Feast for the family

Traditional chicken dish served up easily for friends and loved ones through the years

Traditional chicken dish served up easily for friends and loved ones through the years

January 15, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Marlo Barnhart has been making Auntie Norma's Chicken for years.

"I make it for company. A lot of people at The Herald-Mail whom I care about have had it," she says.

The dish is easily accomplished, a blend of simple ingredients - canned soup, sour cream, boneless chicken breasts and chipped beef - left to bake in the oven for a couple of hours, then served over rice.

Auntie Norma's Chicken is not a fancy recipe, but it's worked for Barnhart, her family and her friends for a long time.


"It just seems kind of warm," she says.

So who is this Auntie Norma?

Norma Lloyd was the wife of Barnhart's mother's younger brother, and her chicken recipe originated with Auntie Norma's mother, Lil Allamong, who for years cooked for the Burke Street Elementary School in Martinsburg, W.Va.

"I have about eight Lil Allamong/Auntie Norma recipes," Barnhart says.

Barnhart was born and raised in Martinsburg.

She started writing for newspapers when she was a high school student. Involved in Girl Scouts since she was a Brownie, she stuck with it through senior scouting. In 1965, she and 31 other local Girl Scouts journeyed by train to Idaho and the international Girl Scout Roundup. Marlo Dunn wrote stories for The Martinsburg Journal, in the form of letters home.

She graduated in 1965 from Martinsburg High School and in 1969 from Shepherd College, where she studied English and journalism.

She's been a reporter at The Herald-Mail newspapers since Aug. 11, 1969.

Her first three years were spent in the Social section - the "Women's" section - that ran in The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.

She moved on to edit School Scene, a weekly eight-page tabloid section featuring high school reporters, a post she held for seven years. Barnhart has stayed in contact with some of those student writers.

Later, she says, she started working her way into beats that nobody else was covering - fires, Washington County District Court. In 1978, she officially became the police and court reporter and continues as nighttime police reporter. She also edits The Herald-Mail's Religion pages.

Did Barnhart ever think about a different career?

"No" is her emphatic and immediate answer, qualified only by her saying she was interested as a preteen in veterinary medicine.

She chose journalism, but animals certainly are a big part of Barnhart's life. Although she says she never meant to have more than two, she shares her home with eight cats.

In her more than 30 years as a reporter, Barnhart has written many stories. The hardest have been those about families who have been affected by crime - either as victims or as relatives of criminals.

"Both are terribly powerful," she says.

She's come to know other families. "I've been at this so long, I enjoy the multigenerational contact I have," Barnhart says. She has written stories about people whose parents she wrote about years earlier.

Barnhart also enjoys her own multigenerations. Daughter Amanda Trail lives nearby and presented her mom with her first grandchild, Michael, two years ago.

One-year-old granddaughter Alexis lives in Arizona with her mom and dad, Barnhart's son Lucas. Her voice - saying "Nana" - is handy for her grandmother to hear on Barnhart's telephone answering machine.

When her son was a child, Barnhart had to scrape off the sauce off Auntie Norma's Chicken before he would eat it.

He grew to like the family recipe.

"He can almost smell it over the phone," Barnhart says.

And it won't be long before another generation knows Auntie Norma's Chicken.

Auntie Norma's Chicken

  • 6 to 8 boneless and skinless chicken breasts/fillets

  • 1 3-ounce package of low-sodium chipped beef

  • 1 10 3/4-ounce can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

  • 1 10 3/4-ounce can cream of chicken soup, undiluted

  • 1 pint of sour cream

  • White rice (enough to serve 4 to 5)

In a bowl, combine the two soups and sour cream. Line 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish with chipped beef and then lay chicken on top in single layer. Pour soups/cream mixture on top, making sure to cover chicken.

Bake in a 275-degree oven for 2 1/2 hours.

At the last minute, cook rice according to directions. Each serving is 1 to 2 pieces of chicken, spooning sauce over the rice.

Serve with a salad or light vegetable.

Serves four to five.

Note: Chipped beef will adhere to the underside of the chicken when removed from baking dish.

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