I tended to pay attention to Mom when she was baking because there would be beaters to lick or yeast cakes to sniff. When she was making dinner I left her unsupervised. Then as now, the important thing was to have dinner magically appear before me and I didn’t sweat the details. But I do remember the time I walked into the kitchen to find her wrist deep in a chicken and you would not believe what she pulled out of it. Things God left inside the chicken on purpose.
“Eww!” I said. “How can you stand to touch all that?”
The guck that came out of the bird got fried up and fed to my father who apparently liked that sort of thing, except for high holy days when it snuck into the stuffing, well-camouflaged. It was years before anyone let me in on that secret.
Anyway, she seemed amused by my horror. “This is nothing,” she said, pivoting toward me with a fistful of slimy purple lumps in what I saw as a threatening manner. “At least I don’t have to pluck the chicken anymore.”
Well that was a revelation. I renewed my complete lack of interest in cooking and worked up a life plan: to be as entertaining as possible so as to attract people who would cook for me. It’s worked great.
I’m certain Mom felt it the height of modernity to be able to buy a whole chicken that required no chasing and came headless and plucked. By the time I started paying more attention to what the people who cooked for me were doing in the kitchen, God had improved things by creating chickens whose guts grew inside in a neat little bag. That made them easier to throw away. For certain, they aren’t for eating. All that stuff was just to run the chicken with, and you really don’t need it anymore once the bird is no longer operable.
I’m not sure if you can get chickens like that anymore. These days chickens come in handy little fried nuggets rolled from ground-up paste originally scraped from factory chickens, which, don’t worry, are not real chickens, but juiced-up meat spheres on feet. They live wonderfully social lives in very close proximity to thousands of other meat spheres on feet. The ones not destined for nuggethood are swaddled in plastic and styrofoam and come all ready to cook—for the truly adventurous modern—or appear diced and ready to eat at your local deli or taco stand. It’s a slick system.
There are scolds out there who decry this sort of thing and refuse to ingest any such item on the grounds that chickens should not be tortured for our palates, but by the time said chicken has had its beak clipped off and antibiotics injected in it and been jammed into a little cage, it’s not really a proper chicken anymore. Now Grandma’s chickens were the real deal. They lived wonderful long lives wandering around the farm pecking at bugs and stuff and chitty-chatting with the other chickens and just before they might conceivably get old enough to develop existential dread Uncle Cliff would stroll up behind them and chop their heads off. We should all be so blessed. True, they did continue whacketing around the airspace headless for what struck me as a good long while but I believe I was the only one suffering at that point. They were happy, fulfilled, and delicious. That’s what counts.
That, and that Grandma did all the plucking.
Oh, gosh, that reminds me of when a next-door neighbor went fishing and brought me some whole fish (trout, I think.) I had no clue how to scale a fish or take its innards out. I got out one of my cookbooks and TRIED to do what it told me. At some point, I was so disgusted with the process that I started drinking while doing it. By the time I was done removing all the disgusting parts, there was very little filet left.
Dave and I had a deal. I caught the trout, I cleaned the trout, he cooked the trout, he ate the trout. In order to facilitate the deal, he had to teach me how to clean the trout. It just takes one poky knife and a thumbnail.
Reminds me of hamburger. When was the last time anyone hunted a wild beef? Where is the hamburger found when dissecting such a beast? What do you do with the enormous pile of innards from that? When you take the skin off is everything neatly wrapped in plastic film and styrofoam?
Mimi, summers at the beach when I was a kid taught me about fish. It takes practice, but there is nothing like a fresh flounder filet lightly breaded and gently fried in butter. A little salt and pepper and lemon juice doesn’t hurt, either.
I’m sure that freshly caught fish is delicious — IF you know what you are doing. I just couldn’t get past the blood and guts. To be fair, I wasn’t much of a cook back then, either. That took getting a load of Cooks Illustrated magazines at a yard sale. They not only provided recipes and taught methods, but explained WHY you have to do things at a certain point in the recipe. As a Questioner, this spoke to me and taught me a lot.
I think if you run into the wild beef with your car, it’s all hamburger.
And nothing improves the bloodline of a steer so much as crossing it with a car. When my brother hit a steer, the rancher assured him that it was the most valuable one in the herd.
Being a scientifically minded kid, I was rather fascinated by the process of “dressing out” the deer my dad and older brothers shot each year, but they couldn’t identify a lot of the inside bits. Heart, stomach, guts, liver and lungs, yes, but what’s that greenish thing? And those stringy things? And . . . Pretty soon it was, “Go away and stop asking so many questions.” Turns out that they were more squeamish than I was.
