My mother raised chickens in our backyard. Not pets. Not rescued fowl. She had two purposes for tending her chickens with extreme care―eggs and meat. She chose laying hens with the best production record and brooding hens who mothered their chicks. She nourished them from hatchlings in the nest for their ultimate destiny of fried chicken, chicken and dressing, or Depression Chicken ’n Dumplin’s.
Mama raised cage-free chickens before the term became well-known. The wire pen measured as wide as the metal T-end posts that held three rows of clothes lines stretched end to end beside the grapevines and raspberry canes. The fence was eight feet high with an open top. The attached chicken coop was roomy with straw-filled nests and warming lights for the setting hens and wood strips nailed to wide boards for the chickens to climb to roost.
The white Leghorns whose only duty was to produce eggs (white eggs, of course) were a flighty, nervous bunch. From baby chicks purchased from the feed store, to pullets, to fryers, to boiling hens, their eventual destiny was the kitchen stove. Mama replaced them with Rhode Island Reds and black-and-white Dominique hens that were at ease laying and brooding. The plus side was the exchange of tranquility for two dozen fewer eggs a year. Mama was pleased because she preferred brown eggs and the additional two pounds of flesh to can in jars for winter meals. Even the rooster preferred the colorful chickens which produced more chicks.
This evening I made my healthy version of Mama’s rolled flour dumplings substituting organic white breast meat and sodium-free chicken broth from the grocer for the heavy fat, skin-on boiling hen straight from the backyard. Without a doubt, Mama’s choice of a fat Leghorn boiled whole with skin was an unhealthy choice, but the recipe was a winner.