Pearl Gets A Bath

My very first chicken was a hand-me-down from a neighbor, who after a 4-H project with her daughter was left with one small white bird. I said I’d take the hen if she was done with chickens, and so I got Buk-Buk and a dilapidated coop (which was mostly a box with a small wire pen attached.) Buk-Buk was the gentlest, sweetest hen. She was a Cochin, which is a breed with masses of feathers, all the way down to its toes. I loved Buk-Buk, but not her feathery feet, which got muddy in the spring and fall and encrusted with snow and ice during the winter. I haven’t had a cochin since her. Still, when I placed the hatchery order in the spring, I asked for two blue Cochins. (Blue means grey in chicken talk.) I was yearning for blue birds, and liked the idea of the mellow cochin personality.

One of the chicks didn’t survive, but Pearl kept growing and growing. Cochins have layers of downy underfeathers, and more layers of primary feathers, all of which are softer than the average chicken’s. An adult Cochin takes up space. But, size doesn’t determine pecking order, and with her gentle demeanor, Pearl is at the bottom of the pack. That isn’t a big deal in my flock, as it is a peaceful group of girls, but it does mean that Pearl sleeps on a lower rung of the roost. The roosts are ladders, propped up against the wall. Somehow, I installed them at just the wrong angle – the hens above poop onto the backs of the girls below. The other hens, with their tight feathering, were able to shake the messes off, but the manure sank into Pearl’s pillows of down. This past weekend, in the midst of making pies, I picked up Pearl and realized that she had poop all across her back. You can see the discoloration of her feathers in this photo. What you can’t see is the mess underneath. (Yet another reason to handle and inspect your birds!)

Disgusting, and not at all healthy for her. I didn’t have time to give her a full bath. I had pies to bake. Bathing a regular chicken (video here) can take a half hour, but double that for a Cochin. Instead, I hosed Pearl’s back end off in my laundry room sink, then soaped up the offending area with ivory and hosed her off some more. Next she was ready to be blow-dried. She sat on my leg while I blew. And blew. After thirty minutes she was almost dry – good enough to go back outside. Luckily it was a surprisingly warm day for November. If the temperatures had been normal, I’d have been drying her another half hour, and I hadn’t even gotten her whole body wet. (Anyone out there show Cochins? Keeping them in show feathers is a whole other story!)

Just look at those pantaloons. On the left is Pearl all fluffed up and clean. Next to her is Opal, a big Delaware. Opal weighs more than Pearl, but you have to pick them up to know that.

I’ve moved the roosts down so that the angle isn’t so steep. That should take care of the problem.

Pearl still has a manure stain on her back, but she’s clean and I’m sure a lot more comfortable. As long as I was giving her a spa day, I trimmed the feathers on her feet. It’ll be easier for her to get around on icy ground without snow clumping on them. Her dense coat will keep her toasty warm this winter. However, in the summer she has a hard time regulating body temperature and is susceptible to heat stroke. Cochins are gorgeous, fancy birds;  they’re not sensible barnyard chickens and they need extra care. But, in a flock of a dozen, isn’t it nice to have one that looks like this?

Pie Party Photos

The pie party takes a lot of planning and a lot of work. Luckily, I’m an organized person who likes writing lists. Also, I can look at a recipe and know what I can do ahead and what has to be done at the last minute (why don’t more food writers put that sort of information into their recipes? I do!) Even with the prep that I had done all week, there was still a lot of cooking to do on Sunday. Just the Banana Cream Pie required several steps. The pudding filling was made on Saturday, so to have time to set. But, on Sunday I had to make a crust, (I was short crusts, how did that happen?) make the meringue, top the pie

and then pull out my blow torch to brown it!

The crust for the Almond-Chocolate-Pear Tart was done the day before, but the rest of the pie had to be assembled and baked on Sunday. While still warm, I brushed on an apricot jelly glaze.

I’d cooked the chicken up a week earlier, picked the meat off the bones, and chopped and froze it, but I still had to make the rest of the filling for the Pot Pie, (which entails sauteing the vegetables, adding flour to make a roux, and tossing in homegrown rosemary) roll out the puff pastry (the only dough I don’t make) and do a little decorating. I don’t often get to use this tool, but it was perfect for this job!

Doesn’t this look delicious?

The Sweet Potato Pie recipe was surprisingly complicated. I had to make caramel to sweeten the batter. The caramel provides a depth of flavor that straight sugar can’t do. It was worth it, as several people said that this pie was their favorite. This last piece was soon gone.

Here is part of the spread before the guests arrived. (That’s homemade, unsweetened whipped cream in the bottom right corner.)

And here it is later.

I was happy.

But tired.

Some of my guests, though, seemed to have unlimited appetites and energy.

Thanks to Steve Golson and Spencer Webb for the photos!

Pie Party Accounting

Twenty-five adults and four smallish children arrived yesterday afternoon. Most came at 3 pm. They know that for the best selection you arrive right on time. They left about three hours later. Of the 16 pies that made it onto the buffet table, the leftovers added up to only 2 pies. That means that 14 were consumed, so this year’s crowd managed to eat more than half a pie per person.

I made 3 savory pies: Chicken Pot Pie, Butternut Squash and Spinach Tart (baked in a custard with feta and heavy cream), and a Classic Bacon Quiche (the bacon sourced from a local farm which raises pigs on pasture.)

I most enjoy making the apple and fruit pies. This year I baked: Apple with a Cheddar Crumble Topping, Peach and Apple Spiked with Ginger, Apple and Cranberry, and a Peach and Pear Pie with Almond Custard.

There’s always chocolate. The most complicated pie was an Almond and Chocolate Tart topped with pears and an apricot jelly glaze. I also served a classic dense Chocolate Tart, and a Tollhouse Cookie Pie (consumed by kids and adults alike with vanilla ice cream).

Also on the buffet table were a Lemon Tart, a Sweet Potato Pie in a Gingersnap Crust, and a Banana Cream Pie in a billowy Meringue (had to do something with all of those excess egg whites!)

I had the last slice of the Cranberry and Apple Pie for breakfast. There’s never enough leftovers.

Photos are on Steve’s camera – I’ll post them when he downloads them to my computer!

Pie Party Decorating

There will be thirty people here for pie tomorrow and I felt the need to decorate. Something sparkly and happy. But not expensive.

There’s a bush in the goat pasture that I’ve been meaning to cut down. The branches would be just right for twinkly lights.

Do you know how top-heavy and awkward those twigs are? I didn’t have a large and heavy enough vase to contain them, so I used (don’t tell my guests) a toilet paper holder, and hid that with a vintage grain sack from my collection.

More branches are in the stairwell. I did splurge on the pussy willow lights, but those can be used all year. Notice the table that the vase is on – it’s an old chicken crate.

The bannister is the perfect place for a garland and lights. I’ve had this paper-mache gourd garland for years.

It needed lights, so I pulled these out of my collection (this was an eBay find). Look close, they’re hens and eggs.

I’m careful not to overdo the chicken decor. I like a touch of whimsy; I like it to be small little surprises, not an an overwhelming theme. There won’t be anything poultry related on the buffet, well, except for the chicken pot pie. I’ll have photos of that for you next week.