Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: Chicken of chickens

RICHARD LOMUSCIO PHOTO | The backyard chicken coop at the Island home of Myla Dougherty, the author’s granddaughter. From left: Chicken Little, Turtle, Chopped Licker, Fluffy, Einstein and Scruffy.
RICHARD LOMUSCIO PHOTO | The backyard chicken coop at the Island home of Myla Dougherty, the author’s granddaughter. From left: Chicken Little, Turtle, Chopped Licker, Fluffy, Einstein and Scruffy.

I remember many years ago when I was growing up in the city, the only chickens I ever saw were wrapped in brown paper and available in the neighborhood butcher shop.

Chicken was a good protein staple that appeared on the table roasted for a Sunday dinner or in pieces or cutlets for a weekday meal. I never remember any worries about disease. The meat I remember having to be careful of was pork. Trichinosis was the problem with under-cooked pork. It went without saying  that chicken was always cooked thoroughly. 

Then talk of salmonella became common. When I first heard the name of the bacteria, I thought it was named after the biologist “Sal” who discovered it.

Not so. It’s a lethal bacteria that, according to experts, is found in poultry like chickens, ducks and turkeys. The heightened awareness is the result of a proliferation of the bacteria because of improper handling practices of poultry and eggs I am told. That’s why so few people make homemade mayonnaise or Caesar dressing these days. Avoid raw eggs.

I just do not remember worrying about this some 40 plus years ago when my children were young. Eggnog was a staple of their diets. No one ever got sick. Pork was always the worry.

I remember calling Dr. Grunwalt after my 2-year-old son took bites out of an uncooked pork chop he found in the fridge. I had visions of taking him to the emergency room to get his stomach pumped. The doctor calmed me down and said that most commercial pork was corn fed and not slop fed. The latter encouraged the trichinosis. I was relieved. However, I still find it difficult to eat rare pork even though it’s safely served that way these days.

A recent article in The New York Times (September 5) called “The Risk of Raising Your Own Chickens,” and my granddaughter’s setting up of a chicken coop with six hens, made me think more carefully about salmonella.

According to the story by Azeri Pattani, “So far this year, 961 people in 48 states have contracted the disease from backyard birds.”

This is not to say that backyard birds are to be avoided. The owners just have to be careful and use common sense in handling them.

Always wear separate boots and clothes to use in the coop. Don’t let poultry inside your house and never eat or drink around the chicken coop. Above all, be scrupulous about washing hands after any contact with the chickens. These are recognized guidelines for having backyard birds.

The purists will tell you that there’s nothing like a backyard bird’s eggs. The difference can be tasted right away.

In today’s marketplace, sometimes we do not know where the chickens we eat have come from. So there’s a certain comfort that comes from owning the hen that lays the egg.

I remember back in the 70s here that my two neighbors had chickens. The Youngs to my left and the Ketchams across the road had very vocal roosters who let us know it was time to get up.

My granddaughter does not yet have a rooster. She’s strictly interested in the eggs for now. We’ll see what happens down the road. And there are no plans now to do any butchering of the birds. They all have names.

When I see what’s involved in the care and raising of chickens — all the food and accouterments plus the cost of the coop and making it hawk and fox proof — it’s a pretty expensive egg to put on the table or roast bird in the oven.

So for the time being, I’ll stick with Perdue or Tyson for my birds.

Meanwhile, I heard from Senior Citizen Foundation vice president Judy Daniels that there’s still room in the memoir writing program. You can even sign up when you show up at the library. The program runs for three Fridays — September 22, 29 and October 6. The cost is $75 for all three workshops.

To register send a check to the Senior Citizen Foundation Senior Smarts, PO Box 352, Shelter Island, NY 11964 or sign up at the library  on the first day.