Seasonal Flavors: Festival Food

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Every summer, churches in western Pennsylvania hold fund-raising events, generally called ‘festivals.’ You could spend every summer evening going from St. Teresa’s to St. Rochus to Our Mother of Sorrows for evenings of food and fun. Ours was called The St. Benedict’s Annual Reunion. This year was the 83rd. There were carnival rides, games of chance, fishpond for the kiddies, bingo for the grown ups. There was also a Saturday night dance for the young people and family dinners on Friday and Sunday. The Sunday dinner would traditionally be chicken and waffles, plus mashed potatoes, cooked-to-death green beans, dinner rolls, coleslaw with green peppers and a sweet vinegar dressing, and cake for dessert.

There was nothing pre-fab about this meal. The ladies—-and actually quite a few gentlemen—-would arrive at the church in the wee hours to peel potatoes and start stewing the chicken.

The coleslaw was made by hand and the cakes made in parishioner’s homes. A line would form early for this comfort-food meal. The church made a few bucks. Everyone was happy.

No one I knew ever made chicken and waffles at home. I have only ever associated it with this church dinner. Recently though I’ve learned that it is a Southern treat, too, but here, the chicken is fried and placed on the waffle.

My childhood memory is of chicken-filled gravy poured onto the not-too-sweet waffle.

I now make it occasionally for brunch. It’s the perfect use for a stewing chicken. I make mine in the pressure cooker. But since most people fear theirs, you can just boil the chicken for a few hours, till it falls off the bone. If I could only convince you to use the pressure cooker though, the result is much better.  You can put a whole chicken in the pressure cooker with a smaller amount of water. The resulting broth is ultra-rich; something much harder to achieve through slow cooking. Plus, this method is much faster!

And here is my annual plug for the Free Union Grass Farm—the chicken from there cannot be beat. Available at Crozet Great Valu, the Charlottesville City Market, or at the farmstand on Wednesday and Friday.

St. Benedict’s Church Style Chicken and Waffles

For the waffles

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ cup buttermilk
  • 5 T melted butter

Mix the dry ingredients. Combine the egg yolks, buttermilk and butter. Add to dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Stiffly beat the egg whites and fold into the batter.

Bake the waffles on a pre-heated waffle iron by adding about a cup of batter, close the waffle iron and bake until the steam stops escaping from the iron.

For the chicken

  • 1, 3-4 pound chicken
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ cup flour + ½ cup water for thickening

Best option: Put all ingredients in your pressure cooker and fill half way with water.  Bring to pressure and cook for one hour. Allow to cool, reserve the broth, discarding the vegetables. Thicken the broth by adding the flour/water mixture and cook until slightly thickened. Debone the cooled chicken and add to the gravy.  Serve over waffles.

If pressure cookery is not your thing—-simply cook all ingredients (except the thickener) for 2-3 hours. Cook covered so that the water doesn’t evaporate. Proceed as above.

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