Pluff Mud Chronicles

By David Farrow and Charles W. Waring III

David

It was the end of the Endless Summer. On a lazy late summer early afternoon in September of 1968, I was seated at a friend’s downtown dinner table right before returning to Christ School.

It was precisely 1 p.m. that torrid September afternoon weekday. We sat at the formal dining room table surrounded on the north wall by portraits of Charleston ancestors who had shaped the city 150 years before and open outsized French doors on the south. My friend and I sat on one side, his sister and their stepbrother sat on the other. Their father, who could well have been the funniest man I ever met, sat on one end, a perfect foil to his more formal wife who had a bit of a patrician air and sat on the other side of the long table and closest to the kitchen.

In front of us were formal place settings, antique silverware gleaming like a nearby star. The family retainer wore a stiffly starched white jacket. It was he who passed the gravy in a silver boat served with a silver ladle. He also carved and served whatever roast might be on the menu, prepared by their delightful cook who would be with the family for almost 60 years. Every weekday, my friend’s family didn’t eat; they dined.

The scenario being played out nearby at South Battery was far different. The William Gibbes house was a beehive. The cook rang the dinner bell. The kitchen would be filled with the cook, handyman and laundry woman who were all sitting around the kitchen table. My father, mother and little brother sat around the breakfast nook. Everyone ate the same thing — be it beef stew, fish on Friday or fried chicken; oh and it WAS the best fried chicken I ever ate to this day. We attacked it gusto, picking it up with our fingers and gnawing it to the bone — just the same as I did at various summer camps and boarding schools.

I always thought that my friend’s mother suspected that I had been dragged in from a trailer park off the Dual Lane. When I first started hanging out with my friend when I was 12 years old, his mom overheard me say something about dropkicking one of her beloved manicured toy poodles. Nonetheless, not long afterward, I was invited to have dinner at her stately home. They had fried chicken. The butler served me and moved around the table. Once everyone was served and protocol was observed, I began to eat the chicken ... with my hands.

Eyes grew wide. A silence descended like a heavy curtain. A look on the hostess’s face suggested I had thrown one of her poodles in a blender.

For the next 10 years, I would be reminded of this nuclear faux pas. This September afternoon was no exception. I would return to this same table a year later, my innocence shattered. The summer of 1969 truly was the summer of everything our parents feared. At this point, though, we had yet to shed naivety; we had yet to ring bells that couldn’t be un-rung. We still ate our fried chicken with a knife and fork — at least when I dined at a particular house around the corner.

Charles

            I did not suffer under any fried-chicken restrictions at more formal dining events. Naturally, the family frowned upon bone sucking and chewing with one’s mouth open, but it was fine to pick up the yard bird — politely. I know that my Oxner grandparents in Columbia were sure to send us back home to Charleston with all the leftover fried chicken from a typical Sunday dinner. I rarely had bird that could match what came from the kitchen on Adger Road and, as I played 20 Questions or just dazed out of the window of the 1968 Ford Country Squire, I often daydreamed that I would find at least a drumstick wrapped in tin foil upon our arrival on New Street.

I have a theory I enjoy testing and it run as follows: All authentic and simply flavored Deep South fried chicken is fairly close in taste but the hands that made it — and the stories that come with it — create the big warm and fuzzy thoughts that usually give one’s home-made bird a special billing. No doubt that is true for other cuisine, but it always rings true for bird. The truth is I’m absolutely nuts about fried chicken and have to dredge up willpower to keep consumption thereof in check. If I had a choice between an afternoon hunt and the best fried chicken … I’d pick the hunt but I’d have to think about it. Naturally, I can report about many encounters with yard bird, the best culinary pal a Southern boy could have. As I reflect on bird consumed today, I know that at least one local private club comes very close to home quality with the bird, but Bojangles likely crosses my path more than most, especially when I am collecting in bulk for a hungry crowd. Publix bird is also dern fine. Frankly, it would take some serious thinking to come up with fried chicken that I did not like.

Heck, your Mercury was born with fried chicken, when all the original contributors went fishing with me on Wadmalaw Island and had KFC and cold beer to enjoy while talking about this new online writing adventure. I know you, David, were one of them and what a grand day we had. I believe you caught and released a monster channel bass and provided the good luck that allowed us to jump a small herd of deer while we were stretching our legs after lunch. Bob Baldwin, Baron Fain and Ben Le Clercq all went for a visit to the country for a chat about a newspaper that could be the start of a new way of looking at journalism.

I guess my most decadent bird was a giant bucket procured from Popeyes on Rivers Avenue, purchased for a trio of nefarious Sewanee students on summer break some 31 years ago. Will Thomason joined Lucas Drake and yours truly for a Saturday of beer and bird while listening to the radio on a dock. All three of us were in hot water, as usual, with either our parents or our girlfriends and decided the only right thing to do was consume enough chicken and beer for an army. I still love that chicken from Popeyes.

A few years later and freshly out of college, I was working in the First District for then-Congressman Arthur Ravenel, Jr. and once a week, it was my duty to cruise over to Walterboro in my 1982 Olds 98 to man the office. When things became a bit quiet or it was time for lunch, I would roam around Colleton County and hand out House of Representatives calendars and shake hands while checking out as many fried chicken spots as possible. My goal was to find my favorite chicken joint after tasting them all (a steep hill I could not climb), but I could not improve on their Piggly Wiggly’s bird.

The old Piggly Wiggly’s Harold’s Cabin on Meeting Street had a double-battered fried chicken routine that my parents loved. I recall mentioning this chicken to the late Harold Jacobs when I interviewed him about 13 years ago and he politely explained that all his kitchen secrets were the property of the Pig. (So … who has the recipe?)

As close readers may recall, I confessed earlier to making a complete mess of my mother’s kitchen many years ago by trying to fry chicken after a festive afternoon with friends on the water when the boat would not start but we had rum. Some 30 years later, I found a spot of redemption when Susu and I prepared a bunch of fried bird for a St. James Goose Creek picnic. My friend, the late Seabrook Wilkinson, declared it the finest chicken he had ever had. That was good enough for me; I have not fried the narrow face since that spring weekend.

Now, as we find ourselves nearly a year following the loss of our talented and amusing correspondent, we grin to think of all the writing nuggets we can pull for years and years. As we remember Seabrook, we also miss our Morey, Butler, Leigh, Larry, Angie and so many other sons and daughters of the South — all raised on fried chicken that inspired smiles — those authentic grins brought by the comfort food of which Dixie kitchens may be most justly proud, especially if it is YOUR home bird. 

If you have a legend for us to uncover or a historical quirky point you wish for us to address, please send same to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, please email David Farrow at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.