Hot, Hot Chicken
109 pages
English

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109 pages
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Description

These days, hot chicken is a “must-try” Southern food. Restaurants in New York, Detroit, Cambridge, and even Australia advertise that they fry their chicken “Nashville-style.” Thousands of people attend the Music City Hot Chicken Festival each year. The James Beard Foundation has given Prince’s Chicken Shack an American Classic Award for inventing the dish.

But for almost seventy years, hot chicken was made and sold primarily in Nashville’s Black neighborhoods—and the story of hot chicken says something powerful about race relations in Nashville, especially as the city tries to figure out what it will be in the future.

Hot, Hot Chicken recounts the history of Nashville’s Black communities through the story of its hot chicken scene from the Civil War, when Nashville became a segregated city, through the tornado that ripped through North Nashville in March 2020.
The story of hot chicken’s creation has become part of Nashville’s mythology, the sort of tale we can recount with practiced pauses and wry chuckles. It happened this way:

Back in the 1930s – or maybe it was the 1920s or perhaps as late as the 1940s or even the 1950s – or anyway, back sometime before most of us were born, there was a man named Thornton Prince III. He was a handsome man, tall and good looking. “Beautiful, wavy hair,” said his great-niece Andre Prince Jeffries. Debonair, with a dashing sense of style and a touch of Tennessee twang, or so I assume. Women loved him, and he loved them right back. “He was totally a ladies’ man,” Jeffries laughs. “He sure had plenty of women.”

So this one Sunday morning, that time of the week when families across the South woke up expecting to finally enjoy some popping hot fried chicken, Thornton Prince III came in from a long night of catting around, and he told his woman – wife? girlfriend? does it matter? – to make him breakfast. Well, this woman, wife or girlfriend or whatever, she was fed up with his philandering ways.

What could she do with a serial cheater like this? Some women look the other way. Others walk out. A few get even. This one took a fourth way. She wanted retribution. She started out by playing it sweet. That morning, just like all their other morning-afters, she got up before him. And she didn’t make him dry toast or gruel. Oh, no, she made him his favorite. She made him fried chicken.

I like to think she went out and wrung the neck of the skinniest, stringiest yard bird she could find. No plump church chicken for this sorry son-of-a-gun, no sir. Then, she added the spiciest items she had in her kitchen. Dried pepper flakes? Maybe. Fresh chilies plucked from her garden with all their seeds? Perhaps. Half a bottle of Tabasco sauce? Could be. Nobody knows what went into that first hot chicken. She layered on whatever she had on hand. “She couldn’t run to the grocery store to get something,” Jeffries said. Well, whatever she added, by the time the bird was cooked, Thornton Prince’s woman was sure she had spiced it up beyond edibility.

As Thornton Prince took his first bite, she must have braced herself for his reaction. Would he curse? Whimper? Stomp out? And where did she go while he ate? Maybe she was in the kitchen, scraping and seasoning her skillet. Perhaps she’d fled back to the bedroom. I like to think she was sitting at the table across from him, cutting into her own chicken – unpeppered, of course – ready to push the charade as far as she could.

Wherever she was, she soon discovered her plan had backfired. Thornton Prince III loved that over-spiced poultry. He took it to his brothers. They loved it also.

Soon enough, the woman disappeared from his life, but hot chicken lived on. The Prince brothers turned her idea into the BBQ Chicken Shack, the business Andre Jeffries renamed Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack when she took it over. 

“We don’t know who the lady was that was trying,” Jeffries said. “All the old heads are gone. Gone on. But hey, we’re still profiting from it.” She paused. “So women are very important.”

These days, that angry woman’s dish is all the rage. It’s on the list of “must-try” Southern foods in Esquire, USA Today, Southern Living, Men’s Health, Forbes, Travel and Leisure and Thrillist. It’s been written about in the New Yorker and the Ringer. Restaurants in New York, Detroit, Cambridge and even Australia advertise that they fry their chicken Nashville-style. Upwards of ten thousand people attend the annual Hot Chicken Festival, held every July 4. In 2013 the James Beard Foundation gave Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack an American Classic Award for inventing the dish, and celebrity chefs make pilgrimages to Nashville to eat it on camera.

