Is this the Colonel’s secret 11 Herbs and Spices? The Chicago Tribune may have stumbled upon the recipe
With the help of the local tourism office, I arrange to meet a man named Joe Ledington. The 67-year-old retired teacher has spent his entire life in Appalachia. He still lives in the house in which he grew up, just north of the city limits of Corbin, a town of about 7,300. He agrees to meet me to share a few yarns about the Colonel. You see, the guy he called “H.D.” and “Old Man Sanders” was his uncle. Ledington says he used to do chores in the modest cafe as a young boy, making a quarter a day to sweep and clean up.
I enter the dark-paneled restaurant lit by naked fluorescent tubes and find Ledington leafing through a photo album. His wife, Jill, sits quietly at the next table, munching chicken from a familiar red-and-white box.
Ledington and I shake hands, and I tell him about the assignment that brought me to this part of southeast Kentucky. Before I can even open my notebook, he draws my attention to the photo album overstuffed with pictures, newspaper clippings and various family documents.
“This was Aunt Claudia’s album,” he says, referring to his father’s sister, Claudia Ledington, who became Harland Sanders’ second wife when they wed in the late ’40s. Claudia worked as a waitress in the cafe and was instrumental in launching what would become a multibillion-dollar fast-food chain boasting nearly 20,000 KFC restaurants in more than 125 countries.
The album, with its nondescript cover and clear cellophane sheets, looks like the kind I used to buy for a buck at Walgreens. Ledington turns the pages, occasionally stopping to point out certain pictures, like the one of him posing with his famous uncle and others taken at the opening of a KFC in some faraway land. Sanders was always sporting one of his iconic white suits. Ledington says he had a closet full of them.
Ledington continues to leaf through the family scrapbook, pausing here and there to share a memory or an anecdote about his uncle. At the back of the album is an official-looking document, its pages stapled together: the last will and testament of his Aunt Claudia, he tells me. She died on New Year’s Eve 1996 at age 94.
“I can show you what every family member got,” he says, poring over the papers. “This was my dad, Robert Ledington. He was the first one. He got $209,888.”
But what I’m really interested in is the handwritten note on the back of the document. At the top of the page, in blue ink, it reads, “11 Spices — Mix With 2 Cups White Fl.” That’s followed by an enumerated list of herbs and spices. Eleven herbs and spices. And the measurements for each.