In a black cast-iron skillet on her gas stove, she fried perfectly crisp, moist chicken. Back then, there was no such thing as chicken nuggets—choice pieces of fried chicken were wish bones (sometimes called “pully bones”), breasts, wings, drumsticks, and short thighs— as if such a thing as long thighs existed. No matter how large her family grew, Panka knew which person liked which piece the best, and she always made sure each one of us got our favorite.
On another cast-iron skillet that barely had a rim, Panka made her thin, crisp cornbread. She knew how to pour the exact amount of cornmeal batter onto this skillet sizzling with oil and, at exactly the right time, she was somehow able to flip the cornmeal patty over to brown the other side to perfection without making a total mess. It’s a feat I still cannot accomplish.
Our family was blessed to have Panka here on this earth with us until she reached the age of 97. And to this day, whenever I smell chicken frying in a skillet or bite into thin, crispy cornbread, I feel the love she showed us by cooking what we loved to eat.