My mother was a child of the Depression and a wife and mother of the 50s – never allowed to experiment in the kitchen because food was a premium -- as she and her sister and parents lived with her widowed paternal grandmother, who had a cook, there wasn’t much cooking to be done. But as a young bride in 1951, she was pressed into the kitchen just as the instant food phenomenon hit grocery stores nationwide. My siblings and I grew up on recipes concocted with Campbell’s soup, and enjoying frozen and canned vegetables, and instant rice and mashed potatoes, and drinking Lipton’s instant iced tea. Desserts were created with instant pudding and Jello, and Betty Crocker cake and brownie mixes.
While she could a mean piece of meat, from a delicious Salisbury steak made in the pressure cooker to sesame seed baked chicken, meatloaf, leg of lamb, roast beef, orange-glazed pork shops, and golden-brown turkey, she didn’t learn how to cut up a chicken until I was in college and was taught by a boyfriend’s mother, then passed on this new skill to my Mom. In fact, when that same boyfriend’s mother instructed me to “go dig some potatoes for dinner,” I looked at her like she was from another planet. “Dig potatoes?” I asked. She handed me a spoon and directed me to the garden where I soon learned about making real mashed potatoes from real ones!
Nonetheless, my six siblings and I never turned up our noses at Mom’s meals, and all still enjoy fixing dishes we grew up on: Blushing Bunny (tomato soup with cheese melted in it, then poured over saltine crackers), barbecue chicken, and spaghetti sauce that’s simmered all afternoon in an electric frying pan.
This recipe for Cherry-Almond Chicken probably was made with canned chicken, and I know when my Mom was in a hurry, she simply mixed the chicken and fruit cocktail together, heated it up, and served it over rice. I can’t imagine with 7 hungry mouths to feed (I am the oldest!) that she had time to make certain the cornstarch and broth made the perfect sauce before adding the other ingredients. When prepared that way, she called it “Chicken Palo” (pronounced “puh-low”). For this dish, I combined the two approaches – cutting up 2 cups of chicken breast but using the fruit cocktail from my youthful memory.
Cherry-Almond Chicken – Mom
1 can cherries, 1 can white grapes, 1 cup cling peaches – or use fruit cocktail
1/3 c. almonds
3 TBSP cornstarch
2 C. chicken broth
1-½ TBSP lemon juice
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. celery salt
2 C. chicken
Combine cornstarch with enough broth to make a paste. Add broth and cook until thick. Add lemon juice & salt & stir. Add the rest of the ingredients. Let simmer until chicken is cooked. Serve over rice mixed with cinnamon.
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