“Nothing improves the bloodline of a steer so much as crossing it with a car.”
Including your car… just sayin’
I try to only buy chickens labeled “humanely raised” or “pasture fed.” But if I eat at a restaurant I don’t kid myself that they’re using those birds. My ideal would be to only eat chickens raised by the likes of your grandma!
I never eat chicken or most pasta in a restaurant because it is so easy and cheap to make at home. I only order stuff that would be too difficult or time-consuming to make, like cassoulet, chicken pot pie, or lasagne. Or cuts of meat that one can’t get in the farmer’s market.
I suspect “humanely raised” chickens are only the tiniest bit better off than the meat spheres on legs. It’s probably a pretty low bar.
I am among the hate-to-cook cadre, but I’ve done a lot of it in my lifetime and I’ve killed/plucked/cleaned more chickens than you can shake a stick at. I vividly recall feeding my aunt & uncle’s families when they came to see the new baby (my cousin). I killed/plucked/cleaned/fried up two chickens, made bowlfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy and a bunch of green beans – with cranked ice cream for dessert. I was barely age 14.
Holy shit! And I was proud of myself for making the Chef Boyardee pizzas that came in a box for my Uncle Eddy and me! (I would tweak it by adding mozzarella and pepperoni.) You were Laura Ingalls Wilder!
I can see why you’re over cooking! By the way, you have no way of knowing how many chickens I’ve shaken a stick at.
I was raised just down from my grandparents property in the middle of a filbert orchard. My Mom growing up had to deal with Grandpa (Mom’s dad) raising chickens to sell. My Mom never cooked chicken in our house until the very end when she would get a whole bunch of chicken legs and oven fry them because she thought the grandkids might like those. I have never been really fond of chickens as food… egg source yes… meat… no. This made me think of my Mom though. Good memories! Thanks
There are so many things I like to eat and prefer not to know much about their lives beforehand.
When I was a teacher in the 70s, one of my students knocked on my door one evening. He proudly displayed a goose he’d shot, just for me. Guts had been removed, but everything else was there.
Geese have a lot of feathers, we realized as we tried to prepare it for dinner. It took forever to pluck, and was kinda stinky. Since this was near the ocean, and the goose had obviously lived on seafood, it was pretty fishy tasting, as well as tough and stringy. Haven’t had goose since. Nice gesture, Donald, but now I’m a vegetarian, so no thanks.
My mum had chickens like that, roaming around picking, pecking, laying eggs for breakfasts and eventually becoming Sunday dinners themselves. I remember the year I helped with the plucking of about a dozen or so destined for other people’s Christmas tables. Never again! I preferred the cooking part pf the process and of course the eating part. Today’s chickens bought from supermarkets just don’t have quite the same taste, but the hot, cooked ones ready to eat aren’t so bad if you get free-range ones and get them home quickly enough. I’ve been known to pull off a leg and eat it while walking home.
Oh my gosh, this takes me back sooo many years watching my grandmother and then my mother elbow deep in chicken entrails preparing for Sunday dinner after church. They were renowned for their delicious fried chicken – no picnic or potluck was complete without it. Us kids hung around the kitchen hoping to snatch the gizzard before it got to the table. Hard to believe now, but because of that time consuming chasing, scalding, plucking thing, chicken was considered a special dish. Remember Roosevelt’s slogan, ‘A chicken in every pot’?
Can anyone post a link here explaining how to add a photo to my “Leave a comment”?
We would if we could. We don’t even know how to edit our comments post-post.
I don’t think there IS a way, at least as far as I can see. Just gotta edit your posts before you click on “post comment.” As to adding photos… Who the hell knows? There doesn’t seem to be a button for this.
Hahahaha. Oh yes- and as a kid on a farm with hundreds of chickens- all laying and then laying their heads on the chopping block we used to amuse ourselves by giving them a twirl or two to make them dizzy before “the chop”
North Dakota chickens were the original “free range”! Nothing like a Sunday dinner provided by the range!
All that stuff was just to run the chicken with, and you really don’t need it anymore once the bird is no longer operable. This line!! Murr, ain’t nobody like you. Love this piece! xoxo jz
So I grew up in town in eastern NC and worked in a grocery store in 1960 that catered to rural folk. We actually sold live chickens on the hoof. Customers would go back to the chicken pen with me and point out which one they wanted, I’d wade in, grab it and tie it’s legs together with string and lay it on their box of groceries up at the counter. I don’t think these folks had refrigeration, lots of carnation can milk passed through the store as well as salted pork we called fat back. I think that is know as sow belly now.
And that’s exactly why I’m a vegetarian. Grue.