On a recent visit to California, I visited a rosemary bush that has been in my family for almost 50 years.
Nestled in the Mother Lode (Gold Country) of Calaveras county, a small uniquely designed house has been the weekend refuge of various members of my family since the early ‘60’s. Located in the small town of Mokelumne Hill (current population 375) , this house has been a place for resting, for writing, for thinking, for healing, for playing games and music, for making jams, jellies and other preserves... For all of those small pleasures that make up the fabric of a family. The last time I was out there for a visit, my brother had chosen to get married in that small town known as Moke Hill; and he wanted to avail himself of the “Franklin” catering service from 2500 miles away.
My father, Donald, planted this rosemary bush near the outdoors water spigot, where, more often than not, a little water dripped out that kept this rosemary bush flourishing. It is now about 5 feet long by about 3 feet deep, and grows about 3 feet high, unless we have been up there cooking a lot, which keeps it trimmed back somewhat. The primary purpose of the rosemary bush, other than soaking up the hose drips, was to provide the rosemary for Donald’s favorite grilled chicken recipe, which I call Moke Hill Chicken. Fresh rosemary was cut and used to marinate the fresh country chicken, with the addition of lemon, garlic and dry vermouth. The seasoning that my father used was Lawry’s Seasoning Salt, for which I substitute Mrs. Dash Seasoning, to reduce the amount of salt and MSG. He had a grill fashioned out of an old iron wheel barrow, a makeshift grill mounted on top of some stacked bricks. In those days before high tech grills with propane, burners, prep tables, it was really great to have that great big iron wheel to maneuver that heavy grillbarrow. But back to that chicken, marinated overnight and then grilled carefully over the coals that reflected the heat off the bricks and heavy iron. Basted frequently with a mixture of the same flavors, it was great to eat, and even better eaten cold later. In later years I have been known to use roasted garlic and to add a hint of honey to that basting mixture, and to also throw some rosemary sprigs on the fire.
That chicken dish was a feature of the wedding dinner we prepared that July for my brother’s wedding; when 200 people came to the celebration. Quite an experience...almost doubling the population of the small town for 2 days, serving up our local favorites, as well as our family’s favorites from times in Spain and France. We made a Costco run in San Francisco, stopped for the wine made in a friend’s basement, loading up the rental mini-van, making stops at various orchards and farms across the valley.
We took over the kitchen in the basement of the town hall, where I remember eating many a 4th of July Lions Club pancake breakfast. Thankfully, a few VERY good friends, notably Cameron Carr, of O’Carr’s deli, came along for the fun to add to the crew of family volunteers. It was a wonderful event, coming off with few hitches, all of which are now good stories.
MOKE HILL CHICKEN
16 Chicken thighs (other chicken pieces can also be used, but I love thighs)
˝ cup roasted garlic
1 cup dry Vermouth (can substitute white wine)
˝ cup lemon juice
2 each lemons, cut in rounds
2 TB honey 16 sprigs fresh rosemary to taste salt, pepper, Mrs. Dash For garnish fresh rosemary sprigs and additional lemon slices
Mix garlic, vermouth, lemon juice, cut lemons, honey and rosemary sprigs. Reserve one third for basting.
Toss the chicken in the marinade, season liberally with salt, pepper and Mrs. Dash.
Marinade for at least 3 hours, and not more than 12 hours.
Remove chicken from marinade and cook, either on the grill, or in a hot oven, until browned and cooked through.
Baste after turning with reserved marinade mixture.
Serve with additional rosemary and lemon slices.
A nice touch is to caramelize the lemons in a pan, and deglaze with white wine, pouring the mixture over the cooked chicken.
Chef Franklin Biggs writes about food for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com