Thursday, November 05, 2009

our chicken economy

I want you to know that we eat meat. We are not vegetarians. We are proud of the way we consume meat and go to great lengths to secure the finest and best meat we can. In the city, in our old life, that would have meant an organic-free-range-grass-fed animal at a natural butcher. Here, if you find anything like that in a store it is frozen beyond recognition and has traveled so far to be there you may as well just drink a cup of diesel and move on. Even when we found a good, local producer the price was too high to be sustainable. I am not complaining about the farmers' living, because I know a thing or two about that and feel their product is worth every penny and then some. But what drove us to raise our own meat was a combination of factors, including money savings, and we are now so spoiled by the process we could hardly imagine life without livestock.

It seems like every endeavor becomes so much a part of our life that we can scarcely separate ourselves from it. The milking cows, the garden, the pigs. A big, obvious one: the children and homeschooling. Today I am thinking about our meat chickens.

We raise chickens specifically for meat on a mixture of pasture and grain. They are the finest chickens anywhere. Because we have had the Mumps in our house I have been using more chicken and making broth, thinking about how our chickens fill voids in so many areas of our life. To be modern, they drive our little economy at home.

As chicks they are out on pasture, eating bugs, grass and the finest feed we can offer them. They fertilize wherever they go and improve our land. They dig up layers of old grass and leaves looking for good things to eat. They grow, and grow, and eat canning waste and garden overflow and skimmed milk or whey. When we butcher they feed our cats and dog, create excellent blood fertilizer for our orchard trees and fill our freezer not just with lovely whole birds but also their feet, livers, hearts and necks. We save everything we can. Even the feathers nourish us once composted and tilled into the garden.

A big, roasted chicken is a great dinner and we have it almost every week. I often serve a whole bird with salad and butternut squash or sweet potatoes. It feeds our family easily because our birds are so big. The next day, I remove leftover meat and cook the bones into a couple of gallons of bone broth. I will cook them all day, then stop to break the larger bones and cook it some more. I add garlic and kombu. The broth may become chicken soup that very evening, strained and added in a new pot to the meat and more vegetables plus homemade egg noodles.  Or I may jar it up for the fridge, where it can quickly make gravy, rice, or be added to anything that needs a little liquid. Yesterday it was breakfast, heated up with challah to dip in it.

When I have a lot of leftover meat, or decide not to make soup, I make pot pies. This time of year is perfect for them: butternuts, turnips, sweet potatoes and carrots are all fresh from our garden. I add the chicken, onions, garlic and some fresh parsley and saute it all in a big pan with pepper, salt and butter. Then I make a bone broth gravy to pour over the mix which goes into a pie crust and is baked, only for 45 minutes.

And that is not all! The soft, cooked bones are perfect for our dog or cats. We never have to throw any part of these birds away. They are perfect for us, or we are perfect for them.

Guess what is for dinner? Today I am roasting a whole chicken and serving it with mashed potatoes and red chard.
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