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Remembering School Lunches Past, And How To Commit Mrs. Stein's Chicken A La King

George Eastman House

Seems like school and military food have always been fair game for those mystery meat jokes and general put-downs. While I admit that I never got any four-star chow in either environment, what I did get wasn't so bad and sometimes pretty good. 

Like my favorite school lunch at New Rochelle High — Wednesday's ultra-sloppy meatball subs served up by Large Ladies in White. Nancy Leson has fond memories of  school lunch time, too, "back when Abe Lincoln walked to school through the snow."

Back then the kids all walked home for lunch. But since her mom worked, Nancy and her sister went to Bea and Mel's Diner in Philly for a PB&J, half a cheesesteak and a big Coke. If there was enough money left over, they'd drop a coin in the juke box to hear the Supremes sing "Stop in the Name of Love."

"Did you sing along and do the hand motions?" I asked.

"We had to do a little entertainment because we didn't have enough money to leave a tip," she explained.  

In later years, Nancy's favorite school lunch was chicken a la king. That triggered memories of my own Mom's version — made, of course, with condensed soup and that mysterious tang only a bit of ash from her Chesterfield King could add.

How To Commit Mrs. Stein's Chicken A La King

To a can of some kind of condensed cream soup (mushroom, chicken, celery, pig ear — it really doesn't matter), add some cooked chicken or chicken-like extruded food product and some leftover canned peas.  If you want to add a fancy international note throw in canned water chestnuts. Heat. Pour over toast and/or Minute Rice. Eat it all. Experience remorse.

Or you could go this route from the longtime monarchs of chicken a la king

Share your memories of school lunches endured or enjoyed below.

"Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what's for lunch."

–  Orson Welles

Dick Stein joined KNKX in January 1992. He retired in 2020 after three decades on air. During his storied radio career, he hosted the morning jazz show, co-hosted and produced "Food for Thought" with Nancy Leson and wrote and directed the Jimmy Jazzoid live radio musical comedies and 100 episodes of Jazz Kitchen.

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