The Wonderful World of Wanzie: The importance of the Chicken & Biscuit

By : Michael Wanzie
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Michael Wanzie

Michael Wanzie

I was discussing New Years plans with George Wallace, The Executive Director of the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, who shared that his mother, “a hot mess in the kitchen” cooked only one dish that anyone thought to be of any quality. That dish was a secret recipe meat pie which he intended to make for his own New Year’s celebration this year.

This topic brought to mind a story from my youth revolving around a chicken potpie of sorts and the part it would play in a New Year’s gathering hosted by none other than Katherine Hepburn. After regaling George with this tale, he insisted people would be willing to buy a book of my short stories. Of that, I am surely not convinced. But since I was just about to sit down to write this column with nothing in mind as a topic, I decided to relate the incident herein to the readers of Watermark to test viability of short story-telling skills.

Growing up in rural Connecticut, most of my family was employed at one time or another by an incredibly popular colonial bakery and gift shop managed by my dear late Aunt Trudy Cranson. Oronoque Orchards sat proudly atop a picturesque grassy hill surrounded by laurel, elms, birch and oak trees overlooking the Housatonic River in Stratford. Due to its close proximity to New York City, Southern Connecticut was home to many a celebrity. Regular customers at “the pie shop” included Kate God Bless America Smith, Margaret The Wizard of O” Hamilton, Joanne Woodworth (Always driven there by hubby Paul Newman who never got out of the car) and once or twice a year, Hepburn.

Kate Smith would plow her way into the bakery with full-on bouffant hair do, face fully made up and donning a mink stole. She and Hamilton loved to be recognized and would gladly sign autographs. Joanne Woodworth was generally unassuming but was kind to people if recognized. But Hepburn took great pains to conceal her identity when out in public and could manage to accomplish her shopping with a stealth like approach that left fellow costumers completely unaware they were sampling Toll House and Applesauce Cookies alongside an Academy Award- and Tony Award-winning theatrical legend.

One day during the Christmas rush, Hepburn summoned Aunt Trudy to the sales room. Most uncharacteristically, Hepburn untied her threadbare scarf from beneath her chin and removed it from her head along with the large sunglasses she was wearing in mid-December. She hoisted herself up and sat atop the sales counter over which 45 varieties of pies were passed to waiting costumers.

She said, “Trudy, we have terrible dilemma here, and I need your help”. I know this because I was hiding down on my hunches behind the counter eavesdropping because I was so thrilled the great Hepburn was exposing herself and talking to my aunt.

The “dilemma” it seemed, was that my aunt had recently discontinued making a product know as “Oronoque Orchards Old Fashioned Chicken & Biscuit.” This one and only savory product the bakery had ever made was a family-sized spin-off of a traditional potpie consisting of all farm fresh vegetables and including a whole chicken that was carved up and steamed on the premises.
The milky thick concoction was poured into a disposable tin cake pan with no bottom crust, but topped with a thick dinner-plate sized homemade biscuit that was unparalleled in taste and texture. Sold as a frozen item to thaw and reheat, it was unique to this business and was uncommonly good.

Aunt Trudy explained to the actress that the process of making the Chicken & Biscuit with only fresh quality ingredients was so labor intensive that the product had simply become too expensive to produce. Hepburn literally begged my aunt to make her a dozen or so this one last time.

“I’ll pay any price,” she pleaded.

Trudy explained that the ingredients needed to make the dish were no longer kept in stock. Hepburn, now becoming visibly anxious, offered she would write my aunt a check on the spot if Trudy would order the ingredients, further asserting, “Call me when the order comes in. I’ll put on an apron and go back into the kitchen and make them myself if you’ll just show me what to do, but I have to have those Chicken & Biscuits this one last time.”

When Aunt Trudy pressed her as to why it was so important she acquire this product, the great Hepburn confessed, “Trudy, it’s no secret I don’t like many people. I rarely entertain. But for more about 10 years now it has been my tradition to have an important group of fuddy duddies over to my house for News Year’s Day dinner. Now they’ve already been invited for this year and as tradition dictates, they were promised I would be serving my famous secret recipe Chicken & Biscuit that only Katherine Hepburn can make. So you see, you have to help me make it, Trudy, or I’ll be exposed as a liar.”

Aunt Trudy ordered the ingredients and had the kitchen staff whip up a batch of Chicken & Biscuit especially for the desperate actress just in time for her New Year’s soiree. I will never forget that conversation, and I have never forgiven Aunt Trudy (may she rest in peace) for not allowing Katherine Hepburn to put on an apron and join us in the kitchen.

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