IT ISN'T widely known, but the real reason for summer is to have an excuse to eat chicken salad. Chicken is inflation-resistant, carrying the last of the '40s prices left in the market. It is versatile, taking happily to virtually any seasonings. It is quick and easy to cook, low in calories if you remove the skin (although the dressing ingredients zoom it right back up there). And in summer it gets along well with fruit.

This chicken salad can be varied with whatever fruit is ripening in your kitchen: cantaloupe, pineapple, peaches, nectarines, grapes. It can be served on its own, spooned into a cantaloupe half or onto a slice of pineapple, garnished with toasted almonds or walnuts, piled onto firm, dense Scandinavian bread for an open-face sandwich or stuffed into pita for a more Mediterranean style.

All it takes is a stroll through the express lane and salt on your shelves at home.

EXPRESS LANE LIST: chicken, mayonnaise, lemons, honey, curry powder, sour cream, celery, grapes (or cantaloupe, pineapple, peaches or nectarines), almonds or other nuts (optional). MARY ARCHER'S FRUITED CHICKEN SALAD (4 to 6 servings) Dressing: 1 cup mayonnaise 4 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons honey 1 teaspoon curry powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup sour cream For the salad: 5 cups cooked cubed chicken, preferably breast 1 1/4 cups diced celery 1 cup seedless grapes (or other diced fruit such as cantaloupe, pineapple, peaches or nectarines) Optional garnishes: 1/2 cup toasted almonds, pecans or walnuts; other fruits such as cantaloupe half or sliced pineapple)

Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl mix chicken with celery and grapes, then stir in enough dressing to moisten.

If desired, serve chicken salad in half a cantaloupe or on a slice of pineapple. Sprinkle with toasted almonds, pecans or walnuts if desired, and spoon remaining dressing on top.