Rooster Auction Leads to a Bridge in Alabama, 1919 Edition

You think we have big chicken now? A chicken auction in 1919 in Demopolis, Alabama, ended with pledges of more than 200,000 1919 dollars, in order to build a bridge across the Tombigbee River. Not all the money was collected, but it turned out to have been an international effort, involving the US, France, Italy, and the UK. Now that is big chicken.

An issue that President Wilson brought up at the Versailles peace conference that concluded the war to end all wars (sure), was, who wanted to send a rooster to Alabama? The PM’s of France, Italy, and the UK, were all in. The European roosters shipped to DC on a US warship, and the Alabama congressional delegation were there to meet them when they arrived.

Wilson himself donated a rooster, which sold for $44,000. Helen Keller, who is still our most famous person, donated a hen instead. The mastermind behind the whole thing was a farmer from Demopolis named Frank Derby. He had raised $100,000 for the Red Cross in 1917, by auctioning off cattle. He said the idea was ‘to bridge the ‘Bigbee with cocks.’ Maybe not the best word choice.

Word choice or not, the idea worked. The bridge was the last link of a pet project for Wilson, which was a transcontinental road from Savannah to San Diego. The new bridge, that replaced the old one, is still called the Chicken Bridge.

Thanks to various archives and AL.com for this vitally important story. At least the sailors an the warship transporting the chickens woke up on time, every day. They didn’t have much choice.

Malcolm X, Black Muslims, MJ, and Myself

This is a true story.

I was once interviewed for a position as a Professor of African-American Lit at the second largest University in Connecticut–I have a big list of publications on black writers . Two-thirds of the interview committee almost passed out when a white farm boy from Alabama walked into the room. One woman, who was a poet, thought it was funny as hell.

So here is my Black Muslim/Black History story. MJ and I were the only white people a big group of Black muslims from Chicago would even speak to, in Champaign, Illinois. We had to walk the walk, and we did.

One of my students in a class called “Intermediate Expository Prose,” –seriously–was the head of the black fraternities. His six room mates were Black muslims, who he said would never talk to a white person. Southern charm and brains can break down any walls.

Here’s some boasting here, but I blew it out of the doors teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I choose as a text for the class. The frat head loved it. When MJ and I walked back to our apartment one day, six Black muslims were there to say hello to us, in the park nearby.

So soul food is our food. Collards are soul food, and our food. Black eyed peas are soul food, and our food. Macs and Cheese? French food brought here by the great James Hemings. Damned if we don’t have a fusion culture here. Salt and Pepper, black and white together, we shall over come together. We shall overcome.

Taters in the Ground, Precious

Taters Planted, now Grow, Little Taters

In true Appalachian fashion, we have gone from temps in the high teens last week, to approaching eighty this week. Time to get those taters in the ground.

Something of a note on climate here, and global warming (anthropogenic climate disturbance), in general. The USDA keeps moving us back and forth among hardiness zones, depending on which way the political winds are blowing. Therefore, I follow the thermometer, instead of the bureaucrats.

With the exception of one night, we have had a zone 9 winter, even though we are up in the mountains. Even that night was marginally zone 8, at 18 degrees F. We haven’t seen Zone 7 weather for 15 or 20 years.

The lowest forecast night time temp for the next week is more than ten degrees above freezing, so these jokers should get a good start. I have one row of sprouted tubers that we grew last year, some had sprouts that were a good foot long.

The other row is sprouted organic potatoes that I bought at our best supermarket. I was going to buy real seed potatoes, but no one here had them yet. WHAT! This is the South, dopesticks.

I buried them all in composted chicken manure. I’m going to try a new fertilizer this year, just because I love the name of it–Moorganite. It’s a combo of composted cow and chicken stuff. Strong to quite strong. That’s 45 garlic plants on the left of the pic. Taters and garlic, anyone?

Snow!

Snow Birds

We hardly ever get snow, or temps in the teens, and today we have–BOTH. I saw this coming, so yesterday I bought 110 pounds of bird food. Half was for the wild birds, and half for the chicks. Birds don’t even care about how cold it is, except for how hungry it makes them.

Today we have been invaded by the biggest flocks of finches and sparrows that we have ever seen. Our three feeders, two tube feeders with squirrel guards, and a wooden feeder that I repaired after it was squashed by a tree during a tornado, will have to be refilled a couple of times.