Why has this woman’s chicken become such a cultural phenomenon? Hot chicken aficionados and purveyors have offered different explanations for the food’s popularity, for why it seems to grab ahold of certain people’s taste buds, embedding itself in their guts and drawing them back time and again.
Jeffries has an easy explanation for it. “My mother said, if you know people are gonna talk, give them something to talk about,” she said. “This chicken is not boring. You’re gonna talk about this chicken.”

Spicy food appeals to people who are “more emotional – more fired up about everything they do,” another hot chicken purveyor mused. “If you are a very sensitive person and emotionally hooked to what you are eating, it’s got to give you a little more, like a drug.”

Others suggest hot chicken is popular because it is excellent hangover food, something generations of BBQ/Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack eaters have known. There was a reason Thornton Prince III kept his joint open until the wee hours on the weekends, and there’s a reason why Andre Jeffries continues to do so.  Nashville may be the buckle of the Bible belt, but it’s also Music City, USA, fully stocked with musicians and misfits who drink hard and live late into the night. “In Nashville, at least among the drinking class, folks appreciate the kind of heat that compels you to grab a first-aid manual, thumbing wildly for a passage that differentiates between second- and third-degree burns,” food historian John T. Edge wrote.
“I think it’s popular in Nashville because there are a lot of people living today that had ancestors stuck on pepper,” Dollye Matthews of Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish told an interviewer for the Southern Foodways Alliance. “Maybe they had hypertension and couldn’t use salt, so they used pepper instead. … A couple of generations like that, and you know, you just got the clientele for hot and spicy chicken.”

But although hot chicken has long had a loyal following, its widespread popularity is new, even among much of Nashville. My Nashville roots go three generations deep, but I had never eaten hot chicken — or even heard of it — when I moved away for graduate school in 2005. I came back eight years later to a new Nashville where everyone hung out in neighborhoods that had been blighted when I left, and all the transplants talked about Nashville-style hot chicken. How could a native food I didn’t know be internationally famous?
Embarrassed I didn’t even recognize this dish everyone else loved, I turned to Google hoping an image search would jiggle loose a memory. The web was full of photographs of fried chicken slathered with a hot sauce that somehow kept it crispy, served on a slice of white bread and topped by a pickle. None of it looked familiar.

I asked my dad if he had ever eaten it. “Nope,” he said. But he taught school in the 1970s, and he remembered that some of the black teachers carried their own bottles of hot sauce. Sometimes they’d prank him by spiking his cafeteria lunch.

This was not the answer I wanted. Was hot chicken a part of the city’s history that had been invisible to me as a white woman? I asked Denise, an older-African American woman in my church who was raised in the city, what she thought.

“Of course you didn’t eat hot chicken,” she said, shaking her head. “Hot chicken’s what we ate in the neighborhood.”

I went to the Downtown Public Library to do a very unscientific survey of what they had on hand. I sat in their second-floor reading room, surrounded by stacks of cookbooks, searching for a recipe that would prove that in Nashville we didn’t choose our chicken style based on race. I walked away with several new ways to fry a chicken. One of them added some black pepper. Several of them mentioned serving chicken while it was still hot. None of them showed me how to make my chicken spicy enough to ignite the interest of foodies and hipsters.
Denise was right. For almost 70 years, hot chicken was made and sold primarily in Nashville’s black neighborhoods. For most of that time, it was sold exclusively at Prince’s.
 

