March 5th, 2015
Brothers and sisters, the 40 Days of Waffle Shop – aka, Lent – have begun, and it’s time once again for a bit of religious instruction – aka, answers to the mystic question, “What the hell is that?” Over the years, I have provided a recipe for tomato aspic, asked you to try fish pudding on faith, and, this year, I bring you chicken hash. Chicken hash may well have been the original manna, because I guarantee you a couple of ladles of this over a waffle will sustain you in the wilderness.
1 cup chicken fat
1 cup flour
Approximately 2 quarts chicken broth
Approximately 2 quarts cooked and chopped dark chicken meat
Spice Islands poultry seasoning, to taste (about ¼ of the bottle)
½ cup grated onion (more wouldn’t hurt)
Lawry’s seasoning salt, to taste (lay it on)
White pepper, to taste (again, lay it on)
Kitchen Bouquet, to color (that would be dark brown)
Sift flour into fat over medium heat. Stir vigorously with wire whisk until very smooth. Allow to cook, constantly stirring, for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and add chicken broth, stirring. Return to heat and cook, continuing to stir, until mixture boils and thickens. Add seasonings to taste. Thin with additional broth if necessary. Add chicken meat. Serves 8.
As published in The Daily News, March 6, 2015, and in The Memphis News, March 7-13, 2015
The Memphis of Memphis is best shared around tables, best accompanied by good food, and best expressed in good stories.
Mildred’s story, for instance. I told it last year, but here it is again because Mildred spent 70 years earning the telling.
On a Downtown basement wall in the oldest public building in Memphis, Calvary Episcopal Church, there’s a plaque. That’s not unusual for a church wall, but this particular wall, the room it’s in, and the Lenten ritual observed there for 90-plus years are a kind of Memphis liturgy, and the woman honored on that plaque is the celebrant.
For 70 of those years, Mildred Wiggs White made waffles for the Waffle Shop. When she could no longer stand comfortably over her fabled iron in front of that wall, she pulled a chair up. When she could no longer comfortably reach the iron from that chair, the church lowered the front legs so the chair would lean in for her.
When Mildred Wiggs White was lowered into her grave, there was a waffle placed on her casket.
This isn’t just food, brothers and sisters, this is the flavor of who we are served up one plate, one story at a time in that basement, one storied speaker at a time in the church above it, for a short time in early spring. While the Calvary Waffle Shop is open only during Lent, I give up the stuff it serves 325 days a year to get to these 40.
Join in the ritual.
On Tuesday it’s gumbo, turnip greens, shrimp mousse and Tennessee bourbon pie. On Wednesday, it’s fish pudding and cornsticks and shaum torte, and fish pudding again on Friday and chocolate bourbon cake. On Thursday, shrimp mousse is back, and corned beef and cabbage and fudge pie. Any day, it’s chicken salad, chicken noodle soup and chicken hash, and spaghetti and rye bread, peppermint ice cream and chocolate sauce, and the rum-soaked richness of Boston cream pie, the eggy excess of homemade mayonnaise and tartar sauce, and the wiggly wonder of tomato aspic.
And Mildred’s waffles and sausage.
Up in the church, famed preachers from across our city and land mount the pulpit for the Calvary Lenten Preaching Series. Down in the basement, the comforting liturgy flows from the kitchen and is richly shared at table. Would-be kings, queens and heirs apparent to our commerce, politics and jurisprudence sit elbow-to-elbow with our hoi polloi, with our characters, legends and pretenders all in common praise of greased, salted, sugared, and floured conversation.
And while it’s not strictly kosher, it’s not strictly ecumenical either.
From that pulpit, I heard Rabbi Micah Greenstein say, in his warm and wonderful style, “When you see me in heaven, I won’t mind if you’re surprised – I just hope you won’t be disappointed.”
So to paraphrase, come on down to the Waffle Shop – you might be surprised, but you won’t be disappointed.
I’m a Memphian, and you’d best hurry. The 2015 amen is March 27.
If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.
The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.