Cycling through that first year of hallmarks and holidays would be hard. I knew that. You can’t prepare. You can’t practice. Father’s Day and his birthday would be wrenching. He was 90 and lived an enviable life full of family, friends, and faith. I will miss you every single day, Dad, and all the goodness you brought to everyone who knew you!
~Leo Wayne Wagoner Sr.
August 4, 1924 – December 11, 2014~
Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner*
*Original NC Food post, March 28, 2014.
Reprinted by permission of the North Carolina Folklife Institute.
Dad was a traveling salesman, driving all over North Carolina in the late 50’s/early ‘60’s, and he loved that it put him with new people all the time.
Gone a lot, and often late for dinner, he was still the guy who rolled into the driveway every so often with a trunk full of Hostess Cupcakes, Twinkies, and SnoBalls – compliments of a bakery he called on in Winston-Salem. The son of tobacco farmers, he grew up poor in Brook’s Crossroads, walked five miles in the snow to school (not really, but we heard that a lot), didn’t have enough money to join the Boy Scouts, and earned a nickel helping clean the church every Saturday. From what I can tell, likely lived a hard-scrabble life on the farm. He lived deliberately, determined to make a better life for his family while telling us to always do the right thing and reminding us that life wasn’t fair. He was an eternal optimist who never met a stranger. And the best man I ever knew.
He spoke proud that he’d been in each of the 100 counties of North Carolina and knew those two-lane roads forward and backward. From BBQ to hot dogs, he knew where to stop when he got hungry. Riding along with him sometimes in the summer, I spent plenty of time waiting and reading in the car while he called on Farm Bureau and other offices, mostly down east. With the windows rolled down in hopes of catching the slightest, often non-existent summer breeze, I’d read a little. Squirm a lot. Read a little, fidget a little more, peeking out the window as if that would hurry him up. All the while sticking to the hot plastic seats as my impatience grew and my tummy rumbled.
We ate at oil cloth or plastic-table-cloth covered tables in Mom and Pop places where the waitresses called you “Hon” whether you’d been there a thousand times, or this was your first. Where they automatically brought you a basket of hush puppies (or cornbread, or biscuits, or slices of soft white sandwich bread.) And where the tea was always sweet and the glasses were always filled without even asking. Sometimes we stood by the car under a tree, or sat with the car doors open leaning over so not to drip on the car seats.
When it came to food, Daddy was predictable. That man could simply divine who was serving up chicken pie or chicken & dumplin’s for lunch. Many times we’d stop on a Sunday or Wednesday afternoon at a country church hosting supper-on-the-grounds just to see if they had any chicken pie.
Long tables, or sometimes saw-horses holding up planks, were covered with tablecloths brought from home by God-fearing church women. The spread practically strained from the weight of all the fried chicken, deviled eggs, chicken pie, chicken and dumplings, green beans, cornbread, biscuits, and ham.
He’d hone in on that chicken dish like a dog on a hunt complimenting the maker saying “that was the best chicken pie I ever had.” And he always meant it. While he was helping himself, it was the best he ever ate. By the time we left, often with leftovers tucked between two plates, Daddy had met everyone there, knew their life story and had shaken their hand with a promise to return. And he would. And would remember every single one of them even if it was months, or years later.
It didn’t matter to him whether the chicken pie recipe included peas and carrots, or was topped with pie crust or biscuits, he was an equal opportunity chicken pie lover. He did have a favorite. His Mama’s and it was included in Hugs From The Kitchen, written by Peggy Snow, his first cousin and the daughter of his “Aint” Ollie. In our own Wagoner Family Cookbook, we’ve updated the recipe to include vegetables and even added, heaven-forbid, some wine to the cream.
Peggy Snow, Hugs From the Kitchen.
The Lakeland Ledger, Nov. 25, 1993, Lakeland, FL
Best Ever Chicken Pie
2 ½ to 3lb chicken
1 small onion, sliced
1 rib celery, plus some leaves
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup buttermilk
½ stick butter, melted
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cans chicken broth (in which the chicken was cooked)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, combine chicken, onion, celery and celery leaves. Half cover with water. Cook until done. Cool and bone chicken, saving the broth. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Layer in a 9”x13” backing dish or cast iron skillet. Mix together flour, buttermilk, butter, salt and pepper. Spoon batter over chicken. Stir soup and the equal of 2 cans of broth together. Pour over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Top should be brown.
Note from cookbook: This is a great chicken pie! You can use chicken breast instead of whole chicken. Don’t think I’ve even made this that someone didn’t ask for the recipe. I believe it came from a family night supper at the First Baptist Church in Elkin, NC. – Peggy Snow
Shufflin’ through the Past