Monday, February 22, 2010

Real Old-fashioned Fried Chicken

This is a guest post from my dear friend, Lois Phelps. We share many things in common, especially being raised on farms and the memories we have from favorite foods and family dinners. I hope you enjoy her story!

I wasn’t very old when Grandma Ponton taught me how to kill and dress chickens. My grandmother was a petite woman who dressed in a cotton housedress, covered by an apron most likely made from a feed sack with nylon hose and dress shoes but come chicken killing day, she belied her image and became a killer.

In the chicken yard, Grandma chased the chicken with a wire bent with a hook on the end. It didn’t take many attempts for her to land her quarry. She stretched the chicken or rooster’s neck over an exposed tree root and chopped its head off. I know from experience what “like a chicken with his head cut off” looks like. I still remember how long it sometimes took for that dancing, headless chicken to die. Occasionally, Grandma didn’t completely chop through the neck and the chicken would run around with their head flopping around. One old rooster lived quite some time with his head partially cut off. We would pile those dead chickens in pails and carry them down the stairs to Grandma Ponton’s basement.

Next came dunking the dead chicken in boiling hot water so that the feathers could be pulled off. What an odor that made! There was fuzz left so we would light a rolled up newspaper and hold the paper in one hand and the chicken in the other to singe the remaining feathers. You had to be close to a bucket of water to put that burning paper into or you got burned.. There were pin feathers left buried in the skin. We would take a paring knife and push on the bottom of the feather to push them out of the follicles. Occasionally, we would squeeze them just like you would a pimple to remove them. Then came the most fun of all……pulling out the guts of the chicken. I seem to recall doing it from the rear.

You had to cut the heart, liver and gizzard free of the entrails as they were good eating. And you would cut those feet off up to the leg, pull the tough yellow skin off and cook them for broth. It was not unusual for homemade noodles to be served with the chicken feet in them. After you ate the noodles, you picked up those feet and ate the meat off the bones. I still remember how Grandma Ponton taught me to cut up a chicken so occasionally I will buy the whole chicken to cut it myself. Today’s butchers cut up the chicken with an electric saw which is definitely not the same.
My dad loved fried chicken but Mother wouldn’t even eat from a fork that had been in chicken so this job fell to me at a young age.

My grandmothers taught me to fry chicken dredged in flour and the shortening must be lard. There was no need to tell me to use a cast iron skillet because that is all we had. The chicken did cook with a very crispy coating as I recall. My dad would always get the gizzard; we kids knew better than to even ask. His next favorite pieces were the back and the neck. I think he liked to pick out the meat in these bony pieces. Today, we don't even get the neck of the chicken. And who cooks the liver, heart and gizzard! As for putting chicken feet in noodles, my grandchildren would take one look and pronounce it disgusting.

Okay, who is ready for some REAL fried chicken? What are some of your own favorite food memories? I'd love to hear about them.


Karen said...

Wow, what an accurate account of the process I witnessed in Nebraska as a child. I could certainly SMELL the boiling water and SEE the chicken with its head off. And I could TASTE a crispy friend chicken leg, too! Thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth (Beth) LaMie said...

What a great way to comment on this blog by using the senses that you remember! They make it so much more real.

For me, whenever I smell wet feathers or even a wet dog, I am transported back to the farm and my childhood.