The Potential Perils of Frying



My Grandmother, the late, great, Mary Rowland (May) Bass, was an amazing woman, and a true Southern cook. She moved with ease in the kitchen…even with all four eyes of the stove on high heat. But she did have one enemy in the kitchen—her own attention span. Today I share with you her heroic bout with a flaming pan of Kitchen Mischief.

My Grandmother, Mary Bass (May)

My Grandmother, Mary Bass (May)

This was about ten years ago, so May was in her early seventies. She was preparing her specialty for my birthday—a fried chicken dinner. May lived by herself, so I decided to show up a little early and “visit” before dinner. When I walked in, she was frying chicken. I embraced her tiny frame (she was 5-foot-1 on a good day) and we proceeded to visit. About five minutes later I happened to glance up at her kitchen cabinets above the stove and noticed they were charred black. “May, what happened to your cabinets?” I asked, and she gave me a defeated look. “Well, I just had a little accident, that’s all.” That wasn’t all—by a long shot. All of a sudden, the carnage lept to my attention—melted spots on the kitchen floor, cabinets and wall paper blackened above the stove, and angry-looking burns on her forearms. “May-May!” I exclaimed, “What happened?” With an embarrassed look, she confessed.

It went like this. In the midst of frying her first batch of chicken, May went into the playroom to decorate for the party. By the  time she got back to the kitchen, it was in flames. The biggest blaze was the skillet, which she grabbed to take outside. It was too heavy or too hot, so she dropped it once on the way out, but she made it to the backdoor and tossed it in the yard. Which of course also caught on fire. After stomping out the grassfires, she hoofed it back to the kitchen, only to find flames licking the cabinets and some of the den furniture. Did she run in panic? Call the fire department? Burst into tears? Not Mary Rowland. She put out those fires, too. And after clearing up the evidence the best she could, she got right on with frying up a fresh batch of chicken.

Looking back, I’m amazed. Had it been me, I would have called the fire department, police, and the National Guard, and my house still would have burned to the ground. At the very least, I would have said “Forget the chicken…we’re ordering pizza.” But not May. What a remarkable woman. She is definitely well-remembered and missed muchly.

The Moral of the Story
Never walk away from a hot skillet. That’s when innocent mischief becomes a serious disaster. Or, you could play it even safer and do a “Faux Fry”…check out this recipe for Oven-Fried Chicken. Sure, it may not be as crispy-delicious as the real thing, but it sure beats third-degree burns!

17 Responses to “The Potential Perils of Frying”

  1. judith Says:

    she was an amazing lady…I’m not sure she would approve of the picture of herself in the camo jacket…but I know she is smiling at your retelling of her little mishap.

  2. David Says:

    That is too funny!! What a sweet Lady! I wish I had been able to taste some of her fried chicken… I bet it was fantastic!!

  3. josh1978 Says:

    it was! i miss it! I would try to fry it for you, but our house is a tinderbox. 😉

  4. SUSU Says:

    Great story and love the picture!!!! When I clicked on my home page today there was May May smiling at me!!!!! It made my day!!!!…what a great way to honor our May May…you were sooooooooooo special to her!!!…loved the oven baked chicken idea too!!!

  5. Jackie Says:

    Josh – this could be very exciting, I knew we got along too well! Maybe we are cousins after all! My maiden name is Rowland (now also my first-born’s middle name). We may need to do some research here!! Great story!

  6. Anne Schilleci Says:

    So you come by the kitchen mischief honestly?!

  7. steve Says:

    I have May’s old couch in my apartment. It too bares a scar from a 3rd degree burn from then night of the chicken fire. I also remember the time I called May Rowland about her chicken gravy recipe. She was telling me to add some flour and some water then she said I might need to add a little salt. Imagine that. Anyway, I was cooking without a shirt and when she said it might need a little salt, i tasted it and it burnt my tongue and i dropped the spoon and the hot gravy landed on my belly and burned a little hole in it. I couldn’t cuss or anything in front of May. I told her (hold your tongue while saying this), “it taste just fine”

    • josh1978 Says:

      that’s so funny…gotta love that about May…it was always learn by experience. i miss her, but i’m glad she can’t hear me cuss in my kitchen…it happens a lot!

  8. steve Says:

    When i first open the site this morning i thought it was a burning cross and i thought to myself, well damn, Josh has joined the Klan. I then put on my reading glasses and i thought to myself, well damn, Josh has burned down the kitchen

    • josh1978 Says:

      LOL…it could happen…burning down the kitchen, not the klan. 😉 . that’s why I don’t fry much these days. I am accident-prone and grease is HOT!

  9. Super Femme Says:

    Josh…you are delightful. Now I know you are a Southerner by the way you weave your tales. Why does Fried Chicken always come with so many stories? XO

    • josh1978 Says:

      That much oil…that much heat…as Kenneth on “30 Rock” would say…”that’s the Devil’s temperature!”

  10. Cheryl Says:

    I love the fried chicken fire story. Priceless! I guess all southerns have a grandmother that could fry the BEST fried chicken in all of the South. I know when I get to heaven I will have some of my grandmothers cornbread and fried okra that she “fried” in the oven. Delightful! Thanks for sharing. Cheryl

    • josh1978 Says:

      thanks for reading, Cheryl! you know the best part about heaven? fried chicken with no fat. awesome! 😉

  11. Mom’s Caramel Icing: A Video Diary « Kitchen Mischief! Says:

    […] Mary Rowland, my mom’s mother and our family matriarch, who we remember affectionately as May. Her adventures making caramel icing inspired Mom to try her hand at it. What an awesome gift to […]

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