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Publié par
Date de parution 15 mars 2021
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780826501776
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 4 Mo

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Extrait

HOT, HOT CHICKEN
Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama , edited by Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers.
HOT, HOT CHICKEN
A NASHVILLE STORY
RACHEL LOUISE MARTIN
VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY PRESS
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
Copyright 2021 Vanderbilt University Press
All rights reserved
First printing 2021
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Martin, Rachel Louise, 1980– author.
Title: Hot, hot chicken : a Nashville story / Rachel Louise Martin.
Description: Nashville : Vanderbilt University Press, [2021] | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Summary: “The history of Nashville’s Black communities through the story of its hot chicken scene, from the Civil War through the tornado in March 2020”—Provided by publisher.
Identifiers: LCCN 2020046179 | ISBN 9780826501769 (paperback) | ISBN 9780826501776 (epub) | ISBN 9780826501783 (pdf)
Subjects: LCSH: Prince’s Hot Chicken (Restaurant)—History. | Fried chicken—Tennessee—Nashville—History. | African Americans—Tennessee—Nashville—Social life and customs. | African Americans—Tennessee—Nashville—History. | Prince family.
Classification: LCC TX945.5.P687 M37 2021 | DDC 647.95768/55—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020046179
To my parents.
Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction. Set It Up: A Tennessean’s Take on Mise en Place
1. Brine with Hot Sauce: The Princes Move to Nashville, 1860–1924
2. Toss to Coat: Forgotten Promises, the Origins of Urban Renewal, and the Cost of Erasure, 1925–1940
3. Shake That Dredge: The Redevelopment of Hell’s Half Acre and the Destruction of Thornton Prince III’s First Restaurant, 1941–1952
4. Let It Rest: The Barbecue Chicken Shack, Culinary Nostalgia, and the Death of Thornton Prince III, 1952–1960
5. Fry in Spitting-Hot Oil: Jumping Jefferson Brought Low, 1961–1968
6. Fry Again: Black Nashville Fights Back, 1968–1973
7. Find Your Own Spice: Ms. André Prince Jeffries and the Hot Chicken Heirs, 1974–1998
8. Plate on White Bread: Hot Chicken Goes Global, 1998–2020
Conclusion. Dig In
Epilogue. Wash Up
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Acknowledgments
This book could not exist without the hot chicken makers whose lives and experiences I’ve attempted to reconstruct. I am especially grateful to two in particular. Back in 2015, André Prince Jeffries, current owner of Prince’s Hot Chicken, sat down with me for several hours in the midst of a busy service to explain how race and hot chicken had intertwined in Nashville’s history. Her insights into the city’s past and present helped me clarify the ways this story was unique to Nashville and the ways it was true of cities across the nation. And then when it came time for me to write the book, Dollye Matthews, co-owner of Bolton’s Hot Chicken and Fish, shared how her family’s experiences both mirrored and diverged from the Prince family’s stories. I am grateful to both of you for sharing your memories and your perspectives with me.
Thank you also to the other Nashvillians whose voices contributed to this book: Keel Hunt, Bill Purcell, Learotha Williams Jr., and Steve Younes. I appreciated your willingness to share your thoughts and memories. And thank you to Franklin historian Thelma Battle, who helped me fill out the Prince family’s pre-Nashville story. Her decades of research into the Black experience in Williamson County has created an invalu able archive for anyone wanting to know about the lives of those omitted from other records.
I cannot overlook Chuck Reece at The Bitter Southerner . When I pitched “How Hot Chicken Really Happened” to him back in 2015, I was a historian who wanted to write, but I only had a couple of clips in my portfolio. He gambled on me. Then he led me through the process of turning my research into an essay other people would want to read. His edits were some of the best writing classes I’ve had.
I am grateful to the team at Vanderbilt University Press for the opportunity to transform my essay into a book. Zack Gresham, my editor, stayed committed to this project even when my early drafts should have scared him off. Thank you for giving me the space to see where my research might lead me and the deadlines that kept me focused on the key questions of the narrative. And thanks also to Betsy Phillips, a fellow writer and a marketing guru, who knew just when I needed a cheerleader.
