Good-bye Amelia, you were a good hen.
(If you are squeamish, you may not want to read any further.)
Yes, it has happened again. (Please don’t tell my sister) We had to have another of our hens butchered. But not for the previous reasons. Some reasons we have had hens butchered was because they had become egg eating, butt kicking, non-laying, nasty she-hens from hell. They deserved it! They still got us back at the very end by being tough and chewy.
But this case is just plain sad. Amelia, who we renamed Amelia Pond because Phil found her at a pond and we love Dr. Who, was very young still.
She was found at the park just at the age when she would start laying eggs. So son and girlfriend went out and caught her. He built her a separate cage to isolate her until we were sure she was healthy. Then we put her in with the flock. She was picked on a bit at first, until they established their pecking order, but they all got on in the end and she started laying eggs for us! Which is all we are asking of them anyway. It’s not like I expect them to do laundry too.
Unfortunately, she had what is delicately called a ‘prolapse’ or as son renamed her, ‘bloody butt’. We were grossed out at first to see this large bloody organ protruding from her. We thought she had been attacked or something. But no, it’s just one of those things that can happen to a hen.
We were especially grossed out later when we tried to save her. I will spare you the details, but I am scarred for life. Anyhow, we did try to save her. But after a few days we realized we were just not chicken vet material and she was suffering. She would never lay again and the other hens would never leave her be. So we did it. As they say in “Chicken Run”, she ‘went on holiday’.
We are fortunate to have a butchering place very close to here, considering we live in the metropolitan area of Orange County. This place is interesting too. When you walk in, there is one glass wall and behind it are crates and crates of every kind of bird you can eat. Chickens, ducks, pigeons, pheasants, Cornish hens and so on. I mean, I feel very sorry for them, being caged up, waiting to be picked out for someone’s dinner. But then I notice that those hens they have are huge! They seem to be bigger than ours. What on earth do they feed them?
So I took poor Amelia to the “place” in a cage and dropped her off with a young, blue-eyed man with a Russian accent. I asked this time if they could, um, remove the head. The last two times we have had this done, I have had to look her in her dead, glassy eyes and chop off the heads myself. You can imagine this is not my favorite thing to do.
And the feet! They leave on those big yellow, claw feet. Those are hard to get off too.
So he said he would.
Well, I am here to tell you, either they gave me the wrong bird or he flat-out lied to me. Because when I took it out of the fridge the next day to make broth, there was her head! There were her yellow claws! At least this time they were tucked in so I could fit them in the pan. Last time the legs wouldn’t bend and it was like trying to stick an inflexible rubber hen in a pot. The neck stuck out, the feet stuck out, sheesh!
This time it fit into the pan better. But how did I know it was the right chicken?
First off, I did see some black feather remnants. (She was a black feathered hen).
Then, she was smaller than the hens they had.
The fat around the organs they gave us back was a deep yellow, which means she was an outdoor bird, getting grass and sunshine.
So I think it was our Amelia. Which makes Russian dude a liar-face.
There are some other things I noticed about this hen that differentiates her from a store bought hen, other than having the claw feet and head still attached.
Keeping in mind she was still young, less than a year old and more like 7-8 months, I could barely cut her up! Her bones where very strong and so where the tendons. She was very healthy in this respect. But when I finally got to put her in the pot and simmer her in water (with an onion and a cut up carrot, salt and pepper), she was fall off the bone tender in just a couple of hours. Unlike the other hens that needed all day in a crock pot.
Another interesting thing is the dark meat. It is so very dark. So are the organs. Store bought chickens dark meat are a shade or two darker than the light meat. But this stuff was very dark. I don’t know if this was because of her particular breed or just the living outside thing. I expect it will taste stronger too. But then I expect her to actually have taste.
So anyway, I simmered her for a couple of hours. Then took the chicken out and after it cooled, pulled the meat off the bones. Back into the broth went the bones (claw feet and all) and it simmered for a few more hours until I felt all the minerals were pulled out into the broth. Plus I wanted to hit the sack.
Then it all went into the fridge for another day.
I have to say, this broth, once pulled out of the fridge, was not as fatty as I thought it would be. And it was like Jell-O, all wiggly and gelatinous. Perfect! That’s what you want in a broth anyway, the minerals and gelatin. This stuff will kick any germs butts from here to kingdom come! It will have a silky smooth feel and taste wonderful.
“So”, I think to myself, “This is how people always used to get their chickens. They had to deal with claws and heads. They still do this in many parts of the world. Probably not the parts I want to live in, but still.”
Yet, I am a bit squeamish. There is something still a little wild and unpredictable about eating a hen that was once roaming your back yard. Not like she was a dear pet. These hens are adorable, but still farm animals. I don’t know. I hope the others will eat hearty and not push the bowl of soup away and refuse to ‘eat Amelia’. I am not sure I can.