1st Prize, Illinois State Fair, 2017

Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance


Illinois State Fair

August 11, 2017



First Prize


Jone Schumacher, Chapin, Illinois


Chicken as an old-time favorite main dish serves up for many folks a vast variety of memories. I have heard several senior members of our families recall one chicken dish in particular, Oven Fried Chicken. My mother explains this was a family favorite Sunday dinner dish. Her mother would fry fresh chicken pieces just until lightly browned and then place the chicken in a roasting pan, add some liquid, cover and bake in a slow oven. Her family would then travel to church and back in their horse-drawn carriage while the chicken baked. She further explained that her mother would fire up the oven with split wood in the summer and would use nut coal in the winter as the coal would get hotter than the wood. They also had an small old coal oil stove in the “wash room” and her mother sometimes cooked on this in the summer. Mother recalls the excitement of her mother when one day a large truck arrived and delivered a bottle gas stove that my grandfather had ordered to surprise my grandmother. This stove was much easier to use as they just had to light a match to ignite the stove and oven. It amazes me how Grandmother knew how much fuel to use to keep the oven glowing at the right temperature for the chicken to slowly roast all morning. I noticed quite a “glow” also on my mother’s face as her memories take her back to savor that “fall-off-the-bone” tender chicken as her mother, daddy and sister gathered around the kitchen table at noon. Mother said Grandmother usually made chicken gravy also, and if they didn’t have potatoes for the meal, they would eat the gravy on bread. Family meals seem to be some of the most special memories my mother has of her childhood as their life was a simple, hard-working farm family far away from the hustle and bustle of our modern lives.


When Mother speaks of “dinner,” she means the noon meal, hence the “dinner bell” which was rung to call the men in from the fields mid-day. What “city folks” and I think modern folks call “dinner” now, was referred to by my mother’s family as supper or the evening meal. I remember well the “everyday” dishes we used at my grandmother’s when I was a child, and I am so pleased to have found several pieces of these dishes at various antique shops. I especially enjoy using these when serving Grandmother’s oven fried chicken.


My grandparents still had chickens on their farm when I was a little girl and I loved taking Grandmother’s basket and go into the chicken house to carefully collect eggs. I also recall being careful to watch where to step when walking outside around where the chickens strolled during the day. I also recall, which not such fondness, memories of my mother’s “chicken dressing day,” which we kids always wondered why it wasn’t called chicken “undressing” day! Early on a week-day morning, my mother would go to a nearby neighbor and return with a wooden crate full of noisy “fryers.” She would open the trap door and pull out one chicken, hold its neck over a stump and chop off the head with a sharp ax. We kids were so disgusted to see the headless chicken flopping around the yard splattering its blood everywhere. Then Mom would dunk the chicken in a bucket of very hot water and proceed to pluck off the feathers. To this day I can still smell the stench of wet feathers and have had absolutely no desire to sleep on a feather pillow. To remove the pin feathers, mother would hold the birds over a small fire in the yard to singe off the fine feathers. My great grandmother used to do this over an open burner of the kitchen stove and one time caught her apron on fire, so this could be a dangerous step! One by one, all the chickens were destined to the same fate. The chickens were next taken inside to the kitchen sink where the “innards” were taken out, the gizzard cleaned and kept along with the liver and heart. We kids thought dressing old hens were more interesting than the fryers because we were intrigued to watch Mom find eggs inside these chickens! Next, the birds were cut up, wrapped in plastic bags and frozen. I don’t really recall if we had fresh fried chicken for our evening meal that night, but I don’t think after all that commotion, chicken would not sound too appealing, and I think my mother would have been too tired to fry chicken. I must say it amuses me to hear young moms today complain about what a job it is to go to the grocery—to buy chicken nuggets to microwave, breaded chicken tenders ready to bake, or even to pick up a rotisserie chicken for dinner! Oh what they don’t know! Even though one could say I know how to dress chickens, I have to be honest to say this is not one family tradition of skills I have carried on.


However, I do want to carry on the tradition of Sunday oven-fried chicken with my family. After a couple recent trips to Kentucky Fried Chicken to pick up chicken after church for Mother’s Day and again for Father’s Day family meals, I have concluded this “old fashioned” oven chicken is much more economical! I have searched extensively for a recipe or directions for this dish. I have searched through many old family hand written recipe file boxes and many old cook books, including Domestic Arts Edition of the American Woman (copyright 1939) as well as questioned many seniors who admit they ate this chicken at their mother’s or grandmother’s home. I have come to the conclusion that this dish was something home cooks found so simple and common place that there was never the need to record as a recipe. It seems some of the best family foods were not kept secret but just prepared and the skill passed down through the generations along with the savory memories.


I have spent some delightful hours with my mother listening to her detail how her mother prepared this chicken and we now have the recipe documented! It is wonderful to have a fried chicken recipe that enables one to brown the chicken and have the mess cleaned up before mealtime. I am also so thankful I can set my oven to the exact temperature and not have to “fire it up!”
I recently prepared this chicken for my mother and she declared it delicious and very similar to what she remembers her mother prepared, and she seemed to sincerely enjoy this connection to her past. After the chicken dinner, we looked at her picture album and found some childhood chicken pictures to treasure. We also enjoyed looking back through the years with my picture album and I must say I’m not surprised or disappointed we didn’t find any pictures of “chicken-dressing day,” so instead I can just picture cherished memories of how my mother sometimes preformed unpleasant tasks to provide the best quality food possible for her family. I am excited to be able to prepare this chicken for my children and 11 grandchildren as they now call this chicken “tender BONE chicken” to differentiate from their frequent meals of chicken tenders. I am also especially looking forward to preparing this dish again for my mother on her 90th birthday this coming October!


PS: I realize some of the seasonings I have in my recipe may not have been available to my grandmother, but I have chosen to include then for the flavor boost. I believe that modern taste buds have been altered with all the strong international spices available, and I think the fresh dressed chickens of days past were so flavorful extra spices were not needed. I want to have a recipe that will last through the generations. Had I not been called away to babysit grandchildren in July and then combated bronchitis and an ear infection upon my return, my mother and I would have liked to have dressed a fresh fryer to bring to the fair!! I was unable to use lard in my recipe to fry the chicken in as some in my family cannot eat pork or pork products, and I choose legs and thighs as these are the favorites of my family.


First Place, 2017

Jone Schumacher, Chapin, Illinois


1 1/4 cup all purpose Flour.
3/4 teaspoon Teasoning (poultry seasoning).
3/4 teaspoon Lawry’s salt
1 1/2 teaspoon fine chicken bouillon
2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk or evaporated milk
4 pounds chicken pieces
4 cups solid shortening
12 oz chicken broth



3 tablespoons left-over seasoned
2-3 cups whole milk


1. Pre-heat lard in a large skillet to 350 degrees.
2. Combine all seasonings and flour in a plastic or plastic bag.
3. Dip chicken pieces in the buttermilk and place in bag. Shake gently to coat with the seasoned flour. Carefully place chicken into the hot oil.
4. Let fry to light brown, turning after about 5 to 10 minutes to brown all sides.
5. Remove from skilled to blot off excess oil on paper towels.
6. Place chicken in roasting pan, pour on the chicken broth, cover and place in pre-heated 275 degree oven for 21/2 to 3 hours until tender and reaches internal temperature of 180 degrees.



1. When shortening is cool enough to handle safely, drain skillet, being careful to leave the browned flour crumbs. Stir the seasoned flour into the fat that remains with the crumbs. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Heat skillet to 350 degrees, continuing to stir until gravy is bubbling and thickened. (Additional milk can be added as necessary for desired thickness.) Keep warm until serving.