It’s a dish fit for a formal wedding reception.
Poppyseed chicken is so highly regarded in Vickie Lehenbauer’s family that the entree was served to 400
guests at a granddaughter’s wedding just a few weeks ago.
"I really got the recipe from my daughter Connie, and it’s been passed around to family because
everybody likes it."
And hers is a big family.
"We have 40 now" including seven children and their spouses, the grandkids and two small
great-grandchildren. "But we remain close in spite of the fact that we’re all over the
She and her husband, Rev. Paul Lehenbauer, are well known locally from his 32 years as pastor at Peace
Lutheran Church, Deshler, and a current stint "helping out" at Abiding Word Lutheran Church on
Mercer Road north of Bowling Green, "since Pastor Mellon left and until the new pastor starts in
The couple have lived in Bowling Green for the past 17 years, since he’s been semi-retired, but their
ties to the Deshler church remain strong and Pastor Paul still "helps out with visits to the sick
and elderly" of the congregation three weeks of each month.
The folks at Peace Lutheran know very well what a "marvelous cook and baker" Vickie Lehenbauer
is. "She makes things all the time for church and it’s absolutely delicious," said one of her
fans in the congregation.
Lehenbauer says the poppyseed chicken recipe has been popular in the family for perhaps the last 10
"If you like it, you know how women are. ‘Oh what’s the recipe?’ And you’re all copying it."
For her clan, 2009 has been the Summer of Weddings.
"We’ve had three weddings this summer within five weeks!"
All three were granddaughters, two in Louisville, Ky., and one in Fort Wayne, Ind.
"The chicken dish was actually served at the middle wedding to 400 people. My son’s the church
pastor, so there were a lot of people there from church."
The meals for the first two weddings were prepared and supervised by the mother of the brides, who are
sisters. "And she did a jar of jam for each guest, also."
In 57 years of marriage to a pastor, Lehenbauer has been a guest at more than her fair share of wedding
receptions, so she has seen what works.
In her own trio of granddaughter weddings this summer, "the first bride went with cupcakes" in
lieu of a cake. "The second one, a lady from church made the cake."
Lehenbauer herself has always enjoyed cooking "because my mom was an excellent cook."
She grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, but in the earlier years of her marriage she lived in Montana, Washington
state, and even Brazil where her husband was a missionary. Eventually they came back to Ohio to raise
their six sons and one daughter. The family now includes one physician, two teachers, a lawyer, a
computer engineer, a pastor and a pastor’s spouse.
"Every three years we’ve a campground in Indiana that we go to." When the family gathers there,
group cooking is the name of the game so the burden isn’t too great on any one person.
Lehenbauer can highly recommend the poppyseed chicken as a fairly simple baked dinner that doesn’t taste
"The topping really makes it an interesting recipe. If it’s a thin layer it won’t be as good,"
she said, so keep the topping nice and thick.
For those who decide to make the dish, she cautions that it is essential to follow the recipe exactly and
not make changes to ingredients or even brands. When she says use Ritz crackers, she means it.
She also clarified that the rice must be made separately and not baked as part of the casserole.
"If they’re baked together, the sauce from the chicken goes right into the rice and it just dries it
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 oz. sour cream
2 can Campbell’s regular Cream of Chicken Soup
1 1/2 T. poppyseeds
2 cups Ritz crackers, finely crushed
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
Cook chicken breasts in a weak broth (1 tsp. chicken bouillon per 2 cups water) till tender; then cool.
When cold, cut into bite-size pieces and put aside.
Mix together the sour cream and cream of chicken soup. Pour mixture over and fold into the chicken
Spray bottom of a 9-by-13 pan and place chicken with sauce into it.
Make topping: Combine poppyseeds, crushed Ritz crackers (no substitutes) and melted butter. Stir these
together and spread on top of chicken.
Bake 30 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.
Serve over boiled rice which has been prepared separately and not as part of the casserole.
Serves 6-8 people.