In 1925 a group of Czech immigrants settled the town of Masaryktown in central Florida. They established orange groves, which were destroyed in the hard frost of 1926. The enterprising immigrants then turned to the growing of chickens, and that proved to be a successful venture. Not only did the chickens bring them fortune, but eventually brought fame to the small settlement.
The town was chosen by the Guinness Book of World Records as home of the fastest chicken-pluckers in the universe. Each year the town of nearby Spring Hill played host to the world’s championship plucking contest.
Alas, as the years flew by the descendents of those original settlers eschewed poultry raising and moved on to other opportunities and Masaryktown faded into obscurity.
If only they had waited for Colonel Sanders and yes, even former president Herbert Hoover, who promised “a chicken in every pot.”
The chicken has contributed mightily to the culinary world. It has been around for centuries and piqued the interest of Charles Darwin, who studied their beginnings. He theorized that all modern breeds of chickens were offspring of a common ancestor. Modern chickens’ ancestors go back to a jungle fowl, Gaullus bankiva, still found in the rainforest of Burma (Myanmar), Northern India, Thailand and Sumatra. The first domesticated chickens were raised in India sometime around 3200 B.C. and were originally bred for the sport of cockfighting.
In 1607, the settlers of the Jamestown colony introduced poultry raising and breeding. Those original chicks came from Mother England and the colonists began cross-breeding and selling the chickens throughout the surrounding countryside. Other chickens were imported from Asia, and these also remain the foundation for the modern day species.
Many of those early chickens escaped from the colonists’ farms and ventured into what is now the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware. These chickens were the ancestors of Purdue chickens and several other breeds. The peninsula is now the largest producer of chickens in the country.
The chicken is not a fortunate member of the animal kingdom. Billions are slaughtered every year, for they not only produce eggs and delicious meat, they also are the world’s most efficient producer of meat protein. It only requires less than 2 pounds of feed to yield 1 pound of food. Chicken is an international culinary tradition and is a major food source in almost every nation on earth.
A serving of chicken provides more than half a day’s protein requirement while a 3-ounce serving of roasted chicken has fewer than 150 calories. Chicken is probably the most versatile meat available for human consumption.
Chicken is a healthful and inexpensive food, so it is not surprising that it ranks as the most popular meat prepared in home kitchens. It takes ingenuity and creativeness to come up with new ways to serve chicken.
Culinary experts maintain that if one can successfully roast a chicken they are considered a master chef. So here goes:
Perfect roast chicken
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
5 pound roasting chicken
½ teaspoon sage
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery, including leaves
1 cup chopped carrot
Generous sprig fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup hot water or chicken stock
■ Rub salt into cavity of chicken, Add thyme, sage, rosemary and bay leaf to cavity. Combine onion, celery, carrot and parsley. Spread over bottom of large roasting pan. Place chicken breast side down on vegetables. Bake in preheated 450-degree oven for 30 minutes.
■ Turn chicken breast side up. Sprinkle garlic over breast and legs. Reduce heat to 400 degrees. Bake 1 hour.
■ Transfer chicken to serving platter and remove fat the bay leaf from roasting pan. Add the hot water of stock to vegetables in pan. Heat until drippings and vegetables are loosened from pan.
■ Transfer to food processor and puree, adding additional liquid for proper gravy consistency. After allowing the chicken to sit for about 15 minutes, carve, pass the gravy and enjoy the accolades.
Note: The real secret is to select the very best chicken you can buy. The chicken should have a meaty feeling, free of any blemishes and have a full and moist breast.
Q: Some friends are bringing their boat to Naples shortly and have invited us to go cruising with them. I have been asked to fix a salad and would like a recipe for a salad that is suitable to be served aboard.
— Candace Lutringer, Marco Island
A: This salad originated in Switzerland and is almost a complete meal in itself. It’s ideal for summer outings.
Gypsy salad (Zigeunersalat)
½ pound smoked salami, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup thinly sliced dill pickle
¼ cup pearl onion, parboiled for 5 minutes, drained and thinly sliced*
1 large ripe tomato, diced
¼ pound Gruyere cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced
2 tightly packed cups of salad green, torn into bit-sized pieces
¼ cup fresh peas, parboiled for 2 minutes, drained or if frozen, thawed
2 anchovy fillets, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine, sherry or cider vinegar
1½ teaspoons prepared mustard
Pinch of paprika
2 teaspoons minced fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
■ Toss the salami, pickles, onions, tomato, cheese, eggs, greens, peas and anchovies in a salad bowl.
■ Place the vinegar, mustard, paprika, dill, salt and pepper in a jar with a tight lid and shake well. Pour over the salad and toss well.
■ Refrigerate, covered for 2 to 24 hours. Toss again before serving. Serves 4 to 6.
*Fresh pearl onions may be replaced by either frozen or canned ones.
Doris Reynolds is the author of “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried” and “Let’s Talk Food.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a 4-part DVD. “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” For comments and information regarding today’s column, e-mail Doris Reynolds: email@example.com.