The Fried Chicken Dissonance.

Fried Chicken.

I took issue with a book recently.  I was trying my best, my level-headed best, to get through a slow historical romance.  I slogged along, waiting, hoping, praying for a little action.  Not as in sex action, but simply movement.  Forward movement.  As in a story moving forward rather than running in place with repetitive and boring descriptions of characters (primary, secondary, tertiary, and even nonentities) and settings.

What did I get instead?  Tossed out of the story by a pic-a-nik basket filled with fried chicken.  Actually the fried chicken was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Yogi and Boo-boo.

I’m a foodie.  I know fried chicken.

Although fricasse was used as a method of cooking throughout Europe, fried chicken was not, as a rule, eaten in England in the early 19th Century.  In fact, fried chicken was not common in England until the late 20th Century.  The English preferred their chickens boiled or baked.  It was the Scots who fried chicken in fat and brought that technique with them to the Colonies.  In addition, West African cuisine also featured chicken dredged in herbs and spices and fried in palm oil.  Thus the culinary traditions of West Africa met the culinary traditions of Scotland – unfortunately via the slave trade in the American South.  Ergo… Southern Fried Chicken.

However, I seriously doubt fried chicken would have been found in the pic-a-nik baskets of early 19th Century English nobility.  While feasting outdoors, especially during hunts, has been common in Great Britain since medieval times, picnics, as such, didn’t really become popular until Victorian times, i.e., in the 1860′s, when feasting out of doors began to be described as picnicking.  (Although the word picnic had been used in France a hundred years earlier to describe what we think of as a potluck.)

Medieval Feast.

Therefore, a picnic basket filled with fried chicken in the early years of the 19th Century stopped me dead in my tracks and the book became an instant DNF.  Sorry.  It’s really important for historical authors to get their facts right, at least for me.

I would experience the same dissonance if I were reading an historical set in ancient Greece and ran across ~  “Hey, man, wanna head over to the drive-in and grab a burger?”

Check this out:  Hungry History.

And this:  Virginia Fried Chicken.


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19 Responses to The Fried Chicken Dissonance.

  1. Amber Skyze says:

    Yes, it’s very important to get the facts right. This doesn’t surprise me though. :(

  2. This drives me crazy even in fantasy which builds it’s unreality on reality. Even then a frame is needed to allow the suspension of disbelief. But it’s easy to get more obscure facts wrong. It’s the truly blatant stuff that just annoys me.

    The Frugal Gourmet did a great show umpteen years ago about the development of the picnic. It was, he said a way of gathering together – sometimes outside, without the burden of one household having to provide a meal. Lovely really.

    On a historical note, I have never had fried chicken and the one time I tried at a “restaurant” it was still frozen inside. Feh!

  3. Penelope says:

    Almost every historical that I can think of which features a picnic has fried chicken in the basket. I never really considered that was inaccurate, but I did consider that fried chicken would be soggy and not crispy anymore after sitting in a picnic basket for hours before being consumed.


  4. Not having facts right in a story is the reason I started writing. It was rodeo, not fried chicken, but the premise is the same. Be as accurate as you can be when writing.

  5. anny cook says:

    For me, it’s stupid stuff you could check with a map. Like real-time streets that run parallel miles away from Interstates. Yep, I always say someone out there somewhere is going to be an expert and know such and such just ain’t so. Cool post.

  6. Tim Dittmer says:

    Mmmmm. Fried chicken. Where was I? Oh yeah.

    Some dissonance in a piece can add just the right amount of color, but it can’t save a lame-ass story. :-)

  7. Mat Nastos says:

    You’re a chicken nerd.

  8. Hi Mat! I’m a food nerd! ;)

  9. Tim – I love dissonance in poetry, mystery, existential prose… Just not historical stuff. Probably my favorite genre is historical fiction, which I suppose is why I’m hard on historical romance. Probably not fair.

  10. I agree, Anny. It’s the simple things. And while most people won’t notice, there will always be the nit-picky reader like me who does. If nothing else, an editor should point this out. But I’m guessing fried chicken is one of those things no one thinks of.

  11. I know how you feel about cowboy romances, Stephanie. I laugh my ass off when I read the typical cowboy romance written by authors who’ve never even seen a horse up close.

  12. Hey Pens – if the historical is set in the South, as in Gone with the Wind, it fits! Actually the remarkable thing about fried chicken is that it keeps well… doesn’t spoil as fast as say, boiled chicken, which makes it perfect for a picnic. It’s kind of like those pasties (no, not the stripper kind) Welsh miners took with them into the mines to eat for lunch. It’s the crust that keeps the food fresh.
    If this particular picnic basket had contained cheese, salted meat and bread, and maybe an apple, I would never have thought a thing about it. Instead my eyes stopped dead in their tracks.

  13. Hi Steph. I’m actually not a good fried chicken maker, but the concept has always fascinated me. I wish I could make great fried chicken. Yes, it’s true, a reader must be able to suspend disbelief. When a write throws in a factoid the reader knows to be impossible under the circumstances, well, it ruins the book for me. Even a paranormal or work of science fiction/fantasy must play by its rules. The rules can be crazy but they must be consistent.

  14. Katalina Leon says:

    That poor author if only they had written witty dialog and a gripping plot you might not have tripped over the anachronistic picnic basket and slammed the book shut. : )
    Now I’m hungry… And concerned that poor Steph has never tried good fried chicken. OMG fried chicken should never be be frozen.
    XXOO Kat

  15. Sad but true, Kat. If I’d actually been reading a story instead of turning circles to look at all the home decor I might have missed the picnic basket altogether.
    I know, I’m a little worried for Steph’s sake! I think I’ll practice my fried chicken making.

  16. Sandra Cox says:

    Historical writing does present more of a challenge to the author. That’s for sure.
    Shall we have a moment of silence for the death knoll of the Fried Chicken?

  17. Tom Stronach says:

    Yep, had that problem last year when reading a book partially set in London and the author was describing a quick point between two points after getting off the underground. He got the stations in the wrong order and the quick stroll taking minutes in reality would have taken 30 minutes … It annoyed me no end for some reason so fully understand your angst over the Fried Chicken my sweet

  18. Ah, I’m so glad you obsess about these details – details which should be correct! I understand you angst too, Tom. I saw first hand how your Underground works. ;)