Guest Contributor – War Pig – The Chicken Story

In addition to his other occupations, War Pig is a gifted story teller and that is an honorable profession.  —  photog

 

Since people seem to like my stories of life pre-1980, here is one from my callow youth.

Another tale from my youth.

When I was quite young, in the middle nineteen-fifties, I went out to watch my paternal grandmother catch, kill and clean a chicken for supper. It was my first time watching. I helped her catch a fat, old hen (her chickens were all free range, plus they got feed). She took it up and with her dangerously sharp butcher knife, she beheaded it in one fell swoop. That didn’t bother me. What got me is that the headless chicken was set down to run and pump out the blood. Chickens can run for an amazingly long time without a head.

Well, the chicken, by chance, came straight at me, spraying blood. That was too much for my young mind and I took off screaming bloody murder while the chicken followed me. I ran to the fence and climbed up the post and perched there, crying, while the headless chicken finished its act of terror by flopping on the ground, spurting blood. Mamaw was laughing so hard she could hardly bend over to pick up the chicken, tie the legs together and hang it on a hook on the side of the shed to finish bleeding out.

She eventually coaxed me off the post and to come and watch the rest of the operation. It didn’t help that the chicken’s head was still apparently alive, it’s beak moving as if to curse the both of us. I stood behind mamaw, putting her between me and the soulless fowl. She heated up a wash pan of water to boiling over a small gas burner, then took down the chicken’s body and drenched it in the scalding water. With a gloved hand she removed most of the feathers then used a small paring knife to pull the “blood quills”. She opened the chicken, keeping the heart, liver, gizzard and egg sack (the egg sack is what mamaw kept for herself, papaw got the rest) and throwing the rest of the offal, and the head, to the farm dogs and cats. A cat grabbed the head and ran off with it.

She then went inside and cut up the chicken. Mamaw had likely cut up hundreds, if not thousands of chickens and she took less than a minute to do it. Her butcher knife had been made for her by papaw from an old truck leaf spring and boot heel leather for handle scales. It was scary sharp. It seemed she just waved the knife over the chicken and it fell apart into the bowl. She then filled the bowl with water, added salt and set it in the fridge to brine. She put the back into the freezer for making chicken stock. She changed the water twice to get rid of leftover blood. Later, she put the chicken into buttermilk and let it set for two hours until time to cook supper. She got it out of the buttermilk, dredged it in flour, waited until the coating softened, then dredged it in flour again and fried it in lard. Better tasting chicken you never ate.

The brining and changing the water drew all the blood from the meat so mamaw’s chicken was always clean down to the bone, none of the red nonsense you see by the bones in restaurant chicken today. The buttermilk does something magical to the meat and frying it in real leaf lard imparts a flavor vegetable oils or shortening cannot match.

As she set the table, she told papaw the story and he almost choked laughing so hard. I got a wing and a drumstick all to myself to go with the mashed potatoes and fresh chicken gravy, made from the fond, melted lard/chicken fat and leftover bits in the pan and considered myself a lucky boy.