Appalachian Food

Eating Chicken in Appalachia

collage of photos of a family

“Along with pork, our most commonly served meat was poultry. Mother raised chickens, and we had eggs and chicken to eat just about any time we wanted. I hated it when Mother got ready to kill a chicken. First of all she put the cast-iron teakettle on the stove and filled it with water to boil. Then she got the galvanized washtub and set it on the porch or in the yard. After she selected the chicken she wanted, Mother quickly wrung its neck and threw it down in the yard. I hated to see the poor things flopping around until they died. Mother put the dead chicken in the tub and poured boiling water over it to loosen the feathers. After it had scalded, she often set me to picking the feathers—which always had to be dried and saved to stuff pillows and mattresses. After the feathers were plucked, she would lift a lid on the stove and hold the chicken over the flame to singe the pin feathers. Then using a sharp knife she cut it into serving pieces. If it was a hen, Mother stewed it and made dumplings, but if it was a young bird she fried it crisply brown and served it with cream gravy.”

—Sidney Saylor Farr – “More than Moonshine Appalachian Recipes and Recollections”

Today’s Thankful November giveaway is a used copy of “More than Moonshine Appalachian Recipes and Recollections.” To be entered in the giveaway leave a comment on this post. *Giveaway ends on Friday November 22, 2019.


p.s. The winner of “The Foxfire Book” is Sallie The Apple Doll Lady who said: “Related to this is probably hornets nests. Built high is supposed to mean more snow. Thanks for some interesting thoughts for the “coffee club”. We readers seem to have formed a group who enjoy reading your posts while having our coffee.”

The winner of “Appalachian Toys & Games” is Amanda Burts who said: “I have always loved to swing, and still do, when I get a chance to!”

Send your mailing addresses to me at [email protected] (Amanda if you want to pick yours up at the Folk School-that works too!)

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  • Reply
    William J. Boone
    January 25, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    Pop-Pop killed his chickens with a sharp hatchet. He used a foot long piece of telephone pole with two nails driven in a flat side about an inch apart and sticking up about two inches. He’d pull the wing feathers down to the feet and hold the chicken that way, place the head between the nail and pull out the neck before delivering the coup-de grace. He’d hold the bird against the ground until it bled out and didn’t move because he detested the bloody mess a flopping chicken made. From there, it was Mom-Mom’s job. She dunked the birds in a 5 gallon bucket of hot water and plucked them. The odor was not pleasant, but when she singed the hairs off over the gas stove flame, I had to vacate the kitchen until that horrid smell dissipated. She carefully cut around the anus and dis-emboweled them into a pan. I once asked what the pointy thing was down near a rooster’s tail. Her reply, “That’s its oil can”. Another time, I asked if she was going to use all the various sized yolks from a hen. I thought it a waste when she said “No. you can’t eat them”. She always cut them into eight pieces, and all store-bought chickens, and put them in salted water in the refrigerator to draw out any blood that was still in them. They were fried or made into soup with home-made noodles or rice, boiled pot pie with slip dumplings or baked pot pies with top and bottom crust served with chicken gravy. Sheer ambrosia, (food of the gods).

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 11:40 pm

    Some of my favorite memories are going to the hen house to collect eggs. But the first time my Granny asked me if I wanted chicken and dumplings, and of course I said yes, she said come on let’s go get a chicken. My very young mind didn’t really understand what “going to get a chicken” really meant. I learned the true meaning of “running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off” that day.
    Tipper, as always, thank you for a Thankful November.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    One of mother’s home chores was to feed and tend the chickens; she told stories about it, each time ending with, “Boy, I hated that!” I never will be able to fry chicken like her or my aunts or grandma. Dang, how I miss their gravy, too.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou MCKillip
    November 19, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Tipper wouldn’t you love to have a fresh chicken to eat. miss Julie could fry one better than all the chicken cooker I have tasted. Miss Julie was trying to teach me the art of ringing ones neck but when I turned it loose thinking I had rung it’s neck the old hen flopped around and got up and ran to the woods near by. I would love to go back one day of long again and eating those fried chickens,

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    November 19, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Tipper this brings back memories. Miss Julie said go in the lot and catch a plump hen and ring her neck for Sunday dinner so I go not much bigger that that old hen . I dragged her out and made and attempt to wring her neck I got He in the air and down again thinking I had rung her neck. I turned he loose she waggled around and hit for the woods near by

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 11:23 am

    It sounds like i was home there for a minute Tipper. I to had to pluck the feathers off the chicken. Gosh it was ao good when momma fixed this. A real treat cause we didn’t get this often. So it was special . As they say finger licking good. Thanks Tipper!

