Tracy Salter, Executive Director of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, announced that the Chamber has recently been awarded a “Hungry for History” historic marker grant.
Hungry for History™ markers, sponsored by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, celebrate America’s food history by telling the stories of local and regional food specialties across the United States.
The William G. Pomeroy Foundation is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history. The Foundation’s Hungry for History™ program provides grants for culinary and food historical markers, and for the preservation and commemoration of culinary and food history.
This program is designed to commemorate significant food dishes created prior to 1960, and the role they played in defining American culture and forging community identity.
Tracy Salter said: “I’m excited we received the grant. One more wonderful thing to add to our community!”
She worked with Annie Crenshaw, local historian, genealogist, cookbook author, and columnist, whose university lectures and programs in Southern culture highlighted the origins of Southern food and language for over thirty years.
Crenshaw pointed out that Greenville had the perfect example for the Hungry for History grant: Chicken Brissil.
This dish has been particularly associated with Greenville and Butler County for nearly a century. It’s a famous local specialty, though not prepared as often as in past decades.
The late newspaper editor, J. Glenn Stanley, described the recipe being introduced to our area by the Rev. W. O. Waggener’s family while Waggener was serving at Greenville’s Methodist Church, 1907-1910.
By summer 1910, chicken brissils were well-known local dining events.
Chicken brissil cook-outs were enjoyed by civic clubs, veterans’ organizations, church societies, school groups and political parties. The dish was served for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and engagements.
When Beeland Park was created in the 1930s as a gift to the City of Greenville by Robert A. Beeland, the large public barbecue pits were in almost constant use with chicken brissil cook-outs.
Journalists in Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma, Dothan, Luverne, Grove Hill, Alexander City and other towns described and praised Butler County’s “Chicken Brissil.”
Butler County natives even took the recipe to Texas, where a columnist wrote that it was “the best chicken yet,” and should be tried by “every connoisseur in this land of barbecue.”
Local and state cookbooks have featured “Chicken Brissil” recipes from the 1940s into the 21st century.
The Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society included J. Glenn Stanley’s recipe, courtesy of his daughter, Nonnie Hardin, in their 40th anniversary cookbook: “A Taste of Butler County, Alabama: Treasured Family Recipes and Stories of the Butler County Historical Society” (2004).
The basic recipe is simple. Halved chickens are grilled very slowly on an open outdoor pit or barbecue grill, basted with a sauce of butter, vinegar, salt and red pepper. Garlic and lemon juice could also be added.
Glenn Stanley wrote that the chef should never add ketchup or other tomato-based sauce to the chicken while it’s being cooked.
The special technique is to grill or “brissil” the chicken with a light basting sauce, not barbeque it with a heavy “red sauce.” A red sauce could be served on the table for diners to use or not, as wished.
Different families have had variations of the recipe over the years, though purists have kept to the basic ingredients.
Annie Crenshaw says the name “Chicken Brissil” has been spelled in various ways – “brissel,” “brissle,” and even “bristle.”
The recipe title, however it’s spelled, is an appropriate name. The word “birsle” or “brissel” in old English and Scots dialect means to broil, scorch or burn, such as by fire.
If you’ve never tried “Chicken Brissil,” you’ll find Glenn Stanley’s original recipe (and hundreds of other delicious recipes) in “A Taste of Butler County,” available from Butler County Historical Society president, Barbara Middleton, phone (334) 368-1570, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hungry for History marker will be placed in a public area in Greenville. It will add to local visual attractions like the vibrant new murals being created on buildings across town.
“We’re all super proud of our murals and historic markers, and we hope the community enjoys them for many years to come,” said Salter.