Monday, June 25, 2007

Food for thought uses no calories

Yesterday, I finished the last of my quartered chicken breast. I bought it already deboned and skinned, brought it home, dipped the meat in bottled lemon juice, drizzled a little teriyaki sauce over it,powdered it liberally with garlic, and simmered in a little chicken broth made with Wyler's bouillon granules. I scrubbed a large potato, cut it in half and stored one-half in a plastic bag for another meal and refrigerated it. Then I nuked the other half. cut it up and seasoned with sour cream and chopped green onions. Sliced one of the vine ripened tomatoes a friend gave me. Great meal. No effort, and as I finished it, I laughed to myself. I'm sure others have said it first, but I thought this my ownself and amused me. When I was growing up, we almost always ate the chicken skin and we peeled the potatoes. Times have changed.

When I was a girl, dad would buy about two dozen baby chicks from the feed store in March and bring them home to the incubator set up in the shed. A light bulb behind a cloth curtain in the back half of the incubator provided warmth, and the baby chicks would crowd in together behind the curtain and snuggle down. They were so cute. I loved to watch them drink. Make no mistake about it--cute as they were, I realized most of them sooner or later were going to be Dinner. By the end of May, maybe earlier, they would have grown to be pullets. Pullets are the small, half-grown chickens that make the best fried chicken. A baking hen is just that; you don't fry a big chicken. (But now we fry turkeys. Weird, that.) So summertime was fried chicken time. As usual, Dad would heat his galvanized bucket full of water on the stove then carry it out to the the chicken pen. A long wire with a hook on one end would snare his choice by the leg. A sharp hatchet decapitated it, and he drained the blood into the feed. (Chickens really like chicken blood.) He would douse the carcass in the hot water. Then it was my job to help him pull all the wet feathers off. There are many worse smells than wet chicken feathers, but they do not smell good. I was used to it, and we made short work of the plucking. Then back to the house, where Mom laid out newspapers on the counter, sliced the chicken open and removed the organs, setting the liver aside and handing me the lungs to feed the cats.(Cats love raw chicken lungs.) Then she soaked the chicken in salted water, refrigerated it overnight if cooking the next day. Jointed the chicken, dipped the pieces first in milk, then seasoned flour and fried the chicken in a mixture of bacon grease and Crisco. Frying chicken smells great. Compare the two meal preparation stories.

No wonder Americans are getting fatter. All three of us expended some calories for the privelege of eating that chicken. Once the chickens outgrew pullet size, we didn't fry them any more till the next year. We occasionally ate fried chicken when we went out to eat, or at church suppers when someone else brought store-boughten chicken they had fried.

After that,at my house, it was baking hens. Sometimes the hen would hold 2-3 developing eggs that hadn't yet been laid. Just the yolks, really, each the size of a jawbreaker. I loved those baked yolks as a special treat.

I like to read old recipes, where they instruct, "take a lump of butter the size of a hen egg...." or the old punch recipes before sodas were invented and the main ingredient was tea, flavored with various juices and sometimes spices, mints and sugar. The stoves didn't have thermostats, so instructions would recommend a hot oven, a moderate oven, a temperate one. No doubt about it, good cooking was a lot harder.

I remember the game of 20 Questions, and we would ask, "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" and we all knew what one was. When I was a girl, we had one. I didn't use one when rearing my boys, and I doubt my granddaughters have ever seen one. When I was packing up my 80 years-plus grandmother's kitchen, we found several kitchen implements we could only guess the use for. One puzzler for the future might be the meat grinder. I regret the demise of meat grinders which clamped on the edge of the counter, and you could make the best pimiento cheese, or turkey salad with ground meat. Sure. Food processors. Very nice. Can do more. Are electric. Modern kitchens are not made with counters where you can clamp anything. I miss my meat grinder. I don't necessarily WANNA do all this other stuff.

Like the ink bottle with the little inkwell in it where I filled my fountain pen every day through seventh or eighth grades, we have items we use today that our children will someday look at and say, "what's that? what did you use it for?" We have routines and customs we take for granted that are already changing, that in 10 years we will say, "Oh, yeh, I remember that."

Meanwhile, getting food to my mouth is virtually no effort, and I am one of those fatter Americans. (sigh) so I guess I better get to the gym. Gotta work off some calories somewhere. And I'll continue to peel my chicken, not the potatoes.


Matt G said...

About your post labels-- You plan on writing another post on "How to kill and prepare a chicken"?

Heh. That's some specificity in post-grouping, right there....

Babs RN said...

I love it. I really wish we could go back to those days. We miss something special in these days of convenient consumption. My dream is to have a completely self-sufficient ranch/farm and just live off the land. We'd all be healthier if we could do that.

Still, my creamed corn uses up hundreds of calories in its preparation - from the shucking and cleaning all the way down to the creaming of at least a couple of bushels a year. And it, too, is a family activity.