Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Chicken and Cornbread

I've been researching the publishing world for children's books and have found that most publishing houses and literary agents are a little reluctant to take on a new author who has just one title to her name. You know, they worry there's a monkey at the typewriter. I thought their concern was valid, so this monkey got back to her trusty G4. Here's the result. It's an Appalachian Stone Soup - I know it needs some work, but I still love it and want to get it out there...

One day when I was a girl growing up in the mountains a stranger came to town. My two brothers and I ran up to him. He said, "I’m just passing through. You got any food for a hungry traveler?" We ran home to ask if we could bring the man some food. Our mama said she was sorry, but we didn’t have any to spare.

We ran back to the man and found he had started a cooking fire. He pulled a small grate out of his pack and put it over the pit. We asked him what he was doing. "I’m fixin’ to fry me up some chicken." We looked around and didn’t see any food, just an old iron skillet. "Where are you going to get a chicken?" we asked.

"Right over there," he said and pointed to a clump of big, yellow, wrinkly mushrooms growing a few feet up the trunk of an old oak tree. "Mister," we said, "Those are just some old mushrooms." "Yeah, that’s right, that’s a hickory chicken. And when you fry it up in a little butter, it tastes just like the real thing. The shame is, we don’t have any butter."

My younger brother looked at me and I knew what he was thinking. We had about a pound of fresh butter. We could take a little bit and it wouldn’t be missed. I nodded at him and he picked up and ran for the house.

When he got back, the man smiled and motioned to the skillet, "Just put it right in there. Be ready in a minute." After he fried up the chicken he passed the pan around and we all ate our fill – it did taste just like the real thing! We ate it all and then the man said, "Now, nothing I like more after eatin’ some chicken, then a little bit of cornbread."

"This here is a magic skillet and I can make the cornbread from just a little bit of cornmeal and salt - I keep ‘em in my pack." Our eyes got wide as he pulled out the little bags. "Of course," he said, "It would be a whole lot better if we had an egg, but there’s no use asking for that."

I knew our hens were laying plenty and sometimes they would even leave an egg in the shoes I left on the back porch. I thought if I found one now, I could give it to the man. Nobody would miss it. Sure enough, there was one in my old shoe. I ran back cradling it carefully in my hand, my mouth watering.

The man smiled as he pulled the ingredients together. "This is going to be good cornbread. Yes, sir - it would be fit for a king if we just had sweet milk. Too bad we don’t have some."

My brothers and I knew that we had a pitcher of buttermilk in our ice box. No one would ever miss a cup or two. Without saying a word, my older brother ran to get it.

The cornbread smelled so good while it was baking. The man had a lid that made the skillet into a little oven when he banked it in the coals. When it was ready to eat I asked if he could cut up slices for all of us. He laughed, "No, ma’am. Breaking bread was good enough for Jesus, so it’s good enough for us." And with that he turned the hot pone out on to his old tin plate, and we all broke off a piece. It was the best cornbread my brothers and I had ever eaten.

Later that night my family gathered around the woodstove. My brothers and I told our mama and daddy the story of our afternoon with the stranger. They wanted to hear it again and again. We marveled at how the wandering man had almost no food, yet always feasted from that magic skillet.

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