We have, in addition to the resident cardinals, flocks of gold finches and purple finches. They can seriously knock down some sunflower seed. The chipping sparrow flock is probably the lergest of all, and they prefer smaller seeds. Good thing I bought both.

The living part of the chicken coop is completely frozen shut, and it will take a lever of some kind to get it open. We did get them out into the pen, but it will be screwdriver time to get the small coop doors open.

It’s still snowing, and it is a regular Hitchcock film just outside my window.

The Birds!

Four layers of Patagonia expedition weight fleece kept me quite warm, however, when I went to gather eggs. Having been in the outdoor industry has its perks.

French Chickens are Now Legally Allowed to Make as Much Noise as They Want To

Cackle Away, Frenchies

Once again on the subject of I wish I could make this stuff up, the French Senate has just finalized a law saying that country chickens can crow and cluck as much as they want to. “Neo-Rurals,” aka rich people who buy country vacation homes, have filed a number of lawsuits regarding chickens, ducks, and geese, who disrupted their bourgeois lives. No more.

The final straw, so to speak, was a rooster named Maurice. The saucy fellow would crow every morning at dawn, and in 2019, his owners were sued because of the noise–a kind of disturbing the peace, of the chicken variety. Maurice became a celebrity chicken, with petitions signed to support him. Go Mo!

Once again, the great journalists at Agence France Presse are on this like a chicken on a June bug, as we say here in the South. Here’s a quote from them:

“Living in the countryside implies accepting some nuisances,” Joel Giraud, the government’s minister in charge of rural life, told lawmakers.

Agence France Presse

The French have a Minister for Rural Life? I want that job. Until I get it, I will just feed my chickens.

Lemon Chicken

Where’s the Chicken?

My main man HD Thoreau wrote, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.” I have done this with my lemon chicken recipe, which I have been obsessed with for years.

Sauce

Juice of one large Meyer Lemon (or two smaller other lemons)

Sugar

That’s it. MJ and I ate this dish a hundred times at a Chinese restaurant in Tuscaloosa, and it took me years to realize the Zen truth of simplicity.

Chicken

Cubed Chicken Breast

Cornstarch

Salt and Pepper

Peanut Oil

The last is for deep frying, and an inch and a half is enough. Serve with rice and green peas. Nosh away, as this is fantastic.

Blooming Today. Where Baby Lemons Come from.

Just writing this makes me hungry again.

2021–In Praise of Chicken Excrement

Black Gold

When you get up early on New Year’s Day to feed the chickens, and the low temp is 67 F, something is seriously wrong. That something is Anthropogenic Climate Disturbance, aka Global Warming. It’s fine now, but the summer will be when the bill comes due.

There is one constant, however–the wonders of chicken excrement. Americans in general treat chickens like a protein machine, caged, abused, and thrown away and eaten at a very early age. Our flock of eight ramble around all day, eat greens and high protein food, and we get eggs by the dozen. Better, possibly is the giant piles of excrement, which I compost. I am just beginning to use it as fertilizer. It could be the GOAT (greatest of all time.)

Chicken excrement and I go way back. When I grew up on the old farm, that was our main fertilizer, and sometimes the only one. As it turns out, industrial scale chicken production produces industrial scale chicken stuff. We had tons of this stuff at a time, which means we had tons of vegetables, and pounds and pounds of beef–we fertilized the pastures with chicken stuff, and even had to buy a giant stuff spreader to be able to do it.

So the moral for this new year is, what goes around, comes around. I have been fertilizing my mustard greens with chicken stuff, and feed the greens to the chicks, and the egg quality just gets better. I composted my garlic plants (forty in total,) and they took off like weeds. I just layered my young asparagus patch with several inches of compost. I better get the asparagus steamer ready for spring.

Film at eleven.

The Curse of the Colonel

A Slugger?

Spring is just around the corner here, on the first day of winter, and Spring Training will be here in ein Augenblick, or the blink of an eye. The “Boys of Summer” will be back at it, and could there be fans this season that aren’t cardboard cut outs? But there is a food related curse that should be known to every baseball fan. Naturally, it involves the Japan League, Kentucky, and fried chicken.

