Plucking Chickens and Living The Natural Life
“Safekeeping the Earth’s goods, preserving them for the future is an act of faith. Living the natural life is man’s pledge to be faithful to the Earth.” ~Grace Firth
One of the pleasures of living in a small town is that there is almost always an old sleepy public library not too far away and it is often within it that you will encounter the richest treasures. Nestled deep in the shelves you will find, old books that are no longer in print, the pages long ago yellowed, some of them dog eared and often marked with the thoughts or ideas of a previous reader. Entranced by their romanticism, I often fill my basket with several, to later bring home and marvel over in more detail later on.
Last week, while browsing the shelves in search of some canning books, I was delighted to have found an old book called, Living The Natural Life ~By Grace Firth (Published by Simon and Schuster in 1974). Skimming through the pages, I was immediately entranced with the writer’s whimsical recollections of her family’s own journey towards a more simple and self sustainable life style.
When the author, Grace Firth, her husband, and their 3 small children moved into the suburbs of Washington, D.C., they did so by building a cabin, by hand and with out the luxury of power tools, on 50 Acres of land. This endeavor readily drew them into a more natural way of living as they became familiar with and more in tuned to their land.
Full of techniques, memoirs, and directions, the book reads much like the heirloom oral histories passed on to us by our loved ones who not too long ago lived symbiotically with the land that sustained them. Nothing is wasted, nothing is taken for granted, and even the most simple things are to be savored and respected. Living The Natural Life includes suggestions for curing meat, sausage making, foraging for tea, home brewing, pickling, cheese making, potting food, canning, bread baking, dehydrating, nut preserving, candying fruit, and above all safe keeping the Earth for the future generation of all things.
One of my favorite passages in the book caused me to recall a recent dinner I had made during my father’s last visit. When asked what was for dinner, I casually mentioned to him that we would be having organic roasted chicken, potatoes and my southern style green beans. Laughing, my Dad recalled a time in his childhood, when his summers were spent visiting Portuguese relatives out on Rhode Island. A time when all chickens were organic and the first few lines of the recipe always included be-heading the chicken, hanging it from a clothes line, and plucking the feathers. On my mother’s side, my grandmother and great aunts all recall the same thing, but those memories have long ago been shelved, where they have gathered dust, their vivid details long ago faded into the past. Before reading the following passage I could never really envision it…
Yet, with Grace’s dynamic recollection of the task, I found my imagination was transported to a time and place when I did not yet exist, when my older relatives were once young and vibrant with life. For a moment, I could envision them ceasing from playing, as they observed with the curiosity of a child, just one thread of many that made up the quintessential fabric of the old fashioned life…
“My Grandmother had no patience for people or hens who did not do their job. If one of her hens fell down on the egg making job, Grandma potted her.
After carefully determining who was and who was not, laying, Grandma snatched the wayward hen from he roost at night and put the sleepy creature in a crate. The following morning she heated a tea kettle of water to boiling and, armed with a hatchet, marched to the killing spot between the garages. There she poured the hot water into a five-gallon can, grabbed the hen, slipped it’s head between two upright nails in the chopping block, stretched it’s neck and whop! With one motion, she half-hitched a short rope around one of the chicken’s legs, and hung the bird upside down against the garage, holding the neck for a minute so there would be no splatter. Next, she submerged the chicken into the hot water for one minute , then rehung the wet bird by one foot and plucked it’s feathers, starting at it’s legs and plucking downward towards the neck. Clean breast feathers were tucked into a burlap sack nearby (for pillow stuffing) and the old tough feathers went into a bag for disposal. From time to time she rinsed her hands in water because feathers stick like crazy, After pulling out any pin feathers with a blunt knife, Grandma washed the feet and brought the plucked hen to the kitchen to singe off the hairs over the cook-stove fire.
Next she drew the bird, first slitting the skin from the breast-bone to vent and cutting around the vent. Then inserting her hand into the cavity along the inside of the rib cage, she pulled out the innards. Carefully, Grandma removed the gizzard, heart, and liver and gut the greenish gall sack away from the liver. She removed lungs and the she reached way in, to the base of the bird’s neck, for the craw. Taking a turn around the windpipe with her index finger, she gingerly withdrew the craw and pipes. The hen was then ready to pot.” ~Grace Firth
Living The Natural Life is full of memoirs such as this one and is a wonderful read for anyone interested in learning more about living harmoniously with their environment. It is also a strong reminder of the importance of not only preserving the Earth’s bounty with care, but being sure to uphold it’s natural course while continually replenishing it for those who will day inherit it.
Unfortunately, Living The Natural Life, by Grace Firth is no longer in print, but I was able to locate a few copies through http://www.amazon.com/ Of course, you may always wander into your own local library and see if it is there. Even if you don’t find this particular book, I have no doubt that you may another one that is every bit as good, if not better…