I’ve long been a collector of my friends’ and relatives’ go-to recipes: the ones that become people’s dinner party standbys, the ones they make for new parents and grieving neighbors, the ones they are asked to make again and again for potluck suppers.
Like a restaurant’s specialty of the house, I see these as the specialty of the home kitchen.
I discovered one such recipe this fall when I traveled to Siloam, a rural community 30 miles northwest of Winston-Salem. I was reporting a story on sonker, or what people outside of Surry and Wilkes counties call cobbler.
After watching two octogenarian sisters, Mae Crissman and Geneva Mabe, make a peach sonker, we sat down to eat chicken stew, made by Crissman’s daughter, Joy Hemmings.
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The chicken stew was thin and creamy, studded only with bits of chicken and topped with crumbled saltine crackers. It was simple and delicious. I was lucky Hemmings agreed to share the recipe.
In the past year, she said, the chicken stew has become a regular in her cooking repertoire. In fact, when I called her a couple of weeks ago, she was making some for a neighbor whose father had recently died.
Her mother used to make the stew from scratch, using bone-in chicken. But Hemmings’ brother figured out a shortcut by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Hemmings adopted that practice and uses her mother’s trick of making a creamier stew by adding a can of strained cream of chicken soup. Joy makes it her own by using two spice blends for seasoning.
“I think it’s really tasty,” Hemmings said. “I know it’s rich, but you aren’t going to eat that every day.”
I’d love to hear about your friends, relatives and neighbors who have a specialty dish that they’re celebrated for making. Send them to me and I’ll spread the gospel of the go-to recipes.