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Texas : Features : Music : "Words and Music"

Simpler Times
and Fried Chicken

by Dorothy Hamm
Three or more lanes of traffic traveling in each direction, drivers talking on cell phones, cruise controls set ten miles over posted speed limits, rushing always rushing, going to work, picking up the kids, dropping off kids, school, soccer, little league, dance recitals, choir practice, it never seems to stop. Everyone is in a hurry to be somewhere else. Everything, it seems, is computerized. We have call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling and telephone tag on the answering machine. No one can get by without a Day Planner or PDA. Sometimes it all gets to be too much. Sometimes a person just wishes they could go back to simpler times.

Simple, according to the dictionary refers to something that is easy, or uncomplicated, effortless or plain. Canít blame anyone for wanting that! But were things really all that simple, back before computers and microwaves and cell phones? Were simpler times all that simple?

Take something really simple like fried chicken. If I want fried chicken today, I can drive by a restaurant and pick up a box or bucket of crispy chicken, fried and ready to eat. It takes about five minutes. I can even get in bite size pieces with the bones removed. If I opt to cook the chicken myself I reach in the home freezer and take out a whole, dressed or cut up chicken. I place it on the kitchen counter for a few hours to thaw, then I, oh everyone knows how to fry a chicken donít they? Throw the chicken in a bag with some salt, pepper and flour, turn a button on the stove, get a skillet, add some oil and Iím on my way to what was, in simpler times, Sunday dinner.

When I was young girl, if we wanted fried chicken at our house, we first had to grow the chicken. This took a couple of months or more. When a chicken was mature enough to invite to dinner the procedure went something like the following:
Draw several buckets of water from the well and fill *wash pot. (*A wash pot was a large cast iron kettle used for many purposes, including: heating water to bathe in, washing clothes, rendering fat when killing hogs, and making lye soap.)

Using an axe, split some wood and kindling. Place kindling beneath the wash pot and when it is burning add larger pieces of wood. When the fire burning go to next step.

You must catch a chicken. This may not be as easy as it sounds. They are faster than they look and are accustomed to running around the barn yard all day chasing grasshoppers and other insects. And they can fly for short distances when sufficiently motivated.

Once you have a chicken securely in hand, wring its neck or chop off its head. After which, toss it on the ground until it stops trying to fly. If you opted to wring its neck, and after flopping around on the ground for awhile, the chicken jumps up and runs away, go back to step three. When you are certain the chicken hasÖuhÖpassed away, it is time to check the water temperature in the wash pot.

When the water is steaming, near the boiling point, submerge the chicken in the hot water for a few minutes. This makes the feathers smell very bad and was, to my childís mind, the only reason for this step of the procedure.

As quickly as possible pluck the steamy, bad-smelling feathers from the chicken. (You may want to save the soft breast feathers to make pillows or feather mattresses.)

Rake some hot coals away from the wash pot. Wave chicken back and forth over the coals to singe away pin feathers. What are pin feathers? Look, just do it.

Take a sharp knife and cut chicken open and remove the innards. (And you thought wet steamy feathers smelled bad?)

Now draw a bucket of cool water from the well and thoroughly wash the chicken.

Build a fire in the cook stove (kitchen range). If you do not have wood refer back to the first part of step Two.

Place a skillet on the stove and add about a cup of lard which you rendered from the fatty parts of the last hog you killed.
By now you almost have fried chicken. If you would also like some mashed potatoes, I hope you remembered to plant some last spring (by the dark of the moon of course.) Now, simply peel, boil and mash them. Gravy? Did you remember to milk the cow?

Milking is actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it. And you only have to do it twice a day.

If you have flour you can make biscuits. They go well with fried chicken and gravy. A peach cobbler might be nice for dessert.


How To Make A Peach Cobbler:
1. First, you will need to plant a peach treeÖ
© Dorothy Hamm
"Words and Music" Column
- October 13, 2005 column

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