This past weekend, my hubbins Nathan and I engaged in our usual Sunday afternoon ritual of drooling over whatever Lidia Bastianich is making on her PBS show, Lidia’s Italy. This week was a great chicken and olive dish that was so simple, Lidia spent the first part of the show talking about the importance of getting a chicken that’s been raised humanely and fed what chickens eat, not what big corporations say they should eat (which is usually stuff we wouldn’t eat, so why would we want to eat something that ate things we wouldn’t eat? You get the idea).

Then Lidia spent a few minutes showing how simple it is to cut up a whole chicken. Her recipe called for the chicken to be in parts, so she expertly wielded her blade, showing where to cut, how to pull, and when to use a bit of extra force. She made it look so easy, and when I promised the hubbins I’d make this luscious-looking dish, I figured I’d try cutting up my own whole chicken.

Cue doom-y theme music for Not-So-Great Moments in Kitchen History.

I got my organic chicken, took out a sharp blade, and proceeded to massacre this poor bird. I tried to remember what Lidia had done, but all I was doing was cutting too much here and not being able to cut through there. Why had I thought this was such a great idea? What, was I some kind of purist all of a sudden? Should I go out and kill the chicken too?

And that thought explained to me why I had wanted to do this. As I wrote in Cherries in Winter, my grandparents were farmers for a while, and they raised chickens, among other things. En route from hen house to table, Grandpa had to kill the chicken and dress it. Cutting the bird up into pieces was the least of that process.

Nana, like me, was a career girl before she came into contact with feathers and giblets. She probably had no better idea of how to dress (what a nice word for what this means) a chicken than I just did. But she figured it out because she had to. There was no supermarket near the farm in those early days of World War II, and even if she could’ve gotten through the snow to a butcher in the wintertime, they didn’t have the money for a store-bought, oven-ready chicken. So, she did what she had to do to get dinner on the table for her family, even though she probably darn near fainted the first time she reached in to get the giblets out. (When I asked Mom about this, she said, “Grandpa did everything but cook the bird, because you’re right–Nana would’ve fainted if she had to do anything else to it.”)

My chicken massacre hasn’t made me swear off learning how to take a chicken apart. I have a lot of respect for food, for my grandparents and the struggles they went through, and for people who know how to cook properly. I’m going to learn how to do this correctly, respectfully, and–hopefully–a little more bravely.


Thankfully, it looks so delicious that you'd never know the chicken had been massacred.