OLD TIMERS PREFER IT FRIED
Some morning in late summer, when the crops are laid by, an old horse-drawn conveyance or a rattling Model T turns into the drive and stops about halfway between the house and the barn. A few old adults and a number of kids jump out and come skipping toward the house. We’ve got company for the day!
While the greetings, hugging and hellos were in progress I looked the visiting kids over carefully. It was obvious there was no one in my age bracket so I took my share of “long time no see!” greetings and listened for what I knew I would soon hear. “Norris,” my mother would say to me, “we will need about three chickens. See what you can do.”
There are several methods employed in catching half-grown open range chickens. If it is before daylight and the flock is still on the roost it is only necessary to walk in and pick off the ones you want. If the group is already up and waiting for breakfast a heavy twisted wire, with a narrow, tapered loop on the end, will enable you to reach out and snatch your choice by hooking the tapered end over the chick’s leg and reeling it in like you would a fish on a line. A handful of oats, barley or any other grain will bring a group within reach of your hook.
If breakfast is over and the group is out hunting bugs, worms and other goodies for dessert the capturing becomes a little more difficult. You could probably call them in for a snack, but this might cause them to expect it every day and they would waste valuable time that could be used for browsing for worms.
For this situation I usually took my .22 rifle and went on a chicken hunting venture. Although my mother disagreed with this method, she insisted that the shot be through the head, and that the head be removed at once. If the chicken were captured peacefully there were two general methods of killing the bird that were in general use. In the first, and preferred, method the chicken was taken gently by the neck and, holding firmly to the neck and head, the chicken’s body was rotated until it was dislodged from the head. The chicken’s reflexes caused it to jump about for a while, but it was obvious that it was dead. The other method was to hold the body by the feet with the head on a chopping block and cut the head off with a hatchet or other sharp implement.
When the chicken is completely dead and most of the blood has been spread out over the ground by the jumping and kicking, the body is held by the legs and swished about in a container of very hot water – a few degrees below the boiling point. The feathers are tested occasionally until they are easily pulled from the body. All feathers are then pulled out and placed in a large cloth sack for further use as filling for a pillow or mattress. The entrée is then ready for the butcher. There was one small task to perform before the chicken was ready for the knife. The cook removed one of the top caps on the stove and poured a little kerosene on the fire. This brought flame from the fire eight or ten inches from the top and provided plenty of fire to singe away any tiny pin feathers that had been too small to get caught in the first plucking. Some cooks used pine shavings for the quick and hot flame. The chicken was now ready to dress and fry!
On one occasion similar to this I caught a nice old hen for my mother and was in the process of killing it. I was on the west side of the smoke house and was ready to wring the neck as required. I held the old hen by the legs and neck and quickly began turning the body over and over while holding the neck. The weight of the bird caused the cranking to be brief and as the body was flung away from the neck and head it hit the ground rolling, jumping and violently kicking, flinging blood in all directions.
At this moment Clifton walked from around the building and the chicken did a wild dance between his legs, spraying blood over his bare feet and pants legs and seriously scaring him. He started using inappropriate language and I couldn’t keep from laughing, I thought it was funny. Clifton didn't think so. His sense of humor later improved, but he always laughed louder and longer if the victim were someone else!