that flavored the broth.
MAKE IT NOW: Our recipe for Chicken and Slicks is free through May 14, 2013.
Top photo: David Goehring