Turning chickens into food
by Harriet from Australia
Back in the 1980s when we lived on the land we had very little money. We used to purchase end of lay hens for $1 each and would kill and dress them so we could afford to eat chicken twice weekly. These old chooks were tough so needed long cooking as a stew or cooking them in a pressure cooker, but they were a valuable source of protein for our hard up family of six and the price was about a third of what they would have cost already dressed.
In the first season killing and dressing the chickens was a long drawn out affair over weeks. In the second and subsequent years we set up an assembly/disassembly line. First we had the chickens in boxes ready to kill. These were alongside a scaffold which had 10 cones in two rows of five. When my husband wrung their necks he put them upside down in the cones with the heads through the bottom until they stopped moving. From there I picked them out and dunked them into boiling water in the old copper that our forebears used to heat water and wash clothes in. I held on to their feet as I dipped them in the water. Then onto the plucking table where I started on their wings, down their legs onto the chests and worked around to the back. The hot water loosened the feathers. Sometimes they needed an extra dunk in the boiling water, but I was careful not to start it cooking as that meant the skin would tear as I pulled the feathers out. The feathers were swept into a bucket which was then buried deep in the compost.
After defeathering the animal went to the gutting table where my husband cut off the head and feet and took out the guts and any half developed eggs. A quick wash and the chook went into a plastic bag and into the fridge.
We set things up so we could deal with 25 chickens before breakfast, 25 before morning tea, 25 before lunch and 25 before afternoon tea. Then we cleaned up before dinner. 100 killed, plucked, gutted and into the freezer before night fall with all the tidying up done. Ideally the animals would have been hung for a couple of days to tenderize but we didn’t have the facilities for that and with the heavy fly population it was better that they were first refrigerated and then frozen as fast as possible. However by the time we had done the first 25 the amount of time they had in the refrigerator was minimal. Both fridge and freezer worked overtime that day and night. We ate egg yolks for the next three days and chicken twice a week for the next year.
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