“About time you got here.”
I didn’t say anything as anything would have been considered sass and I breathed a sigh of relief when Aunt Frankie went on to the next person she had decided to use her tongue on.
“I told you,” Jude whispered to me in passing as he headed to the woodshed to chop more wood. “You’re taking your life in your hands.”
Aunt Frankie caught sight of him and said, “Boy, whatever you are up to you better get. I don’t have the patience for your confoundedness this morning.” Jude got; but by the shaking of his shoulders I could tell he was trying not to laugh. I don’t know how he can be such a stinker when he knows it is only going to get him into more trouble.
And he had good reason for a chuckle or two. Rochelle and Wendalene were there as well as River and Crystal and none of them looked the least bit ready to get down to the task before us. They all had butchering aprons on and galoshes but that was about as far as it went. Wendalene said sweetly, “Oh Dovie, why don’t you go first.”
I turned to my kids and said, “Paulie, Bobby, Lonnie … go help stack wood or whatever else needs doing. Tiff, can you corral Mimi and Corey with Taylor and Loretta and keep an eye on them? When they go down for their N – A – Ps you can come help me.”
I turned back and asked, “Aunt Frankie, which ones did you want to start with?”
“Girl, just pick one.”
I snorted silently and decided that I’d had enough and reached into the nearest chicken corral made out of squirrel fencing and pulled out the slowest hen by its feet, stepped away, and then wrung its neck. I turned to Wendalene and handed her the chicken. “I know how you hate having to chase after them so here. Now you can just go on and pluck it.”
Aunt Frankie let out a sudden cackle surprising all of us. To me she said, “Well it is about time. Now was that a lucky move or can you repeat it? This cold has my hands aching and I’ll be more than happy to turn the neck ringing over to someone else.”
And you can guess what I spent the morning doing. Of course I still consider that better than bleeding and plucking the birds so I counted myself blessed. I might not puke my guts up anymore when the smell of plucking chickens hits my nose but I can guarantee it will never be my favorite thing in life to do. First comes bleeding the chicken, then swishing the carcass in scalding water that has a little dish soap in it. After scalding you have to dunk it quickly in ice cold spring water to keep the skin from tearing as you pluck the feathers.
If we had had power we could have run an electric chicken plucker but since we didn’t that meant all the feathers had to be pulled off by hand and then a pinfeather knife had to be used to get the last of them so that every single one came off, even the little ones. After the plucking I consider the worst to be over but for others they think that it has just begun; that’s when the actual butchering starts.
You begin by cutting the head off. Then you have to separate the neck from the windpipe and crop which you have to cut and discard. You cut the neck off at the backbone and cut the legs off at the leg joint. Next you cut around the vent and pull out all the innards of the bird. Get the liver out next and separate it from the bile duct. Next comes the lungs, heart, and gizzard. The gizzard gets sliced open and cleaned out and then peeled and now is as good a time as any to peel the chicken feet as well. Going back to the carcass you cut the glands from the chicken tail and then scrape and clean the inside of the body cavity. After that it really is easy peasy lemon squeezy … you either leave the bird whole to roast or you cut it into parts.
Once a bird is slaughtered and plucked and gutted it shouldn’t take more than five minutes to cut it into parts if you have butcher knife that is worth anything. All the knives we were using were homemade from tip to handle; some of them were older than Uncle Roe. They may have been homemade but they were kept in tiptop shape and sharp doesn’t even come close to describing their edge … and they liked to cut anything that got in their way including fingers.
We butchered chickens all morning. None of us women were what you would call hungry for the noonday meal but everyone else was. Crystal had pretty much given out by midmorning and had been sent to watch the big cauldron of burgoo that was cooking … burgoo is basically just a mishmash of a lot of different things that gets cooked forever and then finally served after everyone is just about starving to death. Tiffany had helped Crystal, helped set the table and wrangled the little kids to help, and then helped in the clean up afterwards while the youngest kids were all down for a nap on the living room floor in front of the fireplace.
She came over to me and asked, “Is it all right if I keep helping Crystal?”
