“The modern city pigeon is a descendant of the rock pigeon that in the Old World dwelled among the cliffs and crevices above the caves in which early man built his first fires. He has been with us since our emergence from the ice ages and has adapted as readily as ourselves to the artificial canyons of man’s first walled towns. He has known the Grecian palaces and the metropolises of Byzantium. His cold flat feet, adapted to high and precarious walking, have sauