It only takes watching an episode or two of “The Andy Griffith Show” to figure out that Aunt Bee was a gifted cook. Especially if one of those episodes included the late James Best’s character, Jim Lyndsey, who liked Aunt Bee’s chicken and dumplings so much, he got himself arrested on the day she made it, since Andy fed residents of the jail from Aunt Bee’s kitchen.
Like many women of her day, Aunt Bee spent a great deal of time in the kitchen. Nostalgia for that easier life in a time gone by seems to drive the show’s continued appeal. Not that things would have been all that easy for Aunt Bee. She didn’t choose to make everything from scratch for Andy, Opie and their many guests and prisoners. She had no other choice.
There is arguably no group of people more devoted to “The Andy Griffith Show” than the Mayberry after Midnight Facebook group. When asked what Aunt Bee’s specialties were, the group provided an exhaustive list that includes, but is not limited to, fried chicken, corn on the cob, baked potatoes, apple pie, sandwiches with pickalillie relish, mashed potatoes, liver and onions, dinner rolls, string beans, spaghetti with oregano, white beans, corn bread, chicken papricash, green bean Chinese style and pearly onions.
Aunt Bee’s desserts were famous all over Mayberry. As Michael Latimer says, ” I remember her making some nice looking cakes.” Celia Cook added, “She and her friends made cakes together.” Chocolate was a favorite.
Of course there were pies. Banana cream chocolate pie was “full of sugar and starch and guaranteed to put the pounds on ya,” according to Tina Marshall. Opie loved her apple pie but according to Jonathan Poore, the butterscotch pecan pie that Aunt Bee made for Opie when he received good grades on his report card was his favorite. Poore tracked down the recipe for it and says “they were even better than I imagined.”
According to several of the Mayberry after Midnight folks, roast beef was the first thing Aunt Bee cooked on the show and was one of her specialties. Susan Caraway Strickland remembered that “you have to make sure you get the meat from Mr. Foley and not that “bargain’ butcher Clara Edwards recommended.”
Kathy Jo Hufstetler reports that the food on the set was the real thing and was prepared nearby.
There are several books of Aunt Bee’s recipes which are available online and at Mayberry on Main and other downtown Mount Airy shops. Jonathan Green vouches for many of the recipes except for the kerosene pickles. He suggests that no one try and recreate those.
Debra Scott has a “Postcards From Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook” with each card having a recipe on it with different photos. The book states that many of the recipes came from the cast and writers of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Aunt Bea’s prowess in the kitchen is well documented and the recipes are everywhere. But what if Aunt Bee were alive today? What deliciousness would be coming out of her kitchen? Perhaps it would be the same old tried and true specialties that she had always been known for. But more likely, Aunt Bee would be a foodie, glued to the Food Network night and day searching out new recipes. After all, a Mayberry woman of a certain age who made “green beans, Chinese style” fifty years ago was a woman who liked living on the edge, at least in the kitchen.
So it seems reasonable that after more than a half century of frying chicken, Aunt Bee would be ready to try something new. Beer can chicken seems to be a likely choice. It has the capacity to give great flavor, be tender and juicy, have exceptionally crispy skin and offers infinite comic potential. A chicken jauntily perched on a beer can is quite comic, in and of itself. Not to mention the act of getting it there. The comic possibilities of getting the hot bird and boiling beer out of the oven or off of the grill are endless. That would have been a good job for Barney. Perhaps Otis would keep drinking up all the beer purchased for the dish.
Any modern day Aunt Bee should definitely have beer can chicken in her repertoire. There aren’t too many foods that taste as good or have so much potential for comedy.
Beer can chicken
6 tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. fennel, ground and toasted
2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. coarse black pepper
1/2 tbsp. mustard powder
2 tbsp. softened, unsalted butter or olive oil
One 4-pound chicken, giblets removed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
One 12-ounce can of beer
Drink or pour out half of the beer. Lager or ales work nicely, but feel free to experiment. Enlist Otis for advice.
To make the spice rub simply whisk together all of your dry ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and rub it all over with softened butter or olive oil. Sprinkle dry rub all over the chicken in an even layer. Save leftover rub for rubbing on other meats. Drop garlic cloves in half empty beer can, and place the can inside of the chicken cavity, so that that chicken is sitting on top of it, using its legs as support.
Grilling directions: Prepare your grill so that one side is hotter than the other. If you have a charcoal grill, place more coals on one side of the grill than the other. If you have a gas grill, only turn burners on on one side. The internal temperature of the grill should be 300-350F. Place the chicken, perched on its beer can throne, on the cool side of the grill. Close the grill lid and leave the chicken to cook for 1 hour — resist the urge to open the lid and check. Just leave it alone. After an hour, check on the chicken and make sure your coals don’t need refreshing, or that the temperature hasn’t dropped below 300. The chicken will probably need about 30 to 40 more minutes, but insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken thigh to check the temperature. Continue cooking for 30 to 40 more minutes, checking every 10 minutes or so, until the temperature reaches 160° F. Removing the chicken from the grill can be tricky – the beer is hot and the chicken is hot – so be careful and prepare for painful comedy. Put on some oven mitts and place a cutting board next to the grill. Slide a large metal spatula under the beer can, grab the top of the chicken with a pair of tongs, and carefully transfer it onto the cutting board. Let chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving and serving.
Oven directions: Heat your oven to 350° F. Place your seasoned chicken, balanced on its beer can, in a roasting pan, and place the roasting pan on the lower rack of your oven. Cook until a thermometer reaches 160°F, about 1 1/2 hours. Lift chicken off of beer can using tongs, and transfer to a cutting board. Allow the chicken to rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard or by email.