If I could glue all the chicken fingers together that I have cooked over the past years, the result would be a flock of chickens that would cover the world. That flock would have grown bigger during these past three months because I have done a great deal of cooking. Chicken is my meat of choice, so that is what I cook most often.
I grew up with a mama who was a vegetarian. She especially did not like the thoughts of eating chicken. The strange thing is, she didn’t like it, but she surely could cook it. Her fried chicken was absolutely wonderful, as were her chicken and dumplings. And, she could cut up a whole chicken like a butcher. Mom could even cut a “pulley bone,” which was a bit tricky, so I’ve been told.
When Ruble and I first married and shopped at the base commissary, chicken was the cheapest meat available. Whole chickens were especially economical. The low price didn’t matter because Ruble felt the same way about chicken as my mama. How strange is that? I loved chicken, grew up with a mama who wouldn’t touch it, and then married a man who felt the same way. He, like Mom, could cook delicious chicken (on the grill was his specialty) for the rest of us, but there was always some kind of beef or pork on the grill for him.
After we moved to Montgomery, we met an older (than us) couple who lived there, and they were originally from Hamilton. They became dear friends of ours and at least once weekly they had us over for supper. After a few weeks, I told Ruble we absolutely had to invite them to have a meal with us. We decided to buy one of those cheap whole chickens at the commissary and serve it with mashed potatoes, gravy, green peas and a salad. I thought I could manage that meal, even though in the time that we’d been married I found out there was much more to cooking than being able to bake a cake or pie (which was my total experience of cooking when I married).
The part that bothered me most about preparing the meal was cutting up the chicken. However, I had watched Mom do it many times so I thought I could handle it. And I did handle it – over and over again. When Ruble came home from the base the day our guests were due to eat with us, he looked at the pile of chicken that I was dredging with flour. “Where are the drumsticks?” he asked. I told him I wasn’t sure. I explained they were there at first but they disappeared while I was hacking away. “It took a lot of cutting to get all that chicken cut into pieces,” I said.
Mom made it look so easy! Not only did I not have drumsticks, there was not enough meat left on any of the bones so that any piece could be identified as thighs, breast, and such. What I had was a pile of boneless chicken. I really don’t mean to be a glory hog here, but I actually think I invented the first chicken fingers. At least that pile of slashed chicken looked as much like chicken fingers as anything else—more like fingers than anything else.
It wasn’t a pretty platter of familiar chicken pieces we served that night but by following Mom’s method of frying the taste was really good. The potatoes, peas, gravy and salad also passed muster and our guests showered me with compliments. That night, I think Ruble was proud of the cook he married even though I never did learn to cut up a chicken. Now I can cook chicken fingers that my grandchildren say are the best in the world. Whether I invented them or not, that’s good enough for me!