Pin Feathers

My mother didn’t cook much, but she was a good cook who really cared how her dishes turned out.  She was particularly fussy about her chicken. When I was a very little girl, mom would buy chicken from the meat man in the back of Nelson’s department store. The chicken came whole and was wrapped in white butcher paper.

She usually cut up the chicken she bought and baked the pieces. I have vivid memories of her holding each piece over an open flame on the gas stove to remove any possible remaining pin feathers that were missed when the chicken was processed.  There usually weren’t any such feathers, but it was something she had learned growing up on the farm, and she always did it.

Husband and I like to get big roasting chickens, but they have been hard to come by lately. In desperation the other week we took a chance and bought a “Southern Hen” in Walmart. It was indeed from the deep South in Alabama. It was the right size (about 9 pounds), and we decided to cook it whole in the slow cooker.

The roasters we usually buy are nicely processed and have clean skins with no pin feathers.  I would have needed a blow torch to remove the feathers and quills from our Southern Hen. I tried a lighter to no avail, and ended up laboriously removing it all with a needle nosed pliers.   My mother would have been appalled.  I guess they have different standards in chicken processing in the South.

The meat was tasty, but I made sure every bit of skin was removed and discarded once the chicken was thoroughly cooked. Husband has indicated that it might be nice to keep a few  chickens in our retirement. Our experience with our Southern Hen makes me think otherwise.

What do you remember about family food ways  from your childhood?

54 thoughts on “Pin Feathers”

  1. My family raised goats so we could have goats’ milk for my sister who was allergic to cows’ milk. But some of the goats ended up as meat on our table. On that fateful day, my siblings and I would go to a neighbors’ house so we wouldn’t have to witness the process. I think my parents hired someone to do the deed and my memory is that someone told me the goats were hung. That seems like a particularly cruel way to end their lives, but, true or not, no matter which neighbors’ house we were at, we could hear the horrible, painful bleating of the goats for what seemed like a terribly long time.

    I never have liked goat meat.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh man, that would be hard.

      My friend, Helen, who has chickens, isn’t a vegetarian, but she can’t bear to kill her old hens, so she basically runs a hen nursing home, and buries them when they have exhausted their natural life span.

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      1. When I was about ten my dad came home with a pair of live chickens. He announced that these would make a splendid meal for our family. He found an axe and a block of wood, then chopped the heads off. To my horror, the chickens then raced around the backyard, running into stuff because they couldn’t see.

        That should have taught me to swear off eating meat. It didn’t. But it sure taught me to never chop off a chicken’s head.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I have written before about watching my mom’s family process chickens in the “summer kitchen”(set up in the yard aside the farmhouse.). They did have a blow torch type flame that was a station for burning off pin feathers that someone fashioned out of a gas burner. These were definitely “Northern Chickens” from Pipestone, MN, hand fed and nurtured by Grandma herself.

    She not only raised the chickens, she then fried them up for the family. Her fried chicken was a pleasure to eat. She served pie or cake for dessert.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My Aunt Norma and Uncle Ronald, also from Pipestone, raised the best Leghorn chickens that were immaculately processed. I make a dish we call “Norma’s chicken”. Norma lives in Clear Lake, SD now. She is one of only two aunts I have left.

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  3. My paternal grandfather set up a small still in his kitchen once. Grandma wasn’t too happy when it exploded and sprayed the contents alll over the kichen walls and ceiling. She made Grandpa clean it up. She was a fairly indifferent cook. She made crab apple jelly and sealed it with paraffin wax. She also made juice out of rhubarb and canned it. It was dreadful.

    My mom’s sister made marzipan that she shaped and decorated to resemble fruit. I remember the intense shock I had as a small child when I bit into one that I thought was a small peach but was marzipan instead.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m curious about the paraffin-sealed jelly and whether you are equating that with indifference. When I was growing up, that was how one put up jelly and I think we did it ourselves early in our marriage.

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  4. My mother was a simple cook…that is complimentary. She made simple meals – meat patty, frozen vegetable and boiled potato or rice. Sundays we had either baked chidken or a roast. Always some dessert of cake, brownies or ice cream with her homemade hot chocolate or butterscotch=brown sugar syrup. My father liked and preferred these meals.

    As a child I knew no difference except for breakfast. We had hot cereal every morning during school weeks and cold cereal otherwise. I’d walk the 2 blocks to meet & walk with my girlfriend to school…it was torture to enter their kitchen door…aromas of pancakes or waffles, sausage or bacon and eggs.

