Thursday, May 8, 2008
Apparently my story “Recipes from Mom” published in yesterday’s Cape Cod Times struck a chord of nostalgia in many readers and I’ve been hearing from them (both those I know and those I don’t) for the past two days. Even my ex-husband called me to tell me he liked the story.
A really nice lady named Diane emailed me to say that her sister had written a family cookbook and that my story inspired her to think about writing a cookbook for her own 20-something children who also call from the grocery store to get a list of ingredients so they can have some self-created home cooking.
But the part of her email that delighted me the most was that she confessed the biggest reason she wrote to me was because I might be one of the few people on Cape Cod who know about City Chicken. Diane grew up near Vestal, New York, which is close to my original hometown of Binghamton, and her sister still lives in the area and still makes City Chicken once in a while.
“Do you have a recipe to share for City Chicken and, the $24,000 Question is, where do you find the wooden sticks?” Diane asked.
You know what that meant, don’t you? Yep, City Chicken for dinner! I have to confess that even though this was a favorite dinner when I was a child, I haven’t ever tried cooking it myself. So I looked up the recipe in the cookbook my mother made me and found it to be a little vague. Undeterred, I called my Mom to ask her what kind of cracker crumbs she used. Her answer, “I don’t remember. Probably whatever I had.”
As for those sticks, my Mom said they used to come right in the package with the cubed pork in the grocery store. Well that was in Binghamton in the 1970’s, and I was pretty sure that Diane’s question was in fact a good one. I love a challenge, so I went online. I guessed that the sticks were about 6 inches long. I found 6-inch bamboo skewers online, but they were much more slender than the ones needed to make City Chicken.
Plus I didn’t have time to order skewers online. A reader was waiting for a recipe! I went to the Shaw’s Supermarket in Orleans and found 12-inch bamboo skewers that were the perfect diameter. Simple solution - I bought them and cut them in half. Since then I’ve done some more research and discovered that Candy Apple sticks are perfect! They are 5 1/2 inches long and the right thickness. So Diane, you can buy a box of 100 for $5 at the Popcorn Supply Company. And, I’m not holding you to the $24,000.
City Chicken is actually not chicken at all, but cubes of pork. My mother didn’t know why a recipe for pork was called chicken, so I did a little research and found a funny blog called “The City Chicken” that is written by a law student who was a “former country chick” living in a big city of undetermined origin. On her blog, she had a recipe for City Chicken and that post has comments from people from Detroit, Pittsburg, Ohio – and Binghamton, who all remember it fondly.
Here’s "the city chick's" explanation of the name: “Apparently the name ‘city chicken’ originated during the great Depression when poor immigrants would take scraps of meat and skewer them together in order to create a ‘drumstick.’ The skewers were then baked or fried.”
On to the experiment: Since I didn’t know what kind of cracker to use, I decided to try both Ritz and Saltines. I have two daughters who don’t eat red meat or pork, I decided to make half of the City Chicken out of actual chicken and the other half out of the pork called for in the recipe.
The consensus: Nobody, even me, loved this dinner, and my family, quite frankly, was puzzled by it. But they ate it and my lame photo is the evidence. I forgot to take a photo before dinner and that one piece was all that was leftover. In taste tests, Ritz won out over saltines and the chicken ones were much, much too dry, so stick with pork. But for those who want to give these a try for the sake of nostalgia (and for Diane), I’m including the recipe.
2 pounds pork, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 eggs, beaten
1 sleeve Ritz Crackers
5 1/2 – 6 inch long wooden skewers (like those for Candy Apples)
Crush the Ritz Crackers in a food processor and pour onto a plate. Beat the eggs in a wide shallow bowl. Thread about five cubes of pork on each skewer. Dip into the egg first, then the cracker crumbs. Place in baking pan and bake for one hour at 350 degrees.