  • Reply
    Patricia Small
    November 18, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    I remember my granddaddy raising chickens, when you went into the chicken house there was a sea of little yellow fuzz balls we called pepes. Unfortunately, when they grew up a few of them became dinner. My granddaddy would chop off their heads and my grandma would clean um, and fry um up. We waited a long time for dinner but it was always good when it was done! He raised hogs too.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    …growing up in NE PA as a skeed’zik’s as my GrandDad (Pop) would call me…never did know what it meant….even to this day… Pop was a butcher by trade…he’d slaughter all manner of animals, cows, hogs, goat’s, sheep…and of course chickens. For the chickens he had this contraption rigged up which consisted of a 1 x 6 plank oh about 5 or 6 feet long and had 4 or 5 conical shaped metal funnel looking things…was mounted on a make shift looking stand. The chickens were placed in them upside down with their heads sticking out of the small hole at the bottom facing the ground. After a minute or so…and they were all loaded into their cones…he took his boning knife to each of their necks…one-by-one….down the line…they didn’t flop too much in them cones and that drained their blood pretty quickly… Then the stinking part was next…dipping them in the caldron of boiling water…that was an awful stench… I do miss my Mam and Pop though…sure look forward to seeing them again on the other side…minus processing chickens that is…

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 18, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    Being the only boy automatically designated me as the chicken killer. sometimes when you laid their neck on the chopping block they would jerk their heads and make it hard to make a clean kill, I found that if you squeezed their neck then quickly laid it on the block they would stretch their head straight out making a clean beheading much easier and more humane than having to deliver more than one swift chop. I love fried chicken with browned milk gravy but my favorite day in and day out is Chicken & Dumplings, I bring the chicken to a rolling boil then drop the dumplings off a table spoon making each spoon of my dough into two dumplings this makes the dumplings light and fluffy as they cook quickly and therefore don’t get soggy and tough. My lovely bride likes her dumplings heavy so I try to beat her to fixing them.

  • Reply
    Quinn Piper
    November 18, 2019 at 7:27 pm

    I haven’t eaten chicken since the last time I bought some and got it home only to find that it didn’t smell right – not spoiled, but just not a clean food/meat smell, it was very strange – and I took it back to the grocery store. BUT, I’m taking a bigger plunge: I just called a friend who raises turkeys for the Thanksgiving/Christmas market, and placed an order for one. A whole turkey! Kind of exciting 🙂

  • Reply
    Teresa Lynn
    November 18, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    Oh the memories of childhood that this story brings back. Thank you for it. We raised chickens, hogs, rabbit and honeybees. The freshest food cooked with love! Gravy=Love

  • Reply
    George Grant
    November 18, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    When I was a very small child my grandparents kept chickens and among the flock was a bantam rooster. For no reason I ever discerned he was always aggressive toward me. Perhaps he mistook my curly, red hair for a competitive comb. One day as I walked beside grandma he came charging at me. Grandma stooped down, seized him by the neck and gave him a quick twirl above her head. She might have been old but she sure wasn’t slow. I do believe that was the best chicken dinner I ever ate. It wasn’t the tenderest I ever ate by a long shot but it was the best.

  • Reply
    Annette Casada Hensley
    November 18, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    Although Mama was usually the one who killed the chicken, she was far from being an expert. Rather than wringing its neck, she chopped off the head. Unfortunately, on occasion she didn’t have a successful chop on the first try as was the case when she managed to chop off the chicken’s beak after which the chicken got loose. Quite a bit of time was spent chasing down that poor chicken! Brother Jim and I loved it when a egg was found in a hen and would fight over who got to eat it.

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    November 18, 2019 at 10:39 am

