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Foodways Traditions

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Terri Hunter

Roosters and hens lived at my Great-Grandma Franklin’s and at my Mammaw Bateman’s houses. Grandma had a business selling eggs while Mammaw’s chickens were just for her own family’s benefit.

Grandma had quit the egg business and was buying chicken at the grocery store by the time I came along, so I learned most of my chicken education from my Mammaw. Some happenings made bigger impressions than others.

Mammaw’s chickens stayed at the barn, but they weren’t in a pen. They roamed around and nested as the spirit moved them. It was fun to hunt the nests and find the fresh eggs. Every now and then a hen was sneaky enough to hide her nest until chicks hatched, but not often.

Mammaw mixed cornmeal with a little water and made a paste so I could go feed the chickens. It gave me something to do, and it was fun to drop spoonfuls of the cornmeal paste and see the chickens come running. That poor lady kept me entertained. She was a smart woman who was willing to share her knowledge. Once I asked her what the white stuff was on chicken poop and she told me it was also chicken poop.

Country kids know about lots of things town kids don’t have an inkling about. One of those was how chickens go from clucking to sizzling in a frying pan.

Mammaw always knew which chicken was next in line for the ultimate sacrifice. She caught that poor bird by the neck and slung its body around until its head was in her hand. The now-headless chicken dropped to the ground and, believe it or not, took off running. It was not a scene for the faint of heart to witness. She said neck wringing was preferable to chopping off the head because there was more blood slung out in the running around process.

Once I saw her wring the chicken’s neck and put it under a wash tub. I could hear it banging around under there. When I asked, she said she was tired of chasing headless chickens around the yard.

And, that’s all I can tell you. What Mammaw did with the dead chicken is beyond me since the next time I saw it, it was fried and tasted delicious.

I tell you it’s a wonder I am not a vegetarian.