A favorite Christmas meal in Japan, according to Deutsche Welle, is a big box of KFC fried chicken, which is known as a “party barrel.” KFC restaurants will decorate their Colonel Sanders statues in Santa suits as well, which is better than the Tokyo department store whose Christmas display was Santa nailed to a cross (a definite holiday mix-up there). “Party barrels” may include wine and cakes with fried chicken, which makes them so not KFC USA. So why would the revered Colonel curse part of Japan?

The Hanshin Tigers could be considered the equivalent of the Cleveland Sports ball team of the MLB American League. You win some, you lose some, at about an equal clip. The Tigers, however, became the sworn enemies of the fried chicken gods in 1985.

The Tigers won their only Japan League title that year, and the celebration turned both epic and Dionysian. Revelers gathered on the Ebisu Bridge in Osaka, and began throwing people into the river below (canal, actually,) who resembled members of the team. One problem–their star player was an American slugger named Randy Bass, who had a beard. There were no Americans with beards in the crowd.

Therefore, a plastic statue of Colonel Sanders was thrown in instead. Within moments, the Colonel was swimming with the fishes, and the curse was on.

Curses make much easier excuses than bad management and crappy players. Eighteen years of last and next to last place finishes ensued. In 2003 the team won a division, and over 5,000 fans jumped into the canal. The Colonel was unimpressed, and the Tigers lost in the playoffs.

Finally, in 2009, pieces of the Colonel were rediscovered, with eventually everything but his glasses and left hand being found. These were reproduced, and the Colonel returned to KFC. Sorry, but it didn’t work. Still crappy players and mediocre management.

They need to follow the example of a perennial doormat like the Atlanta Braves. They finally sign Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, three Hall of Fames pitchers, and Bobby Cox as Manager, who racked up 162 Manager Ejections (a record by far for Managers,) but also racked up a bushel of league, and one World Series, title. Funny how talent beats a curse every time.

Moocher’s Compost Bin

Mooched!

The mooching lifestyle is far more under appreciated in the US than it should be. A person could practically live off of discarded items, and I am certain that many people actually do. There’s no tax on throw aways, either.

I am only a part time moocher, but I have dumpster dived and mooched in numerous locales. I pulled a fancy desk chair out of a dumpster, worth several hundred dollars, and then spend my time at the computer sitting in an old post and rung oak chair, that I mooched for $5 at a flea market. My latest mooch could prove to be my best: a flat bed truck full of cinder blocks, and the wood pallets this compost bin are made of.

The story is this. We have been have been showering the in-laws with free eggs, and one couple had just had a retaining wall replaced, and needed to get rid of the left over and used cinder blocks, more commonly known in these parts as “see-mint blocks” (cement blocks.) As my mooching has become a valuable reputation enhancer, they offered us the blocks, and with free delivery. We countered with an offer of thirty eggs. It was a deal.

The sweetener was that the blocks are to used in the construction of a smokehouse, and we offered free use of that as well, once it is completed. The blocks arrived quickly after that offer. I helped unload them, and they had been sitting on two pine pallets on the truck. My brother in law asked if I wanted them. He didn’t know I been looking to mooch two wooden pallets as well.

Three deck screws later, and I had a new compost bin, attached to the back of the chicken run. It is now being filled with table scraps, leaves, and chicken manure in various states of decomposition. It will be half full in no time.

Free Fertilizer

Next spring we will have mooched fertilizer as well. Which reminds me that it is almost time to grab a shovel, and get to work.

Four French Hens

Proper Eggs need a Proper Basket

I don’t know the name of the sadist who wrote that never-ending Christmas song, “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but I fixed it by buying four French hens. To be precise, four ISA Browns. They could easily bury any of us in an avalanche of eggs.

Ethel the Brown Guards the Mail

These birds are hybrids, and bred to lay more eggs than a large family can eat. We are currently supplying five families with eggs, with only eight chicks, four Browns and four Barred Rocks. Do the math.

Ethel: “This is my Best Side.”

They are also remarkably handsome birds. There must be a passage in the French constitution, after all that stuff about liberty and equality ( thank Mr. Jefferson and Monsieur Lafayette for that,) that all French exports must look great. I don’t have a problem with that.

Christmas advice: Buy American Cast Iron! Buy German Tools! Buy French anything that has to do with Food! Have a Joyous Noel!