BY CURT SWARM
PCC GUEST COLUMNIST
A vivid memory of my grandmother: we showed up at her house on a Sunday afternoon unannounced. That’s what you did back then. You didn’t call ahead, that would have meant a long-distance phone call. You just showed up. As we walked in the front door, Grandma ran out the back, grabbed up a hen, wrung it’s neck, and proceeded to pluck it.
Grandpa did the gut’n. I watched him sharpen a knife on a whetstone, spitting on it as he sharpened the blade in a circular motion. He would hold the knife up to the light and inspect the blade. He showed me how you could see a dull spot on the edge reflected in the light. When the knife was sharp enough to shave hair from his wrist, dry, he was ready. He carefully made an incision and pulled out the guts. Lo-and-behold, what did he find, but a grapevine assortment of eggs being readied for laying! One of the eggs, a nice brown one, was perfect. He rinsed it off and gave it to Grandma. She put it in an egg carton with other brown eggs. Grandpa had fried eggs every morning for breakfast. Such a vivid memory! Roast chicken followed, with fresh garden tomatoes and sweetcorn. It doesn’t get any better’n that.
Growing up at Maple Hill in Monroe we always had chickens, a pig and a calf, as well as a humongous garden. One year my mother ordered a hundred fryers and a few hens from Hy-Line Chicks. They arrived at the post office in a cardboard box with holes in the side. The post master, Corny Hugan, handed them through the window like he was the father. How exciting! We started the chicks off in the house, in a room in the basement, under a heat lamp. The straw we laid down for bedding was almost too much for the baby chicks to surmount. To be able to distinguish the roosters from the hens, Mother put a tight, hair-dressing rubber band around the roosters’ leg.
We were upstairs watching television one night, a black and white RCA Victor. My mother stood up, turned the television down and shushed us with the wave of her hand. She was listening to something. I couldn’t hear a thing. She rushed down into the basement to discover that the baby roosters had grown so fast that the rubber bands were cutting off circulation to their legs. They were letting out these high-pitched yelps. We removed the rubber bands and the chicks settled right down. Another vivid memory.
Ginnie plucks chickens down on the farm Wanting to duplicate this farm experience as an adult, I talked Ginnie into letting me buy a dozen hen chicks and a dozen fryers. The fryers are hybrid Cornish cross roosters. Well, they grew so fast that they really got too big. At six weeks, they were so big that they could hardly walk. They just laid in front of the feeder and ate.
Ginnie and I test butchered two to get our procedure down. One weighed five-and-a-half pounds dressed. We fried it up and it was too tough. It sure made good chicken salad, though.
On the 4th of July (Ginnie’s day off), we butchered the rest, leaving them whole and freezing them in two-gallon bags. They should make good roasters, we’re hoping. Live and learn. I’m not sure there’s going to be another year of baby chicks. It’s an awful lot of work, and the super market is so close.
The hens are enjoying the freedom of the chicken house sans the bully roosters. They’re brown hens and we should be enjoying farm fresh brown eggs in the near future. (I know, I know, eggs are only 38 cents a dozen at the supermarket.) I don’t think I could butcher a hen, they’re way too cute. I had Ginnie feed them some bread crumbs. She held a chunk of bread in her hand and they snatched it right out of her fingers. Yep, way too cute.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Facebook. Curt’s stories are also read at 107.3 FM in Farmington.