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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Feature: Huntington Chicken Memories

Serving Up Tradition, Some Huntington Chicken and A Lot of Memories

by Meta Newell West

(former AHS Home Economics / Family & Consumer Sciences teacher, 1968-2001)

Every year, during American Education Week, the retired staff is invited back to their respective schools for lunch. At Abilene High School former teachers joined students and current staff in the lunchroom on November 18, 2014. On the menu—Huntington Chicken and all the accompaniments that make it a balanced meal, including handmade dinner rolls. 

It’s a meal that Ken Brown enjoyed during his tenure as AHS principal, from 1967 to 1993, and Mr. Brown was most appreciative when Mr. Smith, AHS’s current principal, served him this dish that has been a lunchroom mainstay for as long as everyone at the lunch table can remember.
Former and current staff share a meal and conversation at the recent American Education lunch at Abilene High School. Left (front to back) Liz (Smalley) Shimabuku, Ken Brown, Steve Wedel, Julie Weishaar, Sandy Dutt - Right (front to back) Betty Krenger, Gene Hartman, J.M. Frey- photo by Meta Newell West
Although the Huntington Chicken is as creamy and tasty as ever, there have been changes in the accompaniments over the years. USD District 435’s Food Service Supervisor, Kyleen Harris, noted that the rolls are now made with a blend of 51% whole white wheat flour and that there are a lot more fruits and vegetables added to the menu. Either fresh or canned fruit is used in place of desserts.
American Education Menu includes: Creamy Huntington Chicken, steamed carrots, handmade dinner roll, crisp broccoli salad laced with bacon, and a fruit cup for dessert. Milk is always included as a part of the menu. - photo by Meta Newell West
But, mealtime is not about food alone. It was an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, to meet new staff members and to just catch up on the latest happenings. We learned that during the upcoming remodeling, the lunchroom will be revamped to include two hot lines as well as a line for the ever-popular salad bar. According to Ben Smith, principal, this will expedite lunch pick up and the changes will also allow for increased seating which should help alleviate the current crowded conditions.

Former teachers shared pictures of grandchildren, details about their latest ventures, and there was even some reminiscing about “the ways things used to be.” Conversations included past lunchroom offerings, and Betty Krenger noted that another popular menu was chili and cinnamon rolls.

That made me wonder—are those menus still popular with today’s students? According to Nancy Curtis, AHS Kitchen Manager, they certainly are, and she said that every Wednesday they dish up another favorite—mashed potatoes and gravy. Of course, chicken nuggets, pizza and pasta are also popular with students, too.
Creamy Huntington Chicken is brimming with cooked chicken, pasta and made-from-scratch sauce. Toasty breadcrumbs add just the right crunch. - photo by Meta Newell West
According to Dr. Denise Guy, USD 435 Superintendent of Schools, this lunch was provided for both current and retired staff by the Board of Education as a way of expressing their appreciation for the work that educators do and have done.
I, for one, believe it is always a great opportunity for the cooks to serve up a traditional dish and for the staff to enjoy a heaping spoonful of sweet memories.
Helen Hettenbach, the kitchen manager at Kennedy Grade School from the mid 1970s to mid 1990s, shared her home-style version of Huntington Chicken with me years ago. I’m including it here in her memory, and as recognition of all the work that goes into preparing the many meals served in school lunchrooms each day.

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