Fried chicken and bacon grease


My mother was what we called a “country cook.” She might not be up on all the fancy dishes or even the ethnic food that we take for granted today. Until I was in high school and had access to the family car, my Italian culinary experience was limited to Chef Boyardee. Mexican food? Nope. Chinese? Not a chance.

My parents were children of the Great Depression. We very seldom had steak in our house. What we had was, well … country food.

For breakfast, we had bacon and eggs, sometimes sausage, and biscuits and gravy. Not the brown ick I encountered in Marine Corps mess halls, but the creamy white gravy made from flour and bacon grease. We had either milk or orange juice, or both, at breakfast.

Dinners (“suppers” in the Tennessee hill country lingo), were family gatherings at which neither TV nor reading was allowed. There was always a meat and several vegetables. In the summers, lunch (“dinner” in the aforementioned hill location) was either a sandwich of some kind or maybe a canned soup. “Campbells,” of course. During the school year, lunches were taken in the school cafeteria.

Sundays were always a bit of a feast after church time. There would often be two meats, maybe a pot roast, or pork chops, or fried chicken, or something else and a great many veggies: corn, green beans, rice, mashed potatoes, soup beans, and more. Mom always allowed seconds, more if there was more available.

There was never a chance that Mom and Dad’s two boys would go hungry. It’s really amazing to look back on it. My dad had a challenging time finding work, or at least work that paid well, until he was over 30. Mom quit her factory job when I was born and took care of us kids. Dad was one of the hardest working men I have ever known, often taking two, or even, three low paying jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. If he complained about it, I never heard it.

My mom would preserve food by canning, something she learned from her mother. She kept a small garden at the side of our house near the woods and much of what was put up for the winter came from there. It was from her that I developed a love of sweet pickles. And like her mother before her and like many women in the Appalachians, she kept a jar of bacon grease in the refrigerator. Nothing was wasted.

One of my favorite foods was mom’s fried chicken. When I say it was the best fried chicken I ever ate, that is no exaggeration. Because chicken was cheap, we had it often. I never tired of it, never complained. Over the years, as a pastor and priest I have probably consumed tons of fried chicken. Most of it has been tasty but nothing — not home cooked nor restaurant fried chicken … not even the Colonel’s … came close to Mom’s. When Mom passed away in 2003, the secret went with her.

But a few months ago, I was watching a show about food. This one happened to be about old timey country cooking and featured fried chicken. As the chicken was prepared with being put in milk and then dusted with either flour or corn meal or both, my attention was drawn to the cast iron skillet.

The cook put a healthy couple of dollops of that in which the chicken would fry to a golden brown while retaining its juiciness — a dollop of bacon grease! It was then that the memories flooded in, and I could see and smell Mom’s kitchen once again!

Today, of course, some “health conscious” people would be aghast at most anything fried and eating bacon grease would be to them like gargling nuclear waste. But they don’t know what they’re missing. I’m looking forward to duplicating that meal in the near future. The problem is that it takes a lot of bacon to get enough left-over bacon grease. But, for the sake of mountain culture archeology, I’m willing to suffer.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King ( Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South ( He may be contacted at]