Even though Pennsylvania is about as far as you can get from Texas, I do have some memories of King Ranch Chicken. The recipe was published attributed to King Ranch in the local newspaper in the early 50’s, which was where my mother originally got it. She made it many times during my childhood and so did many of our neighbors. It wasn't the King Ranch or the newspaper in TX but the ones near where I grew up in PA.
In those days, King Ranch operated a branch called Buck and Doe Run Farms located in Chester County PA. Except for mid-winter, they’d ship the cattle up north from Texas for some extra fattening up before they were shipped by train to the slaughterhouses. King Ranch was often a destination for a Sunday afternoon drive to see the Santa Gertrudis cattle, safely tucked away behind the only electrified fence I’d ever seen.
When my mom was planning to make the casserole, my dad would have to take a special trip to a little store (closed on Sundays as they all were then) near the ranch to purchase the tortillas and canned tomatoes with chiles since those ingredients were not normally stocked in grocery stores in our neck of the woods.
King Ranch’s PA holdings are now a wildlife conservancy and a 300-acre farm owned by Dorothy Alexander Matz, granddaughter of Robert Kleberg , and her husband Michael Matz, trainer of race horse Barbaro.
So although this doesn’t really add to the provenance of the recipe, it does add a bit of trivia.
Here’s the way my mom’s recipe read. It probably didn’t seem as bland in Pennsylvania as it would have in Texas.
KING RANCH CHICKEN
1 - 3 lb. chicken
12 corn tortillas
1 can each cream of chicken and mushroom soup
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 can tomatoes with chili peppers
1/4 lb. grated cheddar cheese
Cook chicken and strain broth. Bone and cut up chicken. Tear tortillas into pieces and dip in chicken broth. Cover bottom of large oblong cake pan [9” X 13”] with layer of tortillas – 1/2. Add a layer of chicken – 1/2. Mix soups, chili powder and tomatoes. Put a layer of sauce over chicken. Repeat layers of tortillas, chicken and sauce. Add cheese on top. Bake 350 – 30 min.