I looked at her as she dubiously watched the whole process of separating the various chicken parts out into piles. I tried not to smile as I had seen that very same look on my own face when I was her age. “Sure. That would will give us all a break from listening to her heave.”
Rochelle watched her jog back over to where the dishpans had been set up then looked at me and said, “She’s your shadow all right.” All I could do was smile. But it was also time to pick up the pace if we were ever going to finish before it got dark.
On another fire we dumped all of the peeled chicken feet, wings, backs, and necks into another big kettle, cold water, some chopped onions, chopped carrots, and chopped celery along with a cheesecloth bag of seasonings. This would be the light chicken stock. And on a third fire we started roasting chickens. As pans of birds would finish we took them off the heat, shred the meat off of them, and can it.
As the day wore on Aunt Frankie said, “Well I’m done with this roasting business, the boys are complaining that we’re using all the wood as fast as they can get it chopped. Take these bones and whatever feet and wings we have left and just dump ‘em in the big stock pot and we’ll make the dark broth … don’t forget to scrape in the drippings out of the pans. Which one of you can bone meat without cutting your own hand off?”
“I’ll do it Aunt Frankie, you did most of the plucking,” I said volunteering.
“Humph. Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to volunteer for nothing?” She sighed and eased back, rubbing her hands surreptitiously which said she was hurting more than she was letting on. “I’ll watch you do a bird or two ‘cause ‘Chellie don’t need any more work than she already has. If you pass inspection then you can go ahead … but you’ll need to be able to keep up.”
I wasn’t as fast as Aunt Frankie but she didn’t have any complaints that I was ruining the meat so I kept at it. I did have a hard time keeping up until they got the big pressure canner going – the one that holds nineteen quart jars at a time - and then I finally could slow down a little while the raw pack chicken meat was canned.
Aunt Frankie had held back a couple of roasted chickens and that’s what we had for supper as the last of the jars cooled on the kitchen table under towels to keep a cold breeze from hitting a jar and cracking it. Everyone was drooping but Uncle Roe made the best of it by saying, “Feels like a Sunday dinner with roasted chicken and vegetables all around. We are blessed to have so much when there are so many out there with so little.” Everyone agreed.
With all the women being able to pitch in the clean-up went much faster than it had at noon time. Paulie, Bobby and Lonnie, as well as Rochelle’s two boys Travis and Trent, were all duly praised for helping the men with the wood all day. Tiffany got her share of the spotlight as did Reba – Wendalene’s oldest – despite refusing to help the girls since she had to “help Poppa.” Mimi, Corey, Taylor (Rochelle’s youngest) and Loretta (Wendalene’s youngest) were simply too tired to care whether they were praised or not. It was getting late and I really didn’t blame them as I was more than a little tired myself.
Aunt Frankie told me, “As soon as we make sure all the jars seal I’ll divide ‘em and send your share up. Did you ever figure out what to do with all them eggs. I swear you would have thought Clewis and Jude were being ordered to do something at gun point just to cart ‘em to your place; ‘fraid they were going to break on the trip up.”
I told her about pickling several dozen and she said, “That’s a fine idea and I reckon I’ll do some that way as well … but not tonight. As for your idea of trying to figure out how to preserve them, those eggs wouldn’t work anyway; you have to use fresh laid eggs. You just give them a coat of mineral oil and then put them back in the egg crates and keep ‘em for a few extra weeks that way. Them I sent up are already getting a little long in the tooth as they’ve been in the cooler so the oiling is useless.”
“Oh. Well … that’s kinda disappointing. I was hoping to have fresh eggs for a while yet.”
She snorted, “Know the feeling. The hens were already slowing down for the change of seasons, reckon we’ll all learn what it is to want a fresh egg and not have any in the not too distant future.” She looked over my shoulder. “You better get. Jude’s got the little one in his arms and that Mimi looks like she’d be happy to snatch him out and take his place. She’s sure a pistol. You’d think Jude was her pap the way she carries on.”
I didn’t know what to say to that and a reply hadn’t really been required as Aunt Frankie spotted someone else to set straight and took off to do it.