Luck and Pluck
Question: Why would a modern woman cross the road to go to a Kosher Chicken Shechita?
Answer: To get to the other side. With feet.
I knew the Hazon conference was happening in Monterey in late December, and briefly considered going. Hazon is a good organization, dedicated to producing sustainable, organic, Kosher food. I agree with that. I grow some of my own produce, and I sold organic fertilizer and seeds for years. I’ve taken a lot of horticulture classes, and even taught a few. But I decided not to go to the conference. Then I got this email:
Chicken Shechita at Green Oaks Creek Farm:
For a first-hand experience in producing sustainable kosher meat -- and the opportunity to take home one or more delicious, pasture-raised, kosher chickens -- join us the day before the conference on Wednesday, December 23.
I signed up. Why?
* I wanted delicious, pasture-raised, kosher chickens that were not wrapped in plastic... I hadn’t had one since 1970, when we moved away from the Bronx.
*Green Oaks Creek farm was less than an hour from my house.
*Solidarity with my foremothers, who ‘flicked’ (plucked) their own chickens.
*Chicken feet. I had not seen kosher chicken feet since 1970, either. My mother always sighed after them, claiming she missed their flavor in her chicken fricassee.
December 23rd was a perfect day to be outside, no matter what you were doing. The sky was clear and blue, and the temperature was in the low 60s. (Yes, I love California.). We gathered at the farm, and Roger Studley, the employee of Hazon who organized the event, had us all introduce ourselves, and name our favorite chicken parts, to break the ice. The shochet, his wife, the mashgiach had all come from New York, they were very happy with the weather. They liked thighs, wings, and grivenes, respectively. Caleb Barron, the farmer who raised the chickens, apologized that there were only 45 chickens to process that day instead of 90—a weasel had gotten into a pen and killed 45 two days before. Caleb liked drumsticks. We went around the group of about 20.
“I’m Avi, and I like skin.”
“I’m Ben, and I like schnitzel.” (That was a teenaged boy, who did not know what part of the chicken the schnitzel came from.)
“I’m Preeva, and I like wings.”
And we all went around like that. Then a man in a navy sweatshirt spoke up:
“I’m Paul, I’m a vegan, and I don’t objectify chickens.”
Then we got on with the Shechita. I dove into the chicken pens, low structures which were moved around the farm twice a day so the chickens always had fresh grass and bugs to eat, and grabbed the chickens and put them into cages to carry to the shechting station.
The shochet said the blessing for Shechita, and sprinkled some dirt into the tray that the chickens would bleed into, and said a blessing over that. Then, while we held the birds firmly upside down, the shochet slit their throats. It was all very peaceful.
Plucking was the hardest work. Starting with the feathers on the legs, you grab a handful of feathers and pull them out. The feathers grow in certain direction and you have to work with that. Misjudge their direction, and your tear the skin. Torn skin ruins the look of a roast chicken. I have a new respect for my grandmother and all the Jewish women who cleaned their chickens themselves. Koshering the chickens, which involves letting them sit in salt for an hour to draw the blood off, gave us a chance to eat our lunches and rest. Three rinses later, our kosher chickens were done.
I came home with two chickens, and five pair of chicken feet. One chicken went in the freezer for later. I koshered the chicken feet, and peeled them... I cut up my chicken for fricassee, and made soup with the wings, backs, and 4 pair of feet. Then I took my big sauté pan, the one with a cover, and browned the last pair of feet with the drumsticks, breasts and thighs. I set those aside and cooked a chopped onion till golden. Then I put the browned the chicken parts back in the pan with some water, lots of garlic, paprika, and pepper, replaced the lid, and simmered for half an hour. When I tasted it, I wept with nostalgia, transported, for a moment, back to the Bronx.