“I’ve been eating chicken mull from the time I could eat anything,” says Charlotte Griffin, the mayor of Bear Grass, North Carolina. In Martin County, people credit her grandfather with the simple porridge, thickened with crackers and seasoned with salt, pepper, and chile flakes.
“Originally, it was just about always for a gathering of menfolk that were either hunting or doing something,” Griffin says. “Somebody was always left behind to make food. Then tobacco came into play, and you had to stay up and tend the woodfire at night, to keep the temperature right for curing. The man responsible wasn’t allowed to sleep, so he’d make a pot of chicken mull, and that way he’d have company come to see him and keep him awake. Since World War II, well, chicken mull has been more for fundraisers and other big gatherings.”
Other parts of the South claim chicken mull, too. The stew is a popular side dish at barbecue joints in Athens, Georgia, and the surrounding area. But cooks in Bear Grass, population seventy-three, have done something that their counterparts in Georgia have not. They organized an annual chicken mull festival.
The winner of 2014’s festival cook-off was seventy-one-year-old Derwood Sadler, who led a team from his local American Veterans Post. Although regional variations on chicken mull contain everything from milk and cream to butter, corn, and eggs, his prize-winning recipe calls for only two ingredients, not counting water and seasoning: a whole chicken and a box of store-brand soda crackers. Serve it with hot sauce, cole slaw, and extra crackers on the side.