Grandma Smothers, my Mom’s mother, grew up in a German suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Her neighborhood was comprised mostly of German relatives and other German families who had migrated to the area in the early 1900s. Even though she was born in Missouri, her birth certificate was German, dubbing her Anna Fredricka Schmeer. Fredricka! Sounds like a Russian Comic Strip Heroine. Of course her last name … umm, I believe they named that crazy tackle football game after her family. Talk about crazy last names, every single one of Grandma’s relatives or neighbors had a last name that started with “Sch.” Her family was the Schmeers, her grandparents were the Scheers, the cousins were the Schumackers and the Schneiders, the neighbors were the Schultzes, and so on. One time Grandma even told me, “Oh yes, we even had a family in the neighborhood named the Schitts.” ‘Hey honey, let’s invite the Schitts over for dinner!! Break out the good prune juice!’
I remember eating Chicken Cacciatore at Grandma and Grandpa Smothers place in Oroville, California. They lived in a nice Senior Park in a single-wide trailer with one bathroom sporting a silly putty-colored porcelain tub with toilet and sink to match. My Grandpa was always poised in front of the TV, withholding the lemon drops or mints from us kids and recalling tales of playing the RKO circuit in the ‘20s. Grandpa mastered the violin and ukulele in the Vaudeville Days under the stage name “Clare Viollinaire.” One night while he and his band “Reverend Dave and the Deacons” were at a hotel in New York, the stock market crashed. Unable to receive their pay for the night, and therefore unable to pay the rent, Grandpa and his band mates put on every stitch of clothing they had with them, including their suits, and lowered their instruments, and then themselves, out of their fourth-story hotel window using bed sheets they tied together.
I’m sure in those days Grandpa would’ve been thrilled to eat anything for dinner — even Chicken Cacciatore. For some reason, I can only remember two distinct dishes my Grandma made for dinner, this one and Calabasitas. Both Mexican. Or Italian. But definitely not German. I don’t even really know what German food is; that’s probably a good thing. Oh wait, of course – beer. I do remember beer for dinner.
Chicken Cacciatore Ingredients:
• 1 pound chicken, cut up
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 1 cup chopped bell peppers
• 1 can stewed tomatoes
• 1-1/2 cups wine
• 2 teaspoons oregano
• 1 bay leaf
• 1/2 cup flour
• 2 teaspoons salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper
(My Grandma didn’t make it the following way, but this is how I’d cope if I had to make this dish today. Canned stewed tomatoes, soggy bell peppers and bay leaves … I’d rather stick hot pokers in my eyes.)
Pour ½ cup of the wine into a glass and guzzle some down. Dump the flour, salt, pepper and chicken into a plastic bag and shake it all up good. Heat some oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Brown the chicken pieces in the oil, about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken and set on a plate with some paper towels to drain. Pour another 1/2 cup of the wine into your glass and polish some more off. Add the onion and green pepper to the skillet and sauté for about 5 minutes. Stir in the stewed tomatoes, the last half cup of wine (if it survived), the oregano and the bay leaf. Add chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the liquid evaporates and the coating oozes off the chicken — which is now stiff and dry. Discard the bay leaf, or hey, leave it in as a surprise for one of the grandkids to gag on.