Big Bird's last stand

Big Bird
Big Bird

It's the eve of an important day in the Lawlor household.  One of mundane significance in the scope of the world but one unprecedented in our history as drop out bankers turned city slickers.  As many of you know, we leapt into the world of chicken keeping back in April.  The chicks were adorable.  Then they became awkward teenagers, half peach fuzz, half feathers.  Then they started pooping an unbelievable amount and walked with no qualms all over it.  And then, before we knew it, they were full grown and offering the gift of their beautiful light, dark brown, and blue eggs.

We've had our ups and downs but since the hens started laying a few weeks back, farm life has steadily improved.  We're up to 7 a day -- that's a lot of lemon curd.  What I may not have mentioned over the past few weeks is that we were surprised to find ourselves the owners of not only one, but two roosters in our clan of 11 (which started as 5, then fell to 4, then rose to 8, and then, somewhat accidentally to 12, and then down to 11, and very, very soon, 10).  We are long two roosters, one silver streaked New Hampshire Red, and a big, truly buff, Buff Orpington.  Oh how cute, you say.  It was like prison on a bad day until we had the good sense to separate them.  They call them cocks for a reason.  Think blood (the ill-equipped other rooster), rape (the poor hens), tears (mine).

Big Bird (once named Queen Latifah before she became a he) was banished to a life of free ranging around the stable - free to gaze upon the hens of his fancy, but not allowed to touch (which he had only been able to do in an astonishingly violent way after discovering his cock-hood).  Peace temporarily ensued over the henhouse and we sighed relief.  No more cock fights, no more distraught hens, and soon, lots of eggs.  The lucky guy left inside didn't even understand his luck - compared to Big Bird, his cuckoo was a broken-cracking-teenager voice shame; he seemed more interested in cackling with the hens than in fertilizing them.  You certainly don't need a rooster to keep a flock, but from the sound of it, a gay rooster makes the party that much more fun.

Big Bird spent a few weeks circling the stable, bolstering his alliances through the chicken wire as best he could, and roosting up on Gerry's workbench.  So far so good.  But then the girls started laying, and he watched with suspicion as I went daily to collect our breakfast.  Not long after, with my back turned towards him, I heard a quick "puff puff puff" and turned to see his expanded chest dinosaur running towards me.  I stuck my foot out in defense and gave him an unintentional wallop.

That was the beginning of the end.  Anytime I went outside, Big Bird would start dawdling towards me at breakneck speed, and I, equipped with a broom, would prepare to fight.  Yes I admit, I am afraid of a rooster - but have you seen those spurs ? I imagined them lodged in my calves.  This is a predicament I can honestly say I never envisioned myself in -- preparing for battle with a chicken each time I left the house.  The other day he followed me over to the garden and I, Lord knows why, thought I'd extend an olive branch in the form of fresh picked Italian plums and Lacinato Kale clippings.  He gobbled them up and then lunged at me.  So much for peace.  I grabbed the dog's chuck-it and starting swinging.

Two days ago Big Bird discovered the porch.  I found him reclining on our chaise lounges this morning, onions that I had laid out to dry, scattered around him.  He may as well have asked for an espresso.  Buy a house in the country, pick up chicken poop from your porch, I pondered, eating my scrambled eggs.  He then noticed I was watching him and you know what he did ? He dawdled right on over and started pecking at the glass door.  I thought chickens were supposed to be dumb?

And that leads me to the eve of an unprecedented day in the Lawlor household.  Big Bird is just beginning his 12-hour fast.  He doesn't know what's coming.  This big, white, fluffy, quite beautiful bird, is going to become a clear, flavorful, stock tomorrow, and deep in the winter, perhaps Chicken Tortilla Soup.  I watched with hesitation as Gerry sharpened his knife today, and then had another few moments of uncertainty when he pulled out my canning pot and filled it up with water.  I reminded him again that he is not to de-feather the bird inside (the house just got cleaned !).

And as I type, I watch Big Bird run across the lawn, in a frenzy over the first Fall storm that's passing through.  I feel like I should give him one last hurrah, but then I think he probably had that when he pooped on my chaise lounge.  Farming isn't for the faint of heart.  But I think of my girls, listen for their beauty parlor cackle, and think, life sure is good.  Cock a doodle doo.

In honor of my gals, I made a delicious Apple Lemon Curd today.  Smearing that on some shortbread might make tomorrow a little more palatable.

Apple Lemon Curd

Adapted from The River Cottage Preserves Handbook

I love how this recipe uses the whole egg.  So many curd recipes exclude the whites, but this one's a keeper for chicken folk wanting to get rid of a surplus.

Makes about 8 half pints

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped (I used a neighbor's Kings)
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 6 small lemons (you may need more juice- aim for almost 1 cup)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup beaten eggs (about 8-10 large eggs)

Cook the chopped apples and lemon zest in a pan with 14 tablespoons of water and cook until just broken down.  Run through a food mill or a food processor.

Using a double broiler, combine the apple puree, lemon juice, butter, and sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved and shiny.  Using a candy thermometer, make sure the mixture is between 130-140 degrees F before proceeding with the eggs.  Once you're sure the mixture isn't too hot (which would make the eggs curdle), pour in the beaten eggs through a fine sieve.  Beat the mixture with a balloon whisk and return to heat.  Cook on low until the curd reaches 180 to 183 degrees F, at which point it should have thickened noticeably.  This should take about ten minutes.

Once ready, ladle into sterilized jars and seal.  Refrigerated, these should last about a month, but I've kept frozen curd undisturbed in the freezer for up to a year.