When I was a child Sunday was the day we ate fried chicken. After a week of beans, fried potatoes, macaroni and cheese, bologna, and hamburger “casseroles”, the crispy fried skin and juicy white meat of a chicken was a welcome treat. However…it was also a lot of work. Chickens were not something purchased at the store. They were raised in the yard.
My dad usually killed our Sunday chicken, but Mom was the one responsible for cleaning and cooking it. Of course that meant plucking the feathers, cutting off the feet, removing the insides, and cutting up the parts to be cooked.
I don’t recall when I first learned to pluck the feathers from a chicken, but I do remember standing on a chair so that I could watch mother’s hands. She was quick and efficient. Most people don’t realize that a chicken has to be plunged into scalding hot water before the feathers can be removed. So the task can be dangerous and uncomfortable if not done correctly. And of course it’s quite tedious. Chickens have lots of feathers!
Next the bird had to be gutted. I’ll spare you the details, but needless to say it can be quite a messy task. And we won’t even discuss the smell! Once all the extra parts were gone the bird was washed and refrigerated. Mom usually waited until she was ready to cook a chicken before she cut it into parts. And it took several lessons before I was proficient at it.
After I married I became a lazy cook. I bought whole chickens at the supermarket and cut them up for Sunday dinner. Of course by then my grandmother and mother were doing the same. Dad occasionally complained about not having a “fresh” chicken, but his complaints were unanimously ignored.
After we had children I opted for packaged parts, usually thighs or legs because they were cheap. Only special occasions warranted chicken breasts. My grandmother, living alone, usually ate her Sunday fried chicken from a metal tray cooked in the oven. The “TV dinner” was one of the mainstays of her diet. However, “chicken in a bucket” was her choice anytime she had company. The colonel was one of her favorite people!
Nowadays I doubt there are many people who kill their own chickens for the Sunday table. I know several women who have never cut up a whole chicken. I’ve even encountered children who don’t know that chickens have bones. They’ve never eaten anything except chicken “nuggets”! I’m not sure that a nugget qualifies as real chicken, or even real food.
You may also wonder if the gigantic chickens we see today are real, but contrary to popular fears, the use of hormones is banned in poultry. It’s actually selective breeding that has given us the huge birds. The average chicken raised in the fifties only weighed two pounds, while modern chickens may weigh up to nine pounds. The industry says there is nothing to fear from a bigger, better product. Still, I have my own concerns about diseases, antibiotics, processing, etc.
If your Sunday chicken came from a restaurant you should probably do a quick Google search so you can be shocked and amazed by how much salt and fat you unknowingly consumed. I checked the nutrition facts for a fried chicken breast and found calorie counts ranging from 320 to 560, fat from 16 to 37g, and sodium from 840 to 1,100. I know Mom fried her chicken in Crisco, but I don’t think she rolled it in salt first!
We talk a lot about changes in culture and advances in technology, but it occurs to me that the chicken on our plates today is also evidence of the evolution of our lifestyles…from necessary self-reliance to convenience at any cost, even our own health.