Growing up in Williamston, North Carolina, chicken salad was a staple in my life. It was at every family reunion, church homecoming, tailgate, wedding reception, etc. I remember having my teachers over every year for an end of the year lunch and begging my mom to make chicken salad. Hmmm…from a grade perspective, I guess it would have been smarter to have them over at the beginning of the year. Anyway, yes, I’m a country girl and my mom’s chicken salad was country, complete with pickle relish.
When I went off to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Go Heels!), my love for chicken salad was still alive and well, but my pockets were empty. So, when it wasn’t ramen noodles, Gumby’s pokey sticks or Time Out bucket of bones night, I would prepare that good ol’ reminder of home…chicken salad.
The problem was I could only afford the can chicken. Yes, the less than gourmet version that puts you in the mindset of cat food. So, to offset that lovely thought and after draining the water off (which, of course, was a must), I would go in to our cabinets/refrigerator, get anything that wasn’t beer (spices, condiments, fruit, peanuts, etc.) and start concocting. This at least held me over until I could sell some books back to make some extra money (I could never bring myself to do the platelet donation) to go to Sutton’s to enjoy their chicken salad, plain on wheat, toasted to perfection. Even there they had a family secret ingredient that made it slightly orange in color. (Was that hot sauce?)
Fast forward to today…I still love chicken salad and thankfully I’m a bit less broke than I used to be. Now I get to use delicious, fresh chicken (which always makes me think about my Granny’s farm), Duke’s mayonnaise (you can’t take the country out of the girl.), celery chopped so fine you don’t actually know it’s there (I hate celery.), salt/pepper and a secret ingredient that makes it just right.
The beauty of it is that I can still add all sorts of things out of my pantry/refrigerator to make something that’s already delicious, delicious in a zillion other ways depending on my mood. (Think Bubba listing his shrimp options in Forest Gump.) And, herein lies the culmination of the MAYOBIRD, a name born out of an exhausting exchange with my sister. I sure hope you love chicken salad as much as I do.