As we were coming home from Bordeaux airport, along autoroute 89, direction Perigueux, late last Saturday, I saw a hen carefully shepherding a single chick along the near-side grass verge. I drew my husband's attention to the bird. Perhaps the fact of taking her chicks for insect hunts on motorway verges accounted for the fact that she only had one. We speculated on their chances of survival.
Chicken for Sunday lunch is probably a standard no brain answer, assuming Sunday catering to be a problem. Nevertheless, with only the mildest guilt twinge, I had decided to get a chicken for last Sunday's lunch. Saturday I went off to the local organic butcher because I do prefer my meat to have had a natural life, as far as is possible, before it is killed and I, with my nearest and dearest, sit down to respectfully eat it. Also I knew that he was open all day unlike almost all the other specialist shops. Only he had gone on holiday. It is August, after all.
Fortunately for me – and those who were to eat Sunday lunch with me – there was a farmers'
produce shop close by, and it was open. On the off chance that it still had some chickens I stopped and went in. It was a splendid shop. There were the seasonal vegetables, courgettes, tomatoes, aubergines, carrots and beans, an amazing variety of salads. The fruit looked rather tired, as though it had walked there by itself instead of being driven in padded boxes and comfort. There was goats' cheese in all its varied forms next to pots of local honey. There was a neatly tiered display of farm made jams next to the freezer with farm made ice-cream. In the long cold display of decidedly artisanal vacuum packed cuts of meat I discovered the chickens, lightly clad in cling film with date of slaughter, weight and suggested latest date of consumption tacked on. I selected one and went to pay.
Come Sunday, it was time to process the bird. Like all direct-from-the-farm and organic chickens this one had its head, still attached to neck and body, tucked under one leg and its wings neatly turned under to form a stable base. (This authentic presentation has been known to provoke screams from urban holiday makers in the La Chaise gites – as much as 10 dcb on the Edvard Munch scale.) It was white and scrawny, a most unlovely bird, what my late mother in law would have called 'a scratcher', using her best Scottish accent. But perhaps its mother had loved it had it ever met its mother, as the hen on the autoroute obviously loved its chick. More likely its first view of life was from an incubator.
After some 30 plus years buying farm chickens I am no longer squeamish, so merely got down my long, sharp knife and hunted for the poultry shears. A couple of cuts where the neck joins the body, a deft snap with the poultry shears and the carcass almost looked like one of those supermarket jobs presented on polystyrene barquettes. All that was left to do was to remove liver and giblets from the interior and substitute lemon, garlic, bay leaf and salt. But this time – the first time ever – I found that someone, presumably the proud breeder, had included the two feet in the cavity, neatly peeled and with the toenails cut off. I don't (yet) know what to do with chicken feet.