When I called my mother in Nashville last week to ask her for her fried chicken recipe, she sighed a little sigh, and I knew we were in for another less-than-fruitful conversation about cooking.

I grew up watching her cook the dish, so I knew she fried the chicken in melted Crisco, but when I asked her how much Crisco, this is what she told me:

“Oh Meredith, I don’t know,” she said. “Grab a big spoon and get a big glob of it and put it in there. I never measured it.”

This is the way most of our conversations about cooking go. I’m always wanting to learn how she made our favorite foods, and she can’t tell me because she never wrote down what she did. Oh, she used recipes, all right, just not for the Southern classics that I’m most interested in inheriting.

Her rustic method for fried chicken would seem strange today – no brining of the meat, no buttermilk batter, no fancy seasonings. But it always had a good crust, and we loved it.

About that crust, though, here’s the thing: It turns out she’d remove the skin before frying the chicken. Why did she make it this way? “That’s the way mama did it,” she said, repeating the most common Southern excuse for doing anything.

My mother dredged her skinless chicken in just flour and fried it in Crisco melted in a cast iron skillet, with just a little salt for seasoning. “You have to cook it fairly slow so it will get done,” she said.

So how long is that? I should have known better than to ask. Until, she said, the chicken is “golden brown.”

My parents are both in their 80s now, and my mother hung up her apron long ago. She only cooks when she feels like it. Believe me, she’s earned it. But she said talking to me about her fried chicken made her want to make it again.

Mostly, though, her habits have changed: “If we want chicken, I go to Colonel Sanders.”