As I continue my quest to find a live chicken or plural for National Drink with Chicken Day on May 23, I began to mull over the value of a simple chicken and certain personal encounters. In rural Illinois where I grew up, chickens and outhouses seemed synonymous with one another, both of which were deemed a necessity. In our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, I have a story, Outhouses of Pike County, which mentions chickens along with outhouses, not realizing a connection, or more likely a physicality in ‘location’.
Chickens are absolutely a supplier of sustenance in many forms. Both of my great grandparents and grandparents had chickens which included their own little house, a ramp, and a secure sturdy fence for extra safety at night. I can still feel the flawless shell of a snug egg as I reach into one of the nests under the warm belly of a hen. A docile little being who goes about her day minding her own business.
These feathery bundles also can make up to ten different vocalization sounds. My favorite is the Happy Murmuring…you know which one I mean. It is like a chicken purr, similar to a cat. They do this a lot when nibbling between blades of grass, a soft clucky lull. Once in Germany visiting a cousin, I took her two small children on a walk. Along the path was a large chicken yard. We were at the top of a hill and the path led down to another road. The three of us stopped and took in this soft hum. I began to mimic, and one by one the chickens came to the fence. We continued down the path, all the while, softly clucking with the chickens. They bunched up beside the fence the total distance down the hill and followed us to the bottom. The kids were delighted.
In the TV series, Recipe for Love and Murder, Tannie the main character has a pet hen named Morag. This hen has full reign of the yard and house and is happily carried around in the arms of Tannie. She feeds her watermelon and other delights from her garden and kitchen.
In doing research, surprisingly the egg-making process starts long before the egg is made. It begins with the birth of the hen. Like many other female species, hens carry a finite number of eggs in their bodies from the moment they are born. This means that they carry all the eggs in their body at birth. After birth, no new eggs are produced. I had no idea! Of course, there is much more to the process, but I am trying to make this short.
Now comes the most fascinating part of the egg’s journey. The membrane-enclosed egg enters the shell gland, where it spends the next twenty hours. It is plumped up with fluid until it achieves the approximate shape you would recognize as being an egg. Then it is sealed within the formation of calcium carbonate crystals which hardens due to a fast-drying protein solution called the bloom, or cuticle, that seals tiny pores occurring between the calcium crystals making up the shell. Whew! I must ask, is this by accident or was it designed?
This puts me in mind of famous Paris designers who brought and changed fashion around the world such as Chanel, Dior, Ricci, and dozens of other extraordinary artists. They would scream if someone thought their hours and months of sketching, alignment, color, stitch, choice of fabric, each curve and flow was by accident. No, it was designed.
And here is our little hen, minding her own, giving us protein in countless forms, feathers for costume accessories, and exquisite culinary chicken dishes one cannot count, alive or not. I can still hear their little selves settle in the early evening into nests of straw, rocking gently side to side, closing their gauzy thin membrane eyelids, and drifting off into featherland for the night. Who would not want to raise a glass of champagne or eggnog laced with rum with a chicken?