    Having grown up on a farm, I saw the gruesome killing of chickens, and remember seeing a hog butchering. I, like Miss Cindy, hated seeing the killing of chickens, especially by my mother. I hated plucking the feathers, especially the smell. When a car filled with relatives drove up from Florida, Mother usually told a brother to catch a chicken or two. Chickens were a mainstay along with fresh eggs, home made butter and milk. With Mothers biscuits, some mashed potatoes and gravy, my cousins dived in. My cousins always talked about my mother’s cooking and how they loved coming to our place. Daddy said chicken kept our family from ever going hungry.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 18, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Daddy was the designated chicken killer. Mommy often fainted at the sight of blood. Daddy always lopped off his chicken’s heads with an extremely sharp axe so there would be no botched executions. He’d catch them and hold them until they calmed down, gently place them on the chopping block with their neck exposed and with one swift motion send them to a place where scratch feed abounds and no hawks circle overhead.
    Daddy was an expert neck wringer. He was a chicken farmer (rancher?) so had used the procedure thousands upon thousands of times to rid the flock of sick and dying birds. I remember one whole flock that had to be killed because inspectors found some dreaded disease in just one chicken.
    But Daddy wouldn’t wring the necks of the chickens we ate. He said they didn’t bleed right if you wring their necks. Daddy believed that the life was in the blood of an animal so if they weren’t bled right they shouldn’t be eaten. Daddy often helped neighbors butcher animals but when offered a “mess of meat” declined. He gave the neighbor a different reason I suppose but told us it hadn’t been bled right.
    I think I might have told this story before but we had a collie mix we called “Old Pooch”. One chilly day we were outside killing chickens. Old Pooch was laying beside the chop block anticipating the next head. We were scalding, picking and singeing, eviscerating and washing chickens. When they completed the process they were laid out on an old door Daddy had put across a couple of sawhorses. Well wouldn’t you know, a neighborhood dog decided he wanted some chicken too. He stood up to that makeshift table on his hind legs and picked him out one. Down across the yard he went and out of sight. And down across the yard too went Old Pooch! Sounds of a scuffle ensued and then here comes Old Pooch back with that chicken in his mouth. After placing the chicken back up on the table Old Pooch went back over to the chop block and laid back down.
    Daddy didn’t want to eat a chicken that had been wallered by dogs so he dropped it in the disposal pit. You might be thinking “Why didn’t he give it to Old Pooch as a reward for rescuing it?” Well he knew Old Pooch wouldn’t eat it. Pooch only liked heads!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 18, 2019 at 10:16 am

    After church Mama would show me and Harold which Domimickers to wring their necks. Daddy would usually invite the Pastor and his wife over for Dinner. Me and Harold would carry the pullets down to the footlog to do the business and when we’d get done, Mama had a Dishpan for us to put the Chickens in. She took them to the house, cut ’em up real nice with the Pulley-bones still in tacked, and when they got nearly done, you could smell them a mile away. She cooked them on a wood stove, cause we didn’t have no electric stove.

    Me and Harold hoped preacher James and his wife wouldn’t see the Pulley Bones cause that was our Favorite.

    Chicken at Ingles use to be the cheapest thing on the market. Instead of being $.29 or $.39 Cents a pound, I saw 3 large breasts for almost $10.00 and they were Tyson brand. They are caged and fed food that make them larger than Mama’s that she use to fry. They taste different too. …Ken

  • Reply
    November 18, 2019 at 9:52 am

    My mama grew up with chickens, and Nanny (her mother) would butcher a chicken on Saturday and they’d have fried chicken on Sunday. Even after Nanny no longer had chickens, she still fried the best chicken. Mama fried good chicken too. We always had fried chicken on Sunday when I was growing up.

  • Reply
    Tony Padgett
    November 18, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Brings back lots of memories, we butchered all our animals, I learned how to at a very early age. Every year the folks would put up chicken, we did our own beef and pork. I did not know what a burger tasted like until I could drive. Went to a fast food joint. Did not like the taste. We ate very well on the farm. Worked hard too. Had our own milk cow, to this day I cannot drink milk from the store, raw milk drinker/user all my life.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Mom served fried chicken for breakfast many times. It tasted so different than the chicken we buy at the supermarket today. I have even tried buying the Amish grown chickens at the meat market in an attempt to duplicate the taste I remember chickens used to have. I don’t eat hamburger or any pork and haven’t in years. Chicken and dumplings, chicken pot pie, chicken chili, baked chicken and fried chicken is on my menu five or six days a week. The dog gets the meat from the legs. Never ate one and never will.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Chicken is about the only meat we can afford at the stores now. I’ve wrung many chicken necks in years past. Now I just let someone else do the dirty work.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2019 at 8:55 am

    It is amazing what was the norm when I was growing up, but younger people have not experienced. Growing up around farms I saw just about every situation imaginable. My chore was always to feed the pigs morning and evening, and I detested it because if you weren’t careful the “slop” would splatter on your clothes. Egg gathering and baby chicks was always enjoyable. Anytime there was fried chicken or chicken and dumplings the day started with a random chicken getting its neck wrung. This possibly is why I was never much of a meat eater.
    Much of life in the country was very enjoyable with gardening and long country walks with friends. All those years no deer sighting and few squirrels because they had been hunted out. Nowadays wildlife has taken over from what I understand from the few who still try to farm. For the remainder of my life I will miss walking along country roads and exploring the mountains. With all the bear sightings it would not be wise where I grew up. I can ‘t run, and I wouldn’t be brave enough to try to look as large as possible. Sis reported a bear on her patio, and the DNR told them to quit putting garbage out. My witty niece advised, “But we don’t keep our garbage in the house.”

