Belly up, neck first. Cut the neck skin just a little, then on the right side carefully peel the crop from the skin. Assuming the birds didn’t eat the day before it should be pretty empty, if not be extra careful because it can make a big mess. Turn the bird butt up towards you. Cut off the tail. Flip the bird and make a careful cut to open the abdominal cavity and cut around the butt hole. Again being extra careful to not cut anything beyond skin deep. Pull out the guts being sure to pull the throat and wind pipe out as well. Scrape out the lungs. Put the heart,liver and gizzard into separate buckets (if you want to save them).
I just save the feet.
This fall we butchered chickens again. Grandma was always up for helping with that project. This year she wasn’t going to be there for it. In fact, I didn’t mention to her that we were going to do it. I knew she’d want to and her health wouldn’t allow her to be out in the damp cold like her mind would want to.
I was a few birds in and just knew I was missing a step so dad gave the house a call and asked if grandma would be able to just come up a direct for a bird or two. Each year I need a refresher course with her. This year was no exception. Mom and dad only live ten minutes away and it was about that until grandma and mom came rolling down the driveway.
She hopped out of the car and handed her coat to mom as she rolled up her sleeves.
“Well wha’ do we got going on here? Give me one of those birds, I’ll show ya.’”
She looked frail but still had a fire in eyes. She instructed me through a couple birds and I realized it was the first step with the crop I was forgetting. Once I fixed up those first few, things went better. Grandma was getting cold but “I’ll do one more” she’d say. Finally we had to cut her off. She wanted to be out there just as much as we wanted her there but none of us wanted to risk her catching a cold.
“We butchered a lot of chickens on the farm. I never minded it like Monica. She didn’t like to butcher and usually found a way to get out of it. But I like it.” she’d say it every year.
I too don’t mind the job. I’m not sure that I really like it, not that grandma was that attached to it either. But she enjoyed it enough to show up every time with a sharp set of knives to get the job done.
That was the last time I would get to butcher chickens with her. It is said you never know when the last time will be for anything. We knew this would be the last time. I tried to pay extra close attention because of it and when I bury myself in work dealing with some things is easier. Not that she was making that easy as she’s telling me the Mary statue goes to me and so on.
Butchering chickens was one of many skills that grandma passed down. She made the best potica (baked nut roll- pronunciation and spelling depends on where you’re from). My cousin was fortunate to get one more lesson making that during deer season this fall. As all of us girls did, she was sizing up the table they were working on. That was the table that the potica was made on. It’s the perfect size, when the dough is hanging off all the sides evenly it’s been stretched thin enough.
Thousands of buns and bread loaves came out of her small galley kitchen. All of which were brushed with butter while hot, the golden crusts glistened.
It was at grandmas that I learned to use a wringer wash machine and what it felt like to get your hands caught in it. Grandmas was also the place we used a stock tank as a canoe when the yard flooded in the spring.
In the summer grandpa would drive grandma, mom and all us kids down the road to fish in the creek. Grandma would pack a picnic lunch to eat in the pine trees while picking blueberries. I still love a picnic in the woods.
Growing up we’d spend time with grandma in the kitchen or in the garden. I doubt I was ever any help in the garden but she always let us swing on the gate. We’d help water the flowers that were everywhere.
We’d spend hours swinging from the oak tree by grandpa’s work shop and rolling down the hill that it overlooked. In the winter the same hill made for great sledding. In fact, one Christmas grandma broke her nose while sledding with all of us kids. I don’t recall it slowing her down much though.
In the evenings she’d always have a small stitching project to keep her hands busy and a quilt on the frame all winter long. We tied a lot of blankets in that basement bedroom.
She was never idle. Even while going through multiple rounds of chemo treatments she was out mowing acres of lawn, raking leave, washing windows in the spring and fall and shoveling snow. She’d haul her firewood to the house for her evening fires. There was just no stopping her. Right up until the end she had to have something to keep busy with. I learned a lot from her and hope I will do her proud to pass those lessons on.