    One of my grandmothers(my mom’s mom) was a gourmet cook and I loved our summer visits. I also lived with them after HS for a few months prior to my trip to my folks who were overseas for the year. During that time I learned much from my grandmother…I have her worn cookbooks with hand written recipes which I treasure.

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  5. Beans on toast was a favorite. The worst food was a beef tongue sandwich spread. To this day I can see the silver colored meat grinder Mom used to prepare that… that… horrible stuff.

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      1. To me, beef tongue is a delicacy. I think I’ve mentioned on the trail before that I have a couple of Freecycle “friends” who once or twice a year buy half a cow or pig, but don’t use the liver from either animal, or the beef tongue. I was impressed that one of them rather than posting the items on Freecycle would send me a direct email, until I realized that he had me listed in his address book as “weird meat lady.”

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        1. There was a wonderful Danish restaurant in Winnipeg that made the best rullepolse and other traditional meats and open faced sandwhiches. The owners were from Denmark.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Among Somalis beef tongue is a delicacy. I knew this from a friendship with a Somali-expat. I bought one for him and his wife. She made it into a finely sliced dish with rice. I ate a bit of it out of politeness.

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        3. You say you ate a bit of the Somali dish out of politeness. Didn’t you like it, Wes?

          Mexican’s also consider beef tongue a delicacy, and I know a lot of Asian people eat it as well. The Asian market where I shop has wonderful cuts of meat that you’d rarely, if ever, find in an American butcher shop or supermarket. For some people it’s hard to get over the mental image of what an uncooked beef tongue looks like, but if properly cooked, it’s really a tasty piece of meat.

          Another piece of meat that I recently discovered at the Asian market is sliced pork stomach. When I looked closer at it, I thought, that’s what I need to make “stægt flæsk.” When I got home I Googled “pork stomach” just to be sure I was right, and sure enough, that’s the cut I need. Essentially it’s uncured bacon, and it makes a delicious a wonderful old Danish dish I haven’t eaten since I was a child. Unfortunately it’s another of those dishes that Hans won’t eat.

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        4. I’ve never seen either pig or chicken tongues for sale. But really, if you can make a meal out of trout cheeks, I see no reason why you couldn’t make one of chicken tongues. I suppose it would be a bit like the blackbirds that the chimney sweep’s wife, Magna Andersen, used to make for us: it was an awful lot of work as there’s not a lot of meat on a blackbird.

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  6. Morning Troop!

    When I first got chickens 20 years ago, my siblings were astounded; they all have bad memories of raising chickens and having to deal with them, that none wanted anything ever to do with a chicken again.

    I have a vague memory of the whole “butchering chickens” process out here: Chopping the heads off, the tub of boiling water, the smell of wet feathers. I don’t recall who was involved, must have been some neighbors.
    A few years ago I ordered some broiler chicks and mom taught me how to butcher a chicken. We didn’t do the whole big set up, and I just “bled” them, rather than chopping the heads off. Curiously, that seems to make a difference in removing the feathers too. And it’s where I first heard about pin feathers. We had to just skin them too.
    But I never liked doing it. And I haven’t since. I’ll just collect eggs, thank you very much.

    Freezing sweetcorn – cutting it off the cob and freezing it, is something my sister and I still do. I like peeling potatoes, learned that from Mom. Dad calling the crust of bread the “kuunter”. (rhymes with ‘coon-ter’). Grandpa Hain grew strawberries and had a big garden. I’m sure that’s why I have no desire to pick strawberries.

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      1. Before. I did’t know it was an option to do it after boiling. Wouldn’t you burn your fingers?? Besides, if I peel and cut, I get to have a slice of raw potato too…

        FYI, picked up some jicama from the food coop the other day. I slice that up raw and put in fridge. Is there any other way?

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        1. Jicama is so refreshing. I like it julliened in a salad, or served with a homemade hummus.

          About peeling potatoes after they are boiled, supposedly they retain more of their nutritional value since you remove less of the peel. Not sure how much of a difference it actually makes. In my experience, people who cook a lot develop asbestos hands, i.e. hands that can tolerate a fair amount of heat.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. As one of our dear friends says: “That’s why paint stores have other colors than white.”

