20 (Sun) September 2020
Birdie’s Chicken Pilau
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (3) (see 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)
While reading the 99 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922 – leading up to the 100th winner to be announced next year – I will also attempt to create one dish for every book, a dish that is directly referenced in or indirectly inspired by the events of the book. Food plays a strong role in many of the stories; not surprising as the characters in most of the books are faced with adversity of some sort, including poverty, so they’re often very hungry and thus grateful whenever they get a bite to eat – as we all should be at every meal, give us this day our daily bread. The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
Strawberry Girl (1946) by Lois Lenski. The book is about Birdie Boyer and her family – proud to be “crackers” – as they struggle to get their farm up and running in rural Florida at the turn of the 20th century.
Perhaps, for some, the book provides an interesting snapshot of an obscure time and place in American history, but I found it less than stimulating, even when they succeed in harvesting strawberries, oh golly!
Chicken Pilau is an American dish. Chickens are initially boiled, then the meat and stock are used to cook rice, along with spices and aromatics. Traditionally made in large quantities for large gatherings on special occasions (e.g., strawberry harvest), the event itself called a “chicken pilau.” While similar dishes with similar names can be found across the world, it’s embraced as a local tradition in Florida, where the cracker vernacular pronounces it as “chicken per LOO.”
[paraphrased in part]
“Ma thought likely you’d help her dress the chickens,” said Zephy, “‘count of she’s got all of them to do.”
“All of them? What did she kill all of ’em for? Don’t she know how many folks is comin’?” asked Mrs Boyer, more and more puzzled.
“Well,” said Essie, “Pa shot the heads offen all of Ma’s chickens and …”
“What!” exclaimed Mrs Boyer.
“So Ma’s fixin’ to have a chicken pilau!” added Zephy.
“What did he do that for?” gasped Mrs Boyer.
“He was drunk,” said Essie. She hung her head, ashamed.
The chicken pilau was a gay and happy occasion. The men cleared an open space and built lightwood fires and put on great kettles of water to heat. The women dressed the chickens, cut them up and boiled them. They put on rice to cook. Later the chickens and rice were cooked together with rich seasonings to make the favorite backwoods dish – chicken pilau.
My first attempt at chicken pilau, it was okay, even though I have no frame of reference to gauge how close it came to the real deal. Consolidating a few on-line recipes, I sautéed onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and dried oregano, added the rice and stock, topped with the chicken (pulled apart, bones still in), covered and simmered for 30 minutes, garnished with fresh cilantro – no idea whether rural Floridians in the early 1900s used oregano or cilantro, but the rest of it seemed plausible. The family seemed to enjoy the meal.
“It’s like fried rice with roast chicken,” IZ said.
“No,” Dad said, “it’s not.”
(See also FOODS.)
(See also PLACES.)