Why Did Wings Make It Big And Pulley Bones Didn’t

In a visit to one of my favorite restaurants the other day, I began to ponder about why wings have become so popular these days. As a kid growing up, I was usually left with the wing because the adults got all the good parts of the chicken at the first table during family gatherings. I always dreamed of making it from the second table to the first table so I could get the breast or thigh and let some poor unfortunate kid at the second table have that old boney wing.

Today, now that I’m an adult, everywhere I go it seems all they want to serve is wings! You have hot wings, buffalo wings, honey dipped wings, fried wings and just plain wings at most major events. Looks like we could have at least made the “pulley bone” popular over wings. The pulley bone was a treat as a kid, but today you can’t even find a pulley bone unless you cut the chicken up yourself. Somewhere there was a conspiracy to get rid of the pulley bone and it was a success. Probably thought of by someone at the first table to keep those of us at the second table under control and in the grip of wings for the rest of our lives.

The term “pulley bone” is used by most of us true southerners to refer to the “wish bone” that is located in poultry. It seems the younger generation out there have never heard of the term “pulley bone” along with newcomers to our state. Thus, the conspiracy has worked.

It has been years since I have had the chance to pull a pulley or wish bone with a friend or family member and make a wish. It seems, along with myself, there are a lot of people who are missing out on some great fun at mealtimes when the chicken doesn’t have a pulley bone. There must be a whole generation of people who have never experienced the excitement of getting the long side of a pulley bone during Sunday dinner and getting the opportunity of making a wish.

Growing up in the country and always looking forward to a Sunday meal at my grandmother’s, it was usually considered a very good day if you were the one lucky enough to get the pulley bone. Usually there was a mad rush by the grown ups at the first table (which I have discussed very extensively) to see who got it. But, sometimes it would be overlooked and would make it to the foldout card table where the grandchildren were sitting. It probably was hidden under the back and wings that no one wanted.

I’ll never forget those Sunday dinners where fried chicken was always the main entree. Yes, we called it dinner, too. In the middle of the day you have dinner and at night you have supper. That’s the way it was and that’s the way it will always be in my family. Dinner and supper just seem to have a friendlier ring to them than lunch and dinner.

My grandmother fried her chicken in a black skillet with lard produced right there on the farm. That was back before cholesterol and fat grams. We didn’t know what cholesterol was back then. If we had it, we probably would have fried it. I’m sure today’s medical teams would have issued us a warning and doomed us all to a horrible death if they could have seen what my grandmother would have put on the table. Salt was not in a shaker, but in what was called a saltcellar. The salt was spread with the end of your knife and rubbed in.

I guess her cooking did finally kill my grandfather. After all those years he died at 97, with a smile on his face.

The pulley or wish bone probably vanished because of the way chicken is cut up in a store these days. There are just not many whole chickens bought anymore. To get a complete pulley bone you have to have a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. I wonder how many young folks know how to cut up a chicken for frying? Not many I guess.

We need to reintroduce pulley bones to the chicken market. Wouldn’t it be grand to pull up to a drive-in window of your local Chicken Sanders establishment and ask for an order of pulley bones? You could keep the kids busy for hours and make a lot of wishes.

Instead, we have wings today. But, we also no longer have a first and second table either. I guess they went with the pulley bone.


  – Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com