Wednesday, November 30, 2022

On Cooking Southern: Attack of the Haunted Hens


By Laurie Triplette

Southernism of the Week:

That bird won’t fly …  Related to the expression “That dog won’t point”, it’s a concept indicating that some idea won’t get off the ground, literally and figuratively. Think War Eagles with clipped wings.


The William Turner “House That Wouldn’t Die” is in the news again, fittingly, for activities conducted over Halloween weekend. The Cedar Oaks Guild holds its 5th biennial Spirits of Oxford extravaganza on Oct. 30 and Nov. 2 to raise funds for the Turner house now known as Cedar Oaks Heritage Home.

The previous four Spirits weekends recreated Oxford’s real past through a cemetery walk featuring vignettes and performances by “spirits” of real people from Oxford’s history. This year’s “Spirits of Yoknapatawpha” brings a new twist to the theme in homage to the fictional county immortalized by Oxford’s favorite literary son, William Faulkner. Ten local thespians will bring to life characters from the author’s novels, short stories and plays in scenes written by Faulkner scholar and Cedar Oaks Guild president Diane Fergusson, with permission from the Faulkner Literary Estate, Lee Caplin, Executor.

The October 30 opening night event begins with a 7-8 p.m. reception sponsored by the Cedar Oaks Guild and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. Opening night tickets are $25; the Sunday 2 o’clock matinee tickets are $15. Tickets are still available at Thacker Mountain Radio on Oct. 30, or online through Brown Paper Tickets

In honor of the 2014 Spirits of Yoknapatawpha event, The Old Bride is channeling the spirit of Ben Sanders from Cedar Oaks’ past. I’ve created a new twist on Dead Doves on Dirty Rice, Sanders’ classic recipe included in the original 1966 Cedar Oaks’ Cherished Cookery cookbook that was reprinted in 2013 by the Cedar Oaks Guild. 

I’ve used Cornish hens instead of doves because none of my constituency have gone huntin’ in quite a while. Perhaps some of our Hotty Toddy readers have generous friends willing to share bounty from the current dove-hunting season that runs Oct. 4-Nov. 9 and Dec. 15-Jan. 15 (NORTH ZONE: Areas north of U.S. HWY 84 and west of MS HWY 35; and SOUTH ZONE: Areas south of U.S. 84 and east of MS HWY 35).


4 Cornish hens

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

8 strips of bacon

Salt and pepper to taste

2 or 2.5-oz pkg of French Onion Soup mix

4 c water

2 c basmati rice

3 T butter

1 T flour dissolved in 2 T warm water

4 T crumbled crisp-cooked bacon, optional

Cut out foil squares large enough to wrap each breast completely. Preheat oven to 300˚F. 

Clean the hens and pat dry. Using kitchen shears, cut down backbone to split carcass. Separate breast from wings and leg-thigh sections, removing skin. Breast will be heart-shaped. Use shears and split each breast into two parts. Place wings and leg-thigh sections in a medium saucepan and fill pan with water. Add the first salt with pepper and garlic powder. Boil about 45 minutes, until the meat becomes fork tender. Strain broth through a sieve and reserve for gravy. Separate meat from bones and skin and set aside. There will be a lot of meat bits.

Bird bits gravy.
Bird bits gravy.

As soon as meat bits are on the stove, sprinkle each breast half with salt and pepper to taste. Wrap each in a single piece of bacon and position wrapped breast half in foil square. Fold long sides of foil up and over and crimp up short edges to seal. Bake wrapped breasts on a cookie sheet for 1 hour. 

While breasts are baking, combine onion soup mix and 4 cups of water in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add rice and reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. 

To prepare gravy, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour-water until completely blended. Slowly whisk in the bird broth and simmer, whisking until it thickens. Add the meat bits and continue simmering. The gravy will remain somewhat thin, like a chicken stew. Keep warm until serving.

Remove foil packets from oven long enough to open the foil. Return to oven and brown the bird breasts for about 15-20 minutes until bacon becomes crisp.. Remove from oven and serve over dirty rice with bird-bits gravy. Sprinkle with optional bacon bits if desired. Serve with a simple green salad and rolls. Yields 4 servings (2 breast halves per diner). 

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).