Friday, September 17, 2010

Dear Squeamish People: Don't Read This Post (Except Maybe the End)

(there's knitting toward the bottom - if you're squeamish, scroll fast until you see yarn)
I cooked feet. Chicken feet, mind you, not people feet. We had livers the other night, but really that's kind of passe by comparison and so there was no real need to blog it. The only notable bit was that I cooked them in bacon fat, and somewhere a good Jewish mother cried. Feet on the other hand...feet are emotionally charged. They bring out strong opinions. I have strong opinions of my own. Maybe it's because I come from a long line of wise and frugal people who didn't waste. Maybe it's because I grew up in a family well-populated with Depression era women who's sole goal in life was to wring as much meal as they could from the smallest amounts of food possible. When all you young folk start canning and saving your giblets, I laugh a little. In my world, who doesn't can and make giblet gravy and boil necks and bones for stock? Why would you peel the root vegetables when that's where all the good things are? And so it is with feet.
I've been asked about the feet - do I think it's gross? No. I think it respects the animal that I killed to feed my family. If I threw away useful parts, if I wasted things, that would be disrespectful and that would be gross. Don't I think they're dirty? Yes, but often so are my own feet after a day around here. Once they're washed, they are no longer dirty. The same applies to chicken feet. In fact I was amazed at how quickly they came clean.
When we slaughter birds, anything that can be used is used. The blood and feathers make excellent compost additives. The entrails and heads, minus gizzards, hearts, livers and feet are taken well away from the house and laid on the surface where wild animals eat them. It's all part of a cycle.
I believe strongly that animals are here for us to care for and to use. I believe equally strongly that this entails a responsibility on our part to care for them wisely and well, and not waste what we have been given. Chickens have feet. Feet have tremendous nutrients. Waste not, want not.
After viewing some recipes online I decided to begin with stock. Although this recipe for Hot and Spicy Chicken Feet was appealing, I am feeling more like it's a soup day today - obviously fall, a nip in the air and a good breeze, the leaves changing gently from green to gold and orange and red, a little overcast with breaks of sun. The day says soup. Soup begins with stock, and today stock began here,
with chicken feet. Apparently there is more to this than just hucking feet in a pot as I'd imagined and secretly hoped. Although frugal to the point of discomfort, I am also lazy. The preparation is minimal, however,and quickly accomplished. First the feet are rubbed well with Kosher salt - this assumes that you have clean feet. Ours were well-scrubbed before they were put away for later use.
Next the toenails are removed. This is apparently more about aesthetic than necessity. I chopped them off with my super cheap ($3!) and super-wondrous knife from the Asian Market in Hadley. I debated disposing of them, but really I don't think I care if there are toenails floating in my stock, and it all gets strained out later anyway, so into the pot they went. First though, I blanched the feet to remove the membrane. This was a total fail. I suspect I let them blanch just long enough to adhere the membrane to the leg, making removal impossible. I ended up making longitudinal shallow slices down the sides of the legs and feet to help release the goodness inside.
Into the stock pot it all went, with two carrots, an onion, and some herbs. No celery here - Mister Wonderful and celery are old enemies. Now we wait and simmer slowly for an hour or two. Tonight we dine on animals we knew well. It feels good.
In the meantime, I wandered out to find herbs and discovered that I could get away with a late harvest of the perennials. Since I was slacking about this all summer being otherwise focused, I was glad to come back inside laden with sage, oregano and thyme.
Now the kitchen smells doubly good, with simmering feet and piles of herbs waiting to be laid out for drying.
The yarn, Buffalo Gold Moon (yum, yum, yummo!) came for my shawl for the oldest's wedding in October. I have also silver lined E-beads, and a swatch.
I want to start it today but I need to get some work done. I think this will be my weekend project for a while. Once it's done I will write it up, I think. The plan is simple and quick, but lovely with enough bling and drape and halo to gain lots of compliments.
The brilliant Barbara Parry, author of Teach Yourself Visually Hand-Dyeing and shepherd at Springdelle Farm recently asked if I would like to design a sock in her new yarn. I jumped at the chance.
The yarn is lovely - and new so not yet on the Foxfire website - but when it is you will want some. Warm and wooly and delightful with excellent stitch definition and dyed subtly and beautifully in earthy colors - I am smitten.  Madly and deeply. The pattern is finished, but not yet available - I will let you know when and where it is.
Simmering chicken feet, squishy warm wool in my hands, the promise of a tomorrow filled with silver beads and bison excellent day for rest and reflection, I think. may your day be filled with the same.


Anonymous said...

i really enjoyed your post and the fact that you are so respectful of the animals. i have never thought of eating a chicken foot, but after reading your post and almost actually smelling all of the herbs you used, i think if i were there i really would have tried them... at least the broth anyway. LOL!

Jen said...

LOVE the sock pattern! It's beautiful!

Oh, and love the chicken feet, too. All that gelatin ~ best broth, and so good for you, too. I'm lazy and buy it where I get my raw milk, as my friend makes vats of it in the autumn and winter.

Your thoughts on animals and respecting them are my own, as well. Good post all around (gee, you should be a writer ;-D ).

Sojourner Design said...

Chicken feet. Socks for chicken feet. Hand-knit socks for chicken feet. Hmmm.

Yarnhog said...

So, wait, did you eat the feet or just make broth out of them? I'm trying to figure out exactly what part of chicken feet you could eat. I mean, my chickens have pretty skinny, bony little feet. I doubt there's a bite of meat on them.