DECEMBER 8, 2008 10:17PM

A little morsel of heaven's humble beginnings

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I was leaning on the kitchen counter, while Patricia sat at the kitchen table watching me eat a hardboiled egg.  I took a bite and remarked: “Ah, a little morsel of heaven that was pushed out of a chicken’s ass!”  Almost immediately, Patricia, who’s not one to argue unless she has the facts, said: “Eggs come out of a different hole, dear.”  An immediate offer of a bet was made: “Any amount you want to risk,” accepted, “fifty bucks,” and modified, “fifty cents.”


I don’t know if you’ve ever checked out the reproductive system of hens, but it is very interesting.  The oviduct and the intestine run parallel to each other like an over and under shotgun.  Just before the anus, the two meet.  The dividing flesh between the two openings swings down out of the way to allow the egg to exit through the anus. I found this picture in the Internet:



After a very light gloating, I told Patricia a chicken story from my childhood.


One Christmas, when I was about 7, my mother brought home from the market a live hen destined to contribute her all to Christmas Eve dinner.  She tied the hen from one of her legs to a water faucet with a six foot string made of sisal.  There the hen lay, under the shade of my mother’s potted plants, softly cackling, at first the object of my intense attention, then forgotten except for the times when my mother would call: “Give the chicken some water.” Or “Give the chicken some food.”  In Argentina poultry lose their gender identity and all are called “chicken” by default. 


On the morning of Christmas Eve, after my father left for work, --God forbid he should see the bird killed-- my mother corralled the hen, grabbed it and gave its head a quick twist.  This was followed by the removal of her feathers assisted by dunking the dead bird into boiling water.  Then she took the limp body to the kitchen where she used the flames from the kerosene calentador to burn the stubble.


I watched the proceedings with a mixture of curiosity and revulsion, half my farm raised criolla mother’s son, half my city raised catalan father’s son.  With the hen now dead and denuded, my mother concentrated on cleaning her insides.  She opened the bird and showed me the eggs that were in different stages of completion. You can see a picture that shows the developing eggs at the end of this post –it’s pretty graphical--.  The developing eggs are at the right lower quarter of the picture.


She cut the chicken legs just below the thigh and carefully exposed the tendons that lead to the feet.  She showed me how by pulling and releasing the tendons, the foot would clench and unclench.


That afternoon, I played with the foot and I remember distinctly my mixed feelings of amusement and revulsion.  The hen went on to become the star of the night’s dinner and was well relished.  In Argentina, then, chicken was much more expensive than steak so we were tired of beef and loved the taste of chicken and turkey.  My mother continued to buy the occasional live bird until once when she got a young chicken, a male, too young --it was thought— to crow like a rooster.  Unfortunately, the chicken was precocious and it woke us –and the neighbors— at dawn two days in a row.    


Here's that picture I promised:




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eggs, egg, food, bird, chicken, hen

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Your post called up images of when the elderly Italian woman who lived next door brought live chickens home from the West Side Market in Cleveland and would cut their heads off using a knife against a section of tree trunk in the backyard next to our garden. My brother and sister and I would stare fascinated at the rather noisy and messy carnage. Probably my earliest memories of death.
Wow. I love this. Such a slice of 'home life.' I appreciate it. Who knew about where the egg came from? I'm a city girl.

My husband and I haven't been to Argentina; however we met in Costa Rica and have a little Latin in us somewhere...