Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Harland Sanders & KFC

Harland David Sanders was not born a Colonel. The title of Colonel was bestowed upon him in 1935 by then Governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffoon. But wait a minute. I'm putting the chicken before the KFC here.

First, there was Harland David Sanders who was born on September 9, 1890 in Henryville, Indiana. The "Kentucky Colonel" did not come from a wealthy stock of Kentucky farmers. On the contrary, he came from a poor farming family, his father died when he was five years old, and his mother had to work in a factory. Young Harland dropped out of school after sixth grade. Harland Sanders had his first experience in the kitchen while still at home. Each night he cooked dinner for his family while his mother labored in the factory. She eventually remarried but this too did not afford Harland a better life in his eyes. He ran way from home and pursued many jobs in his early life. He worked as a farm hand, street car conductor, blacksmith's helper, steamboat pilot, insurance salesman, rail yard fireman, and eventually in 1906 he lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He was 16 years old.

Around 1930, in the midst of the depression, Harland Sanders began serving cooked chicken dishes to people who stopped at his service station in Corbin, Kentucky. Meals were served in the small front lobby of his gas station. It was to be his first restaurant. News of Mr. Sanders tasty chicken soon spread and he had more business than his small service station could handle. He soon opened a motel restaurant across the street and by 1939 Sander's Court & Cafe was listed in Duncan Hines notable travel book, Adventures in Good Eating. 

Over the next decade, Harland Sanders perfected his method of cooking chicken. Around the same time he was developing his “secret recipe of 11- herbs and spices,” Americans were introduced to the world's first commercial pressure cooker by National Presto Industries at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Always looking for ways to make his chicken moist and juicy, Sanders adapted his cooking style to include the use of the pressure cooker and in 1940, the "Original Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe was "hatched." It wasn't long before it was described as Finger lickin’ Good. Use of the pressure cooker had another benefit. It allowed the Colonel" to serve his customers quicker. The pressure cooker would prove to be an invaluable tool in the developing of the KFC franchise business.

For many years, Sander's Court & Cafe did a thriving business. However, things changed after a fire destroyed his cafe and Interstate 75 was built. Sanders was forced to sell his property in order to make way for the Interstate. In 1952, at the age of 62, Harland Sanders supported by his Social Security checks, took to the streets. He traveled across country from restaurant to restaurant cooking batches of chicken and began franchising his method and recipe. His first franchise was sold to Peter Harman.

In 1952, Harland had a chance meeting with a Peter Harman, who owned Harman's Cafe in Salt Lake City, Utah, another popular, and famous eating place.  And Peter was a skilled business man.  As a result of this meeting, a business relationship was established, and Peter convinced Harland to cash in his social security cheques to start a franchise for chickens coated in Harlands recipe.

Soon after this meeting, Harland, with his wife, Claudia started travelling around visiting restaurants.  And if a particular restaurant agreed, he would cook his chicken dish coated with his herb and spices.  Many liked how the chicken was cooked and included it on their menus.  His fee for using the mixture to the restaurants was five cents per chicken that was covered.

The first years of the franchise was a stuggle, and Harland comments on this by saying. "One of our biggest problems getting started was money. After we sold the restaurant at auction, I was getting $105 a month from social security.  That paid for my gas and the travel needed to get the franchises started. Lots of nights I would sleep in the back of my car so I would have enough money to buy cookers the next day if someone took a franchise."

His wife also commented on the business at the time by saying "He helped a lot of people go into the restaurant business. "Sometimes their pies or meats or vegetables wouldn't be just right so he began to show them how to do all of it. He wanted the restaurants that served his chicken to have good food."


Without a doubt, there's a flock of fried chicken recipes grazing the online world. There are those who claim they have a Kentucky Fried Chicken Recipe just like the Colonel's and others who prefer Church's Fried Chicken such as this "copycat" recipe found at The Secret Recipe Blog. I'm more inclined to try Chef Tom's Crispy Crunchy Fried Chicken or the Fancy Fried Chicken & Savory Sweet Potato Waffles @ Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice. You know me and chicken and waffles:) I'm also tempted to try Maki's Karaage: Japanese-Chinese style fried chicken. It sure looks good and simple enough for even me to try. Actually, there are quite a few fried chicken recipes worthy of National Chicken Month and the Colonel's birthday. I've left a nibble of links below.

As for me, I'm going to share a few recipes from a Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe book which is undated. I don't think it is very old and before you get too excited, it does not include the "secret recipe." I've chosen to scan Mrs. Harland Sander's Refrigerator Rolls and "A Kentucky Speciality," Buttermilk Pie. (Buttermilk Pie topped with blueberries is oh so good!) (click to enlarge)

1. KFC, The Colonel Sanders Story
2. Kentucky Fried Chicken's Humble Beginnings
3. Kentucky Fried Chicken World Tour (cute)
1. 7 Tips for No-Fail Fried Chicken. Because grannies lie.
2. Picnic Fried Chicken
3. Chicken tikka
4. Guiltless Southern Fried Chicken
5. Oven Baked Fried Chicken
6. Fried Chicken Drumsticks
7. Tyler's Ultimate Fried Chicken
8. Fried Chicken in Pressure Cooker
9. LunaCafe’s Spicy Fried Chicken