Friday, January 9, 2009

Chicken Dinner on the Farm

Yum yumm…. It is hard for me to believe after all of the chicken I ate growing up that I still like chicken today. Mama fixed fried chicken at least once a week for supper and sometimes more. With five in our family we would eat a whole chicken in one meal. The fried chicken that mother fixed was nothing like the chicken you buy in the grocery stores today.
We raised our own chickens and they were taken at a much smaller size then the ones you buy now. They were so tender and fresh tasting. Daddy would always get the wishbone piece, Shirley the breast bone, Janice a wing, mother the ribs and I liked the thigh, it had a lot of meat on it. The rest of the pieces would be distributed so that we each had two pieces to eat.
On many Sundays we ate chicken and noodles or chicken and dumplings. These chickens were ones that had gotten larger and older and were always cooked with homemade noodles or dumplings. We had some older hens that we would keep to lay eggs but after they had become a year or two old they would be used for this meal. And a new chicken would take its place for laying eggs. I felt the best part of using these older laying chickens were the eggs that would be in their egg sack inside them, they were just the yolk, no egg white yet, and in varying sizes. Mom would cook these with the noodles. They were so good.

But the story I want to tell is of all that had to be done to get these chickens to the table!
It all started in early spring. Mama would go to the hatchery in town to buy the baby chickens. Many times I got to go with her. It was exciting to walk in and hear all the noise! Cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep…. You could hardly hear yourself talk. There would be cardboard boxes with dividers in them, and holes in the top and sides. Several boxes would be stacked on top of each other. These were all full of baby chicks. I loved to stick my finger in one of the holes in the side of a box and feel the fuzzy chick inside. Mama would always buy White Leghorn chickens. I think it was at least 100 baby chickens that she bought. The babies were all so fuzzy and bright yellow. Once in while there would be two or three that had a little black fuzz on them or even one that was all black. But when all of them grew they would have white feathers and yellow feet.

We kept these chicks in a small brooder house. There would be straw on the floor and one or two light bulbs, with a metal shade on top of it, hanging down from the low ceiling, close to the floor so the baby chicks could huddle under it to stay warm. Then food and water had to be put out for them twice a day. As the chicks grew and had feathers we could let them out of the brooder house during the day into a small fenced in area. In the evening we would go out and have to chase them back in to the brooder house for the night.
As they grew and became about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds in size the day would come when we spent the whole day dressing and cleaning chickens. Mama had a long wire with a hook on the end. She would go into the small fence area and use the hook to grab a chicken around the leg. We caught about 6 at a time. As Janice and I were standing there holding a chicken by the legs in each hand, mama would take a large sharp butcher knife and cut the head off of the chicken she was holding. She would just lie it on the ground and put its head under her foot and cut right through the neck. This never did seem to bother her or us. It was just part of things that we did on the farm.

After its head was cut off she would let go of it and jump back. It would start flopping all over the yard. After all of the heads were off we waited until they were done flopping and then go pick them up. Mama would go into the house and bring out a large bucket that had been filled half full of water and heated to boiling on the stove. Then she took a chicken, holding it by the feet, and dunked it into the hot water, swished it around a bit and took it out. She would hand it to Janice or me and we started pulling all of the feathers off of the chicken. We had to get them all off. Mama would always inspect them to be sure we had all of the feathers off.
Then we would carry it inside and holding it over a lit burner on our kitchen stove we singed all of the little hairs and a few furry feathers that were left on the chicken. But we still were not done! Now we had a huge bowl of water that we put the chicken in and with a sharp paring knife you scraped all of the skin of the chicken to clean off the singed hair and pull out any pin feathers that were still there. Again mama would have to inspect it to be sure it was clean enough and ready to be cut up.
This part was a little hard to do. Mama did most of them but as we got old enough she taught us how to cut up a chicken. It was done a certain way. Mainly so that you could cut through the joints instead of trying to cut through a bone. Also it divided up the chicken into certain pieces for eating. The chicken would then be put into a bag and placed into the freezer. We kept most of the chickens in the freezer to eat for the rest of the summer and through the winter.

The best part of this whole operation is that Janice and I got paid for helping!! We received 10 cents for picking the feathers off each chicken, and 10 cents for singeing and scraping a chicken. And when we were old enough to cut up a chicken we received 25 cents for each one we cut up!! It was a big pay day for us!!
Janice and I each usually did about 10 chickens in a day and mama would do lots more. All of the chickens would be cleaned and frozen within just 2 or 3 days.
I would sure enjoy having one of these small fresh chickens for dinner today! There is just nothing like it any more.