Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Memories of Chickens
I was reading a post over at Georgia Black Crackers about fried chicken and as I was getting into my third paragraph in the comment section I decided to just write about my chicken memories here.
Fried chicken used to be the main part of my favorite meal along with mashed potatoes and green beans. I grew up in Detroit, without chickens in the yard, but I remember going to the poultry market several times with my maternal grandmother, Nanny. Crates full of live chickens were piled around the walls. My grandmother would pick her chicken and they would kill it and dress it there. When she cooked chicken she always smothered it in gravy. Perhaps she bought the cheaper old birds that were too tough for frying. It was delicious.
Every Saturday my mother drove us all across town to my grandparent's house. She and her sister would be in the front and the four, eventually five, of us cousins would be in the back. No seat belts in those days. We spent many happy hours playing in the backyard where our yard toys were kept in the old chicken house. Of course it was free of all signs of chickens. They were gone by the time we were there but I remember the story of the mean rooster that attacked my little uncle Howard and ended up as chicken dinner. And of chickens running around the yard with no heads after they'd been chopped off.
Nanny was a great cook. She didn't know how to cook when she married at age 29, my grandfather taught her. Where he learned to cook so well I am not sure. Working in the dining car on the railroad? I'll have to ask my cousin and see if she knows. He always cooked the turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When my sister and I were very small someone gave us three chicks for Easter. We lived in a combination parsonage/community house. It was hugh. We kept the chicks in a box in the basement and thinking back I don't remember a heat light which maybe the reason that one by one the chicks died. I remember my mother throwing their bodies into the incinerator.
My Uncle Henry had a story from WWII when he and his brother Hugh were conscientious objectors had a farm near Avoka Michigan where they raised chickens and milked cows. One day it rained and they hadn't put the chickens up. He said they piled up in the yard with their mouths open just sat and drowned from the rain running down their throats.
When I was grown living with my husband and children in rural Simpson County Mississippi with goats and chickens, I learned first hand about killing, plucking and cutting up chickens. From my yard to the table. I wasn't really that good at the kiling part. In fact I only remember one time that I actually killed a chicken. My husband was a printer working in nearby Jackson. It was time to fix dinner and there was not much food in the house. He had the car so no chance for a trip to town. I decided to kill a chicken. With the help of my two oldest daughters who must have been about 9 and 12 at the time, we did it. Each of them held a clothesline tied to either the chicken's head or feet and I chopped off the head. I would have gotten better I'm sure but luckily never had to do it again.
One last memory. It's really my husband's memory but I've heard it so often I can see it as if it were mine. On the annual family trip back to Dermott Arkansas a relative gave them a chicken to take back home. They were living in Carr Square Village, St. Louis at the time. They kept it in the newspaper wagon long enough for it to become big enough to eat. His name was Speckle because he was black and white. One day they came home and they had a real treat chicken sandwiches. Nobody asked why chicken in the middle of the week, they were too busy eating it. Later they found it was poor Speckle.