Editor’s Note: We have been asking readers (and the occasional Press Herald writer) to tell us what they are cooking, and why, during this time of self-isolation. This week, CAROL COULTAS, Business Projects Editor for the Press Herald, tells us about a chicken recipe with a history.

My old recipe box looks like it’s been through a war. Dented and stained, it barely functions.

But I found myself poring over its contents recently, looking for some long-forgotten recipe for chicken as I considered yet another week’s worth of homebound, ummm I mean home-cooked, suppers.

And there it was: K.I. Sawyer Chicken, a favorite from my youth.

K.I. Sawyer refers to the Air Force base my dad was stationed at in the early ’60s. On the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it’s where I made my first best friend (Francie) and started kindergarten.

There wasn’t a lot of money in those days for an enlisted man with a wife and three little kids. But there was community, and my recipe box holds the evidence: Lona’s Russian Tea. Hessie’s Fruit Salad. Ruth’s (K.I. Sawyer) Chicken.

Military wives knew how to stretch a buck, especially when those bucks came from a government paycheck deposited only once a month. Many a time we had oyster stew at the end of the month, just before the next paycheck arrived, because it was cheap and consisted of only three ingredients: milk, “a chunk of butter” and two cans of oysters. Served with huge sleeves of saltines, we loved it.

Military bases were true melting pots. At K.I. Sawyer, on Strato Cruiser (air bases have the best street names), there were people from Asia, Europe and all regions of the U.S. – a stew of ethnic and racial backgrounds all pretty much living in harmony.

That stew was reflected in the recipes military wives swapped. Francie’s mom, Sakai, was Japanese. She taught my mom how to make sukiyaki. Yum.

When we were stationed for a summer at Holloman in New Mexico, Mrs. Hamm taught my mom to make Panamanian chicken. A recipe that calls for V8 juice, marjoram and a pinch of saffron (all unknowns in our kitchen pantry), the dish sounded and tasted exotic.

Maybe I gravitated toward K.I. Sawyer Chicken recently because I remember an episode of uncertainty and fear while living there – not unlike what I’m feeling these days. K.I. Sawyer was part of the military network to provide early warning and response in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack.

The Cuban Missile Crisis provided exactly that opportunity. Even though I was only 5, I remember the fear in my kindergarten teacher’s face as we practiced Duck-and-Cover drills – hiding under our desks in case of an attack. And the tension on my mom’s face as we waited through those 13 days in October of 1962. For three of those days, my dad was sequestered in a block house with other essential military personnel, unable to communicate with anyone. Scary times.

Today the deadly threat comes in the form of a virus. My folks – both in their 80s – are diabetic and live in a retirement community in Florida. And while they are taking precautions, they fall into two big risk populations.

My son lives in Washington D.C., and my daughter in Brooklyn, the national epicenter of coronavirus deaths. Ugh. Scary times, again.

I can’t dwell on the fear and the dread I feel. I can only check in, send care packages and amp up my prayers.

And find some solace in my recipe box. We moved six times before I was 6 years old – not uncommon for military families. So I think of the legions of military wives – my mom, Hessie, Lona, Sakai, Ruth and the others – who took hardship in stride and still managed to feed their families.

They, like many of us now, were just doing their best.

Ruth’s K.I. Sawyer Chicken

Serves 4

Figure on a breast and wing, or a leg and a thigh,  for each person.

1 packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix (or make your own)

½ cup milk

I cup sour cream

Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a big frying pan, and fry the chicken for about 10 minutes, until browned.

In a medium saucepan, mix the soup mix, milk and sour cream and heat almost to a boil.

Arrange chicken in a greased casserole dish. Pour milk mixture over chicken. Cover and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice to sop up the gravy.

Homemade Onion Soup Mix

I cleaned out my pantry and found a box of Lipton’s that had expired in 2014. So I made my own, a mash-up of recipes I found online.

1/4 cup dried onion flakes

4 to 6 beef bouillon cubes

¼ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon dried parsley flakes

Pinch each of celery seed, paprika and black pepper

Mix all ingredients together. Use in recipes that call for 1 packet of onion soup mix.


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