Growing up, there were many things I remember that were “tradition” – something we just did, although I never knew why. Eating roasted chicken on Sundays was one such tradition. Unlike meals during the week, the big meal on Sundays was served earlier in the day, usually around two or three in the afternoon. Growing up in a big extended family, it was not unusual for cousins, uncles and aunts to gather together for Sunday dinner. Sundays were special. And so were roasted chickens.
When I had a family of my own, the tradition of roasted chicken on Sundays continued. It was how I was raised, and it was just something I did without giving the custom much thought. To me, Sundays meant family dinners and family dinners meant roasted chicken. No questions asked. Eventually, Sunday dinner, while still “special” expanded beyond the scope of a roasted chicken. We still enjoy a “traditional” Sunday supper every now and again. And this apple stuffed chicken for a Sunday Supper is really special.
Curious, I did a little research into the tradition of The Sunday Roast. Traditionally speaking, roasted beef was the meat of choice in 17th century England, particularly in Yorkshire – said to be the birthplace of The Sunday Roast. Sunday Roast was also a tradition observed in Ireland and eventually expanded throughout Europe. It is believed that both religious practices and the industrial revolution were key factors in the birth of The Sunday Roast.
Families often worked six days a week, with Sundays held as a day of rest. A big rack of meat could be put into the oven on Sunday mornings, and then allowed to slow cook while the family attended church services. After church, the meal was nearly complete. The women-folk would add a few vegetables, mash a pot of boiled potatoes and whip up a gravy made from the pan drippings before joining their families for a day of leisure. Generally, more meat was roasted than could be consumed on Sunday, and the cold meat became lunch for the better part of the following week. Remember, before the invention of fast-food joints and microwaves, people packed a lunch for work and school.
While I cannot speak for all faiths, for Catholics Eucharistic fasting is part of the preparation before attending Sunday Mass. It is meant to help Catholics prepare themselves for the privilege of receiving Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity during communion. The Eucharistic Fast is a discipline, and not a doctrine of the Church. As a discipline, the guidelines can change over time, and in some cases be done away with altogether. Way back when, the Eucharistic Fast began at sundown on Saturday (perhaps as a part of the Jewish roots of Catholicism where new days began at sundown). Eventually this fast was changed to midnight, and over the years the length of the fast has been reduced. Today Catholics fast an hour before Mass. When you consider the fast of old, it makes sense for people to want a big meal ready upon returning from Mass. You were hungry!
My father is a child of the depression era who grew up in a rural setting. Chickens were something people raised themselves, so a roasted chicken on Sundays made economic sense. I was a child of pre Vatican II, when a fast was more strictly observed and there was no breakfast on Sundays. We were starving upon our return from Mass. So now I know and understand the origins of my family’s Sunday dinner. I’m not sure if it makes the roasted chicken taste any better, but there is a greater sense of richness and connection to the past when I take my place at the Sunday Dinner Table.
I know, I’m rambling – just stick with me a little longer – I promise a wonderful recipe at the end. Years ago, a coworker gave everyone a huge box of apples for the holidays. I made caramel apples, apple pies, apple crepes, apple sauce and still there were apples. One Sunday afternoon, while preparing my birds for roasting, I got to thinking – what if I stuffed the birds with apples? The meat would be moist and flavorful. The house would have a wonderful Autumn scent. It seemed the right thing to do. And so it was that my Apple Stuffed Roasted Chicken came to be a family favorite. (This recipe works nicely with pears as well).
Apple Stuffed Roast Chicken
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
2 teaspoons Mesquite Seasoning
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt to taste
1 Roasting chicken, rinsed, dried and giblets removed
1-2 apples, sliced
Remove chicken from the refrigerator, remove giblets from cavity and excess fat from cavity opening. Rinse well under cold water, blot dry with paper towels and allow chicken to continue to air dry for about an hour.
In a small bowl, add butter and seasonings. Set aside.
Cut apples into chunks, set aside until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place a V-rack, opened to its widest point, into a shallow roasting pan. Set aside.
Season cavity of chicken with salt. Using hands, gently separate the skin from the meat of the chicken around the breast, the legs and down into the thighs. Gently rub seasoned butter directly over chicken meat beneath the skin, taking care not to tear the skin. Wipe skin well with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt, rub into skin to help absorb any excess exterior moisture.
Place sliced apples into cavity of chicken. Tie legs together and tuck wings under breast. Place chicken in roasting pan breast side up.
Bake uncovered in preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until skin is nicely browned.
Remove chicken from oven, turn breast side down and continue to roast for about 10-15 minutes longer or until skin is nicely browned.
Reduce temperature to 425 degrees, cover and continue cooking for about 1 hour or so longer, until juices run clear. (Warning – the skin will be nicely browned, but covering the bird will not produce a crisp skin. If crisp skin in your thing, reduce heat and leave the chicken uncovered. Take care that the meat doesn’t dry out too much, especially the breast meat).
Remove chicken from oven, place on serving platter and tent chicken to keep warm, allowing chicken to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Remove apples and carve. I like to see the chicken carved at the table.