Over the Labor Day weekend, thousands of chickens were eaten, relished and enjoyed by holiday celebrants. No holiday is complete without fried chicken, barbecued chicken and spicy chicken wings.
We all are apt to take the popular fowl for granted because it is so plentiful, cheap and so versatile in hundreds of great and tasty recipes. However, the chicken growers, grateful for the chicken's role in American cuisine, are responsible for designating September as National Chicken Month. Now, that's something to crow about.
Lest you believe the chicken is a dull and mundane critter, I am here to inform you the chicken proved to be of great interest to none other than Charles Darwin. He took time to abandon his studies into the origins of man to concentrate on the derivation of the chicken.
The modern chicken originated as the first cousin to the "Gaullus bankiva," a species of jungle fowl still found in the jungles of Burma, Northern India, Siam and Sumatra.
The first domesticated chickens were raised in India sometime around 3200 B.C. and were originally bred for the sport of cockfighting. Now chickens are raised and eaten all over the world. Here in the United States, it is one of the most important agricultural industries with most chickens being raised by large companies and few domestic chicken farms remaining.
Descendants of the families that came over on the Mayflower are justifiably proud of their heritage. Accompanying these early settlers were a few chickens, the first to make it to the New World. In 1607 the settlers of Jamestown introduced poultry raising and breeding. This original stock was brought from England and was instrumental in helping the pioneers survive in the wilderness. As time passed, new breeds were developed, and chicken meat became an important part of the American diet.
It took a farsighted woman, Mrs. Wilmer Steele of Ocean View, Del., to establish the region as the leading producers of chickens on the Delmarva Peninsula. The flat, fertile and sunny terrain was perfect for raising chickens. In 1932, Mrs. Steele acquired a small flock of chickens that eventually grew to 10,000 birds in 1936. The Delmarva Peninsula is now the leading producer of chickens.
Floridians have made attempts to become successful producers of chickens. In 1925, a group of Czech immigrants settled in the town of Masaryktown in Central Florida. When their orange groves were destroyed by the hard frost of 1926, they turned to raising chickens. This venture earned them a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as home of the fastest chicken pluckers in the universe.
Naples also has taken a place in the production of chickens. In the 1970s and '80s, the Sterritt Egg Ranch in Pine Ridge supplied eggs to local residents and markets.
In East Naples, during the late '40s and early '50s, Neapolitans could drive out to a chicken farm for freshly killed and cleaned chickens, eggs and free manure for local gardens.
It is no surprise that I am a chicken maven. Up in the Berkshires, there resides a prime example of fowl beauty: Queen of the Barnyard — Chickie Doris, named after you know who.
It's been said that the perfectly roasted chicken indicates the cook has reached perfection in the kitchen.
THE ULTIMATE ROASTED CHICKEN
1 5-pound best quality roasting chicken
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery, including leaves
1 cup chopped carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup hot water
1 Rub salt into the cavity of chicken.
2 Add thyme, sage rosemary and bay leaf to cavity.
3 Combine onion, celery, carrot and parsley.
4 Spread over bottom of large roasting pan.
5 Place chicken breast side down on vegetables.
6 Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 30 minutes.
7 Turn chicken breast side up.
8 Sprinkle garlic over breast and legs.
9 Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake an hour.
10 Transfer chicken to serving platter.
11 Remove fat and bay leaf from roasting pan and add hot water to the vegetables in pan.
12 Heat until drippings and vegetables are loosened from pan.
13 Transfer to food processor.
14 Puree, adding additional water if necessary for gravy consistency. Serve with the chicken.
Serves 4 to 6.
Note from Doris: I always rub the chicken with softened butter and instead of just water; I mix it with chicken stock for added flavor.
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 four-part DVD, "A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds." Contact Doris Reynolds at email@example.com.