I was shopping the other day, looking at whole chickens in the grocery store. The prices ranged from $2.99/lb. for factory-farmed, on-special chickens to $14.99/lb. for organic,
free-range, kosher chickens. I gasped at the price, and then I remembered my mother’s reaction to free-range chickens.
Mother grew up on a small farm before the Great Depression, and they raised their own chickens and hogs, churned their own butter, grew vegetables, and mostly bought staples like flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt. They canned and preserved everything they could for the coming winter.
People think of this now as healthy, organic and being close to nature. It actually was due to poverty and lack of other alternatives! If the garden did poorly or the winter supplies ran out, there were days when dinner was biscuits and gravy made from bacon grease. You didn’t kill a chicken until its laying capability was past. Then it was killed and cooked, and often it was stringy and tough.
By the time I was a teenager we were living on a farm again, after some years living in a small town and a brief sojourn in Texas due to Daddy’s job. Money was an issue again, so we had a vegetable garden, and Mother and I canned and froze quarts and quarts of vegetables. We did not raise chickens, but Aunt Lou, Mother’s sister, did, and we bought eggs from her when she had them to spare. Otherwise we shopped at the store for eggs and for chicken to cook.
Aunt Lou’s chickens were truly free-range, brown hens pecking around the yard, but they did get chicken feed to eat and had a coop to roost in. They laid lovely brown eggs with rich yellow yolks. Occasionally Aunt Lou would offer Mother a freshly killed chicken. Mother always accepted it and thanked her, but her private reaction was different. “These things are tough and gamey,” she said. “I’d rather have a nice clean one from the store!” Not to mention that she had to pluck and clean the homegrown, free-range chicken. And she was right, the flavor was stronger, and they were not tender.
I think of Mother whenever I see the high prices on those in the store. There should be a middle way between factory farming and having hens in your back yard, and it shouldn’t cost $14.99 per pound!