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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pearl Bailey's Chicken

I'll be Clucked! I thought for sure once I googled a recipe search for Pearl Bailey recipes, at least one chicken recipe would reveal itself. It didn't! Not One. Actually, to my utter surprise, very few attributed recipes "peeped" up at all. After all, she is the author of one of my very best favorite cookbooks, Pearl's Kitchen: An Extraordinary Cookbook published in 1973.

I think it's high time I change that and what better day than today. Why? Because, today is the day Pearl Mae Baily was born in Newport News, Virginia on March 29, 1918. Did you know Pearl Bailey was the youngest of four children, and that she originally wanted to be a teacher? That all changed when her older brother encouraged her to enter an amateur stage-singing contest at Philadelphia’s Pearl Theater. She would later make an appearance at The Howard Theater in 1941.

Pearl’s older brother, Bill Bailey, a dancing protégé of legendary hoofer Bill “Bojangles" Robinson, had already made a name for himself when Pearl decided to enter a talent contest at the aptly named Pearl Theater, where he was appearing. She won – $5 and a two-week engagement. (excellent source)

Pearl Bailey in “St. Louis Woman”, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, July 5, 1946. From the collection of the Library of Congress and in the public domain.

Soulful spirit that she was, Pearl Bailey's culinary autobiography, Pearl's Kitchen: An Extraordinary Cookbook gave us delightful insight to her home and family. "My kitchen is a mystical place, a kind of temple for me" she wrote late one night at her kitchen table. "It is a place where the surfaces seem to have significance, where the sounds and odors carry meaning that transfers from the past and bridges to the future" she assured us. A deeply spiritual woman, she earned a degree in theology at the age of 67, America's "Ambassador of Love" was known affectionately to the world as Pearlie Mae. In her 72 years on this earth, Pearl Bailey sang, danced, performed on stage (In 1967, she won a Tony Award for heading the all-black cast of "Hello, Dolly"), acted in films (she was Maria in ''Porgy and Bess''), and tirelessly committed herself to the betterment of others. During WWII, she toured the country with the USO and performed for American troops. She later was the United States Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations. On March 11, 1989, the Women's International Center honored Pearl Bailey with The Living Legacy Award for her active support of human rights around the world.

Welcome to Pearl's Chicken

Pearl Bailey was very funny. A self proclaimed humorist she was known for her mix of charm and comedic timing. For a brief season in 1971, the Pearl Bailey Show made its debut on January 23. Some of the guests on her show included Louis Armstrong, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Liza Minnelli, B.B. King and Cab Calloway. Later in her career, Ms. Bailey was a spokesperson for Duncan Hines. Always "thinking of yesterday and cooking for tomorrow," she also shared a few of her "Pearlie Mae" recipes in an advertising booklet for Paramount chicken. I would like to share some of those recipes with you today.

The following recipe under the heading "Nobody could make fried chicken like my Mama" is dotted with personal side notes and is titled Mama's Fried Chicken.

Mustn't forget the Cornish Hens.

revised March 2013

Resources
1. Pearl Bailey (Bio)
2. Pearl Bailey @ The Old Foodie
3. Pearl Bailey @ Explore PA History (she grew up in Philadelphia)
4. Pearl Bailey @ The New York Times (obit)
5. Pearl Bailey's Macaroni & Cheese