Thanks to Sam Warlick, who pulled some marathon reading sessions, double-checking my understanding of Nashville’s development and helping me cull some of the research that had blinded me to the bigger storyline. And to the rest of my friends who listened to me worry about missing city directory entries and suggested where I might find lost divorce records and let me interrupt our conversations to spurt random facts about Nashville, thank you. I only have one more favor to ask. Next time I say I’m going to research and write a book in less than six months, tell me no.
And in everything I write, I owe a debt to Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, my graduate school advisor, who taught me how to search for and listen to the voices purged from the official records.
Finally, I am grateful my parents who listened and explored and distracted and believed and asked and brainstormed and read and fed and laughed and loved me through this project and all the others I’ve undertaken. Thank you seems inadequate.
INTRODUCTION
Set It Up
A Tennessean’s Take on Mise en Place
A smallish man putters behind the warped glass storefront. Surprised to see signs of life inside the damaged strip mall restaurant, I park my Prius and watch him work his way around a jumble of white ladder-back chairs cantilevered against the middle window. The man grabs a five-gallon bucket, one of those pails that could hold anything from paint to Quickrete to roof sealer, and lugs it past a stack of fire-proof insulation. I lose sight of him when he heads toward the back of the building where the kitchen used to be.
Driving by, I hadn’t noticed how much had changed in the fourteen months since the accident that shut down this location, but now that I’ve stopped, I catalogue the differences. Inside, an unfamiliar trio of booths faces the far wall. These aren’t the six historic white wooden booths that André Prince Jeffries had trucked along with her when she moved the family business here to East Nashville. Those benches had heft. They curled and curved like high-back church pews. And like all good church pews, they were unpadded, a guarantee that if the food’s afterburn didn’t sober up Jeffries’ late-night crowd, the seats would get them out the front door before they decided to sleep off their weekend pleasures. But the booths in the left-hand window today have no such stately heritage; they are the same patchwork of blue and red vinyl that appears in every nameless pizza joint.
From what I can see, just about everything in the restaurant has been altered. Prince’s was multi-colored—cream walls, slate ordering window, turquoise restroom hallway. And all of it was covered in family memorabilia and community notices and autographed headshots and Christmas lights. The new restaurant wears a uniform navy peacoat blue. Someone has switched out the sign; “Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack” is now labeled “Café 1-2-3,” the name of a long-defunct Nashville restaurant.
Even the front windows are washed clean of paint, wiped clear of the cartoon drawing of a red-shirted Thornton Prince III wearing a crown and hoisting a monster-sized steaming leg of fried chicken over his head. Only the hours remain, stuck to the door in peeling vinyl decals:
TUESDAY – THURSDAY
11:00 am – 11:00 pm
FRIDAY
11:00 am – 4:00 am
SATURDAY
2:00 pm – 4:00 am
Gone too is the press of regulars, celebrities, and tourists who had visited this East Nashville strip mall. The last time I was here, customers pushed through the door and lined up along the turquoise wall, inching toward the woman ringing up orders. A few were like me, occasional visitors needing a quick hit of spice. Most were friends. They chatted with each other, with the staff, with André Jeffries, with the cooks hidden in the kitchen. Then everything paused when the woman in the window yelled a number. A customer would shove forward to grab their brown paper bag of food. That early on a Thursday, they would be taking their meal to go. The chicken’s grease and sauce would quickly saturate the paper, so they’d wrap their bundle in a white plastic bag plucked off a nearby counter.
All that ended on December 28, 2018, when an unnamed someone rammed a stolen SUV into the tobacco shop at the end of the strip mall. The only other person on site was a Prince’s employee who was deep in the restaurant’s bowels preparing for a marathon pre-New Year’s Eve Friday night. “I heard big bangs, ‘Boom-boom, boom-boom!’ ” he told a reporter for the Tennessean . “It was like the police knocking on your door.” When he came outside, no one was there. 1
Police arrived at 4:33 that morning and found the vehicle on fire, igniting the building around it. The SUV was empty, a brick on its accelerator. The driver was gone, and no witnesses had seen him/h

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