Friday, 28 December 2012

Now for the New Year

My two younger children and their offspring departed this morning, and thus I have been washing all the bedding, and finding pieces of jigsaws, a Christmas book left behind, pieces of wrapping papers and all sorts of Christmassy odds and sods.

They all arrived late on Christmas afternoon, so there was no visit by Santa Claus to this abode. I think Dr P must have scared him off - he was a Bah! Humbug sort of person about Christmas. Sad, really. His spirit must be lingering still.

I managed a modest Christmas dinner, a stuffed turkey breast, which was quite delicious. In the olden days, when I was a child, I can't remember anyone ever mentioning turkey. Turkeys were strange, foreign and American. Chicken, or chook, as we called it, was a luxury, something we ate only twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. We had no idea then of how common and ordinary a meal chicken would become.

My maternal grandparents kept chooks, mostly for the hens and the eggs. From time to time new chickens would appear, pretty little balls of yellow fluff, which would soon be replaced by rather unsightly and unflattering white, brown or black feathers. My grandfather, who had migrated from the island of Korcula at the age of 16, firstly went to New Zealand, and some years later arrived in Australia. I don't know much about his early life. We only ever got the barest outline. He was an immensely strong man, and I think he came to Australia as the strong man in a circus. He stayed in Australia, and met and married my grandmother. They were poor. Practically everyone was. My grandmother told us how sometimes she would have to pawn furniture in order to buy food.

Years later, one of my sisters and her husband and I visited the island, and found some cousins. It was a wonderful and moving visit.

In those days most people had fruit and vegetable gardens. Food was very plain. Perhaps I inherited some of those genes, as I have always loved growing plants and foods. Although, my grandfather had the advantage of all that chook manure, and thus his results were much better than mine. Despite having moved to the inner city of Sydney, with a microscopic garden, I have squeezed into my garden space a bay tree, which flourishes the way they are supposed to, a kaffir lime, a lemon verbena, lemon grass, parsley, rosemary, a curry leaf tree, and mint, and am struggling to grow cumquats. It always seems possible, and desirable, to squeeze in one more plant.

I have no idea what the selection criterion was,  but come the appointed time, my grandfather would kill  a chicken, which apparently required a certain amount of stalking of the unfortunate bird. My uncle, generally a rather taciturn man, could on occasion be persuaded to give his impression of his father stalking, catching and slaughtering the unfortunate bird. However my grandfather's hands were too large to fit inside the cavity of the bird, and so my unfortunate grandmother had to clean out the innards. This put her off chicken.

Having roast chicken twice a year was most exciting, We all wanted the leg. My mother used to tell us, somewhat tersely, the a chicken was not a centipede.

Which reminds me of the old joke: what did one male centipede say to the other male centipede as the female centipede walked by?
Nice pair of legs, pair of legs, pair of legs...

My youngest grandchild is a grazer, who helps himself. Food is good if it can be regarded as a snack. If named as a meal,  it becomes a very suspect dish.

You can't be too careful. Especially if chicken is an everyday dish.

4 comments:

Dartford Warbler said...

I too am clearing up today, after my sons and their families have gone home again after Christmas.

I was a child in the 1950s and yes, I remember roast chicken being a real treat.

Hoping that 2013 will be a good one for you.

Jan said...

Another one from that time here too. I grew up in Ermington which was then on the fringe of West Ryde rather than much closer to Parramatta as it is now. Wide spaces, half a dozen houses in our street. Several market gardens and two doors down was a poultry farm from where we bought our eggs and the Easter and Christmas chicken which was caught, slaughtered and cleaned on the spot.They had probably about 50 acres of land between our street and the next and ran two cows. I used to walk down with a billy can every day for milk and a jug if Mum wanted heavier cream than that which gathered on top of the milk. A teaspoon could be stood in the jug without its falling over.

Certainly turkey was unheard of then.

I ate the chicken unwillingly. It was called in our house Rowley's rabbit in an effort to disguise it. Rabbits were bought from the rabbitoh who called out up and down the street from his horse and cart.

Molly said...

Chicken back then had actual taste compared to supermarket fare these days! I remember when we'd visit my granny out the country, she'd normally catch, kill, and pluck a chicken for us to take home!

Onward into the New Year Persi! Hope it's a great one....

The Elephant's Child said...

Oh yes, I remember chicken as a meal only for high days and holidays. And my mother too would tell us that chickens were not centipedes.
We too were poor. When times were tough my father went rabbiting (which I loathed) or fishing. Fresh caught rainbow trout. Mmmm - no poverty there.
I hope that 2013 is kinder to you.