  • Reply
    John T
    November 18, 2019 at 8:51 am

    I remember years ago using a chicken plucker when butchering chickens. After dipping the chicken in hot water you held it against this spinning drum thing that took off all the feathers and covered you with them. Never liked the the butchering part.. only eating them.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    November 18, 2019 at 8:28 am

    Love southern fried chicken, especially home grown chicken or a big fat hen for chicken and dumplings. We don’t have as many choices at church dinners anymore for chicken and dumplings since so many of the old generation have died off.
    I may have told this before, not sure. The first time I tried to wring a chickens neck I didn’t know how to do it but thought I did. I’d seen it done several times so I grabbed the chicken by the head and went to twirling it. That poor hen died of a broken neck stretched out to a foot long. Now the scalding with hot water is what I hated. Never could stand that smell.

    • Reply
      November 18, 2019 at 9:48 am

      We still make chicken and dumplings, but our chicken comes from the grocery store. It really tastes good on a cold day.

  • Reply
    carol harrison
    November 18, 2019 at 8:11 am

    I remember my dad tying a chicken to the clothesline by the leg and swiftly cutting the head off. The wings flopped and the chicken spun round and round splattering blood on the snow covered ground until drained of blood. Gruesome sight. He plunged the chicken into a bucket of boiling water then plucked them off. Mom would singe the pin feathers off over the gas stove burner. My dad would then finish gutting and butchering. My mother in law wrung the chickens neck. She wasn’t a good cook and those chicken were always tough and chewy.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 18, 2019 at 8:01 am

    Yep, I remember about having chickens and the making of chicken dinners. I suspect we as a society lost some intestinal fortitude when we got so divorced from living on the farm and knowing where (and how) our food came from. I understand a degree of reluctance to kill. I have it myself. But we need toughness to.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 18, 2019 at 7:40 am

    I’m pretty good at processing the chicken once it’s dead but I’m not much good on the killing part. Guess I’m just too tender hearted. I watched my grandmother chop their heads off then throw them in a pile to flop till they died. I was a little girl then and found it upsetting. That tells you I didn’t grow up in the country!
    In my defense I will say I’m good at the processing part once the heart has stopped. I guess it’s all about what what your used to and I just never got used to the killing part.

  • Reply
    Don Tomlinson
    November 18, 2019 at 7:01 am

    Oh your posts do bring back some vivid memories sometimes. When I was younger my first assignment was to catch the chicken or chickens as my granny or my mom usually wanted to fix two. Neither ever did the neck wringing as I recall but were deadly with the hatchet on a chopping block. After chopping the heads off they handed them to me by the legs which I was to hold tightly until they quit flopping so they didn’t get bruised up. Of course if you weren’t careful this often resulted in a good spattering with blood. I’ve heard about some folks who would hang them quickly on the clothesline for the same purpose. But then as you mentioned the fun began with the scalding and picking. They always had a piece of newspaper or paper bag which was lit for the singing.

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    November 18, 2019 at 6:59 am

    The one and only time I saw a chicken killed I couldn’t eat meat for years. I am vegan now so it stuck with mr

  • Reply
    November 18, 2019 at 6:27 am

    i think i’m a hypocrite but if i had to kill the food i eat, i’d be a vegetarian. i could cook it, i just couldn’t kill it.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2019 at 5:26 am

    We only had a pet rooster or two, but Mamaw had chickens and if you wanted to get on her bad side just start chasing’em, or throwing rocks at them, boy she’d open that screen door and yell a blood-curdling scream with a few adjectives and your name in the middle of the whole sentence, just ask me how I know.

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney Jr
      November 18, 2019 at 8:16 am

      Yeah, and many times that name in the middle of the whole sentence included both first and middle name such as Betty Lou, Carolyn Sue, etc.?

      • Reply
        November 18, 2019 at 9:45 am

        My youngest always said that when I called her by her first and middle name, she knew she was in trouble!

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