Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chicken for Honey

It doesn't really matter what book today's post came from, because this is another handwritten entry. You can find it in my copy of Let's Start to Cook: Never-Fail Recipes for Beginners by Nell B. Nichols (1966), but it won't be in yours.

It's at the top of the "Chicken for Dinner" chapter, appropriately enough. If you can't read the handwriting:


I start chicken at 350, then lower temp. Rub the bird w/olive oil; add paprika. Pour an inch of water in your pan w/onions & garlic for gravy fixings (take most of grease out tho). Baste about twice.

When bird turns brown, cover w/foil to keep moisture in.

I love this note partly because it starts to tell a story, and I don't know much about what it might be. Who is writing this to whom? Why? This is the only note in the whole book, so I don't have many clues. Is it for a clueless guy whose wife or girlfriend will be away on business? For a kid who is finally moving out of the house? "Honey" suggests affection, but it's pretty nonspecific.

I love the non-specificity of the directions, too. If this is truly for a beginner, I'm not sure how helpful these would be. Start it at 350 for how long? Lower the temperature to what? I assume the olive oil and aromatics actually come before putting the chicken in the oven, but the order isn't clear. How long between bastings? A real beginner could interpret this to be anything from five minutes to five hours between them. And what happens after the foil goes on? Is the cook tenting the chicken to rest on the counter before cutting, or does it still need some more oven time after it gets its foil hat? (If so, how to tell when it's done cooking?)

And what about the gravy? The grease should be skimmed out, but do the onion and garlic go in or get strained out? Thicken with flour? Cornstarch? Blood from superficial knife wounds incurred when cutting up the chicken?

These questions are probably left unanswered because the recipient already knows. She or he watched the writer make roast chicken dozens of times and has a mental idea of the timetable, the composition of the gravy, etc. That is what I really love about the note. Even though I can't figure out the precise story, what is said and what is left unsaid hints at the close relationship between whoever wrote the recipe and whoever got the cookbook. Even though I don't know the whole story, I can feel its warmth.


  1. Reminds of Hemingway, small amount of words but a huge story. What a great find!

    1. That's an interesting comparison. I hadn't thought of it, but the fact that so much is implied and has to be read into the few words is similar.

  2. I'd guess a mother leaving the note for her daughter, perhaps in the gift of a cookbook she's had for a while. It is a great story. I write in my cookbooks, when I substitute ingredients and everyone enjoys it, or even notes about recipes that didn't go over well. Those, to me, make the cookbook so much the better. I've found notes written by others when I've bought used cookbooks, and they are wonderful.

    1. I wish I were more diligent about writing notes about substitutions! I never follow a recipe very closely and then when I go back to make it again later, I completely forget what I actually did.