As a child of the 60’s and 70’s, growing up in the Coal Region brought with it many family traditions. Some centered around holidays, but several centered around simple, everyday activities. One of those traditions was that my immediate family dined together. Always.
6 p.m. weekdays found my Nana, Pappy, Mom, Dad, and me gathering around the well-worn chrome and vinyl kitchenette set in our snug coalcracker kitchen. As Nana and Mom poured contents of pots and pans into serving dishes, the familiar sound of chair leg feet on linoleum filled the air along with tempting scents of Coal Region comfort foods.
Sometimes Pop had just barely arrived home from hauling a load of coal in his tractor-trailer to New York City or Philly. Pappy often appeared fresh from the back porch having just tapped out the tobacco from his pipe and smelling much like the familiar scent that always seemed to surround him.
As we indulged in the delights on the table, the laughter flowed, the “how was your day” stories were shared, and for at least a little while, every thing seemed right with the world.
Come Sundays, things took on a more “refined” aura — or at least as “refined” as it got for us at that time. 8 am church services were often preceded by Mom rising early to put a chuck roast in the oven for its slow and easy cook on the way to becoming a delicious pot roast.
Other times, she and Nana breezed in the door after services dressed in their Sunday best, donned their cotton aprons, and set to work prepping a piece of ham or poultry for dinner at noon. As with weekday dinners, not one of us was absent from the table for Sunday’s family dinner.
Many of us who grew up in the Coal Region and during the decades of my childhood understand the fond memories and connections that having meals together can evoke. Sadly, it is an element of family bonding that has disappeared for many today. Schedules, work demands, and other outside influences mean the Sunday family dinner (along with family at weeknight suppers) has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Luckily for me, my late husband James grew up in the era of family dinners and was more than enthusiastic about continuing the tradition in our (albeit small) family. For two and a half decades, he and I had our own Sunday family dinners that retained the element of rising above typical weekday suppers. The “good china” often appeared on the table and burgers and wings were replaced with beef roasts and baked poultry.
“Sunday family dinner” brought back fond memories for him and it certainly brought them back for me. Even though it was only the two of us, we made sure it retained an element of being a special family occasion. For nearly 25 years, I planned those precious dinners for us. Now that he is gone, my real life Sunday dinners have ended, but the memories remain and they mean the world to me. As I write this, his loss is fresh, the ache in my heart is overwhelming, and the tears flow freely. Oh, how I miss you, James. Oh, how I miss you and Sunday family dinners…
James’ dream meal
If you asked me what one of the most popular Sunday dinners was in my house as a child, it would definitely be a whole roasted chicken. Turns out, my husband was crazy about roasted chicken, so when I made this dish for him the first time so many years ago, it rose to the top of his “favorites” list.
Often, as we wandered the aisle at the grocery store, he would veer toward the whole chickens and turn to me. I knew what was coming. “Hey, hon, a roasted chicken soon would be nice…” I would laugh and we would pick one and add it to the cart. Not long before he passed, I realized he had a dream meal and loved to work his way through the left-overs whenever it made an appearance in my repertoire. I know he would be happy to share that menu and my recipe for some of his favorites with you:
- Mrs. Fogg’s Classic Roasted Whole Chicken
- Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Filling
- Easy Harvard Beets
- Creamed Cabbage
- 5-layer Pistachio Chocolate Delight
Tips for success
- Using a covered enameled roaster is key to my success with this recipe for whole roasted chicken.
- The size of the chicken matters. A 5 to 5 1/2 pound bird is just the right size for this recipe.
- The chicken can be prepared with the rub up to 24 hours before roasting but allow at least 8 hours for the chicken to sit with the rub.
- It is not necessary to truss the legs of the chicken. It simply makes for a different presentation than one with the legs un-trussed.
- I roast at a high temperature and always have. Roasting time can vary from that noted in the recipe depending on the size of the chicken, your oven, and your cooking experience/methods. Chicken should be an internal temperature of 165F degrees before consuming. Using a 5 to 5 1/2 pound plump roasting chicken, the time and oven temperature specified in this recipe, roasting in an enameled covered roaster then resting the bird, consistently yields juicy, fully cooked chicken for me; your mileage may vary. Get yourself an instant read thermometer — it will become your best friend in the kitchen.
- Remember that the internal temperature of the bird will rise for several minutes after removing it from the oven, so don’t wait until the internal temperature is already at 165F degrees or the bird will over-cook and become dry.
- The pan drippings make delicious gravy!
Classic Whole Roasted ChickenCourse: Main DishesCuisine: Coal Region, PA Dutch, GeneralDifficulty: Intermediate
- Mrs. Fogg’s rub mix
2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 – 5 to 6 pound roasting chicken
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 ribs celery, cut into 1 inch chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup chicken stock, chicken broth, or water
- The night before planning to roast, wash chicken and pat dry. (Reserve giblet pack if one came in your whole chicken.)
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the rub ingredients until well blended. Sprinkle chicken generously all over with rub (sprinkle some inside body cavity, too). Place most of the chunks of onion, celery, and carrot in the bottom of an enamel roasting pan as a “bed” on which to sit the chicken. Place remaining chunks into body cavity of chicken. (Optional: truss legs of chicken together if desired using cotton kitchen twine.) Place the rubbed chicken on top of the bed of vegetable chunks in the roasting pan. If you have giblets, place them in with the vegetables in the bottom of the roasting pan. Place cover on pan and refrigerate the entire pan with the prepared chicken at least 8 hours or up to 24.
- To Roast
- Remove the roaster with the chicken from refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature about 60 minutes. Preheat oven to 425F degrees.
- When ready to place in oven, pour the 1 cup broth or water into the bottom of the roasting pan. Place lid securely on roaster. Place on middle rack in oven. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes (for 5 to 5 1/2 pound chicken) or until internal temperature reads 155 on an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast without touching the bone. Remove the roaster from the oven and, leaving the cover on, allow the chicken to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Remove chicken to serving plate and carve as desired.
- Optional Gravy
- In saucepan, melt 2 Tablespoons butter. Whisk in 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour. Cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in 1 cup of the pan drippings from the roasted chicken. Whisk and cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly. (This is the proportions for basic gravy. You can double if desired.)