I had never heard of Chicken Mull until a few years ago. And then I found out that the Chicken Mull Festival happens 8 miles from me in Bear Grass, NC, population 69. This year, the festival is on Saturday, October 28, 2023. My friend Nancy Sparks had a great recipe for Chicken Mull, so we made it and here it is. It is really quite good!
- Several quarts water
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½-1 teaspoon cracked red pepper or to taste
- 1 T lard
- 1 3-4 pound chicken cut up (larger is fine too) You will need about 4 cups cooked chicken
- 1 box of Saltine Crackers salted (you will probably use 2-3 sleeves)
- Hot sauce for serving
- Using a large stock pot, add several quarts of water, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper and lard and bring to a boil.
Add cut-up chicken and enough water to cover the chicken. Return to a boil and cook for 1-2 hours or until chicken is tender and falling off the bones.
Remove chicken from broth and strain into a large bowl, reserving any broth.
After chicken has cooled, pull meat off the bones, discarding the bones and the skin. Tear chicken into shreds, using your hands. Be careful to remove all bones.
Strain and transfer the broth to a separate pan or bowl and wash the cooking pot to remove the chicken residue that is stuck on the sides of the pot. Add the broth back to the pot.
When the broth comes back to a boil, add the picked chicken to the pot and turn heat to simmer.
Crush 2 sleeves of saltines and slowly add to the pot. Stir and continue to simmer. The mull should not have much excess liquid. If there is liquid, add more crackers.
Simmer on low heat about 20 minutes or until hot and thickened, stirring often – hence the Mull moniker.
Hint: it is better the next day – the red pepper has a chance to be heard!
Yield: 6-7 two-cup servings
Charlotte Griffin, the mayor of Bear Grass, NC, tells the story of how the Chicken Mull Festival came to be. In 2015, two other Bear Grass residents, Kevin Harris and Justin Edwards, asked Charlotte if they could start a festival for Bear Grass. Charlotte was intrigued.
One idea was to have a Moonshine Festival – all locals know that in the Prohibition Days Bear Grass had some good moonshine – it has been dubbed by some as the Moonshine Capitol of the World. Alas, the technicalities and federales soon made this idea nearly impossible to pull off. So that is when the idea for a Chicken Mull Festival came to be.
Charlotte tells the history of her grandfather and other Bear Grass tobacco farmers who had to stay up all night to fire the tobacco barns – thus curing it. I remember my dad and Walter Biggs doing that here on the farm. There was not much to do, so the fellows in Bear Grass would get a big iron pot, a chicken, and some saltine crackers and cook up a pot of Chicken Mull as they called it.
It is odd how the tradition didn’t cross Highway 17 into Farm Life where my folks lived. Charlotte did say that her uncle married a Farm Life girl and he introduced them to Chicken Mull. I don’t remember ever eating Chicken Mull in my youth. In some parts of the south it is called Chicken Muddle, usually this has other things in it like tomatoes and peppers. It is difficult to trace the origin of this humble dish.
After the men folks no longer had to fire the barns with wood, they would still cook up a pot of mull at the end of the tobacco season for the “hands” – the folks who worked the fields. Even now when groups like the Ruritans have a fund-raiser, you might see Chicken Mull on the menu.
It seems Chicken Mull is popular in the Carolinas and in parts of Georgia, often popping up in barbecue joints and at church dinners. In some parts of Georgia it is made with milk, but in the Carolinas it is usually made with water, chicken and saltine crackers. Be on the lookout or just whip up a batch for yourself.
Don’t miss the Chicken Mull Festival in Bear Grass, NC. It happens every year on the 4th Saturday of October – this year in 2023 it is October 28th. Check out North Carolina Weekend’s story of the Chicken Mull Festival.
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