          By the way, even Bernie won’t eat raw potatoes. Which somehow reminds me of a notice in a neighborhood bulletin board today: “Found dog named Lilly! Black Datsun found on Haskell and oakdale, please contact asap” So many miniature amusements to bring a smile to my lips.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. I have participated at least twice in processing chickens. Both times were a family operation with an assembly line setup. Once you’ve done that, the smell of wet feathers stays with you. I was at the gutting station both times and it’s fascinating that chickens carry within them eggs in progressive states of development from the size of marbles on up. In both instances, the chickens were at the end of their productive years as layers and thus were stewing hens.
      For the ax work, I remember that we employed a short section of clay drain tile. The chicken was inserted so that just her head extended from the tile and when the head was chopped off, the tile restrained her until she stopped moving.

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  7. I’ve known some remarkable cooks in my life, but most of them were unrelated to me, and I encountered them mostly after I moved away from home.

    The only food related memory I have of my Irish granny was that she liked to feed me white bread with butter and sugar served with a cup of Bovril, a warm beef broth beverage. Small wonder my mom was an indifferent cook. Mom’s idea of a gourmet meal was fried spam.

    Dad, on the other hand, loved to cook, and he was good at it. Self taught, he had one trusted cookbook, Frøken Jensen kogebog, and he’d enthusiastically try any recipe in it. Mostly he cooked old traditional Danish fare, food that most Danes no longer cook. I still have a great fondness for some of those dishes, and still cook them from time to time. Occasionally, he’d indulge in his taste for the exotic by cooking a curry, something he had come to appreciate on his many voyages to India.

    Farmor (the much younger woman my dad’s adoptive father married subsequent to his first wife’s death) is the woman I think of as my grandmother. It’s a long story, and I’ll not tell it here, at least not now, but farmor and her brood ended up living in Stubbekøbing’s poorhouse in the opposite end of town from where we lived. I was fond of farmor, and she of me, although neither my mom or dad got along with her. I’d often bike to farmor’s sparsely furnished apartment to visit, and without fail she’d have cold pancakes in the icebox for me. (Danish pancakes are more like crepes) and are delicious served with a little homemade strawberry or raspberry jam.

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  8. Love the phrase “indifferent cook”, which kind of describes my mom. My dad had a few things he’d do, most notably the Norwegian lefse (though not the potato kind) that I’ve written about before. He also made kumla, a kind of potato dumpling, tennis ball size, that he learned from his sister. The dumplings are boiled in ham broth until they “float”, then are served with the ham and – what else – melted butter. Side dish of green beans and you’re good to go. (Son Joel learned this, and my dad was thrilled that he was interested.)

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    1. I swear kumla is known only to people from around Story City, Iowa. I’ve known many Scandinavians, but they are the only ones I have ever heard speak of kumla.

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      1. In my experience, if you travel in Scandinavian circles anywhere, you’ll come across Kumla sooner or later. I’ll admit to never actually having tasted Kumla, though.

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  9. This discussion brings to mind a naming oddity I remember from back home, My Aunt Norma’s mother was always referred to as “Mother Hardees”, and my Uncle Wayne’s mother was always referred to as “Mother Priester”. I wonder if that is a German way of referreing to the oldest woman in the family? My grandmother was never referred to as “Mother Bartels”, though.

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    1. My dad’s “sister” is named Randi. When my sister was born, she, too, was given that name. To be able to distinguish the two, my sister became “little Randi,” and my aunt became “big Randi.” Initially that make sense since my sister was a baby when my aunt was a teenager. As the years went by, that no longer made sense since “big Randi” never grew to be over 5′ tall and “little Randi” topped out at 5’2″; but we persisted in calling them little and big Randi. As they both grew into middle- and now old age it again makes sense; “big Randi” outweighs “little Randy” by 50 lbs.

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  10. I’ve mentioned before that my mother was not an accomplished cook. She aimed at being a modestly competent 1950s housewife cook and fell somewhat below that mark.

    When I didn’t care for something on our table, my parents would taunt me by saying, “When you grow up and go in the army, you will cry to remember your mother’s cooking.” Somehow that didn’t make her chipped beef on toast taste any better, but you have to factor in the way that dish always brought out the bratty side of my father. Calling her chipped beef dish “shit on shingles,” Dad would sing (to the melody of Colonel Bogie’s March) “Horseshit, it makes the grass grow green!”

    When I grew up I never was tortured by Army cooking. Instead I went to a residential college served by a food service. All my classmates griped, but I had never eaten so well in my life, and I said so.

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  11. My dear mother was a horrible cook, so we enjoyed very simple, burnt or overcooked food. We were Catholic, so on Fridays she would serve these weird, whole, smoked fish. I hated looking at their glassy eyes.
    She bought beef tongue on occasion as well, and I remember liking it.
    There were no picky eaters allowed in our family. If we balked or complained about what she served, we were either reminded of “all those starving kids in China/India/Bangladesh” or told “it will keep you alive”. Words to live by.

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    1. Perhaps because I grew up in the post WWII era when lots of things, including certain foods, were rationed, nothing was ever wasted, and cheap parts or the animals were relished. One of my dad’s favorite things to cook was pig’s trotters with caramelized cabbage, or as he proudly announced when he served it “brugt fodtøj” (used footwear). He took such delight in being able to cook a hearty meal for next to nothing, a trait I’ve inherited. Unfortunately Hans doesn’t appreciate some of the more esoteric foods I delight in; he grew up in a family that ate high off the hog.

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      1. I’ve often heard that expression – high off the hog – but until now never really thought about where it came from. I suppose people who live high off the hog don’t cook the hocks and trotters.

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  12. All kinds of things can enter into the process by which we decide what foods we prefer. I used to spend a week each fall on a ranch in extreme north Montana. Larry, the rancher, would not allow his wife to cook anything but beef or pork, preferably beef. Larry grew up in hard economic times. His family rarely served meat, and when they did it was chicken. Upon reaching manhood Larry swore he’d never touch another chicken meal. Chicken had become a metaphor for poverty.

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    1. I cringe at the notion of a husband who would “not allow” his wife to cook anything. Feminist to the core here.

      Out of consideration for Hans, I generally try to cook meals that he likes, but I’ll guarantee you he’d be served fried liver with onions, or fried herring every so often, if he ever got the notion to tell me that I was forbid to cook something.

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      1. Your feminist sensibilities would suffer if you spent time among farm/ranch folk in rural Montana. I was stunned when I got the picture of how different their values are from mine. Visiting my friends near Turner, Montana, was a lot like doing a time-travel trip to the 19th century. When I got the picture I was also astonished that those people could be so pleasant to me. I thought at first my hosts simply didn’t understand what my values were, but I later decided they knew but forgave me. My Montana friends assumed I traveled to their home every fall because I loved hunting on their land. Actually, I disliked the hunting, but that is a very complicated story that I carefully hid from them. I went there every November because I was fascinated by their lives and values, plus I loved them much as they loved me.

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  13. my eating has become muy own little deal. i would not wish vegetarianism on anyone it is a challenge at best but i can not understand the differentian between cows pigs and chickens and everything else. why not dogs cats squirrels racoons monkeys snakes insects eagles and yaks.
    my wife and kids dont like my cooking and dont cook for me
    i can cook for them and often do the bbq ribs or brisket and turkey or ham on holidays and all the sides are my deal
    eating raoul and sweeny todd are good statements about how we choose to be disgusted with death in one hand and not the other.
    now i am feeling hypocritical because the disgusting treatment of chickens in the hot house egg laying facilites makes the difference between humane eggs and abused eggs go from 50 cents a dozen to 2 dollars a dozen
    milk is similar. now woll has been brought to my attention as a vegan no no. damn… wool. leather shoes and belts have been a hypocritical toleration . i should just become correct in my soul and stop all this hypocracy

    thanks renee for helping n\me voice myself to myself

    i needed that

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  14. My mother used to make some simple egg dumplings with chicken noodle soup, a favorite lunch when I was a kid. The dumplings were just egg and flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper.

    I remember visiting at the home of one of my half brothers, who liked a dumpling recipe his mother used to make. I took one of his dumplings, thinking it would be something like my mother’s, only to find it was an extremely large and dense and tasteless lump of flour, probably mixed with just water, and boiled. I couldn’t finish it. My mother was never one to force me to eat something I didn’t like, but she really didn’t like it when I was picky about food that was served in someone else’s house where we were guests. I don’t think she actually said anything about the dumpling, but I could feel myself being frowned upon as I gave up on it. In future visits where dumplings were served, I always tried to find a polite way of refusing them.

    My other half brother always helped himself to several dumplings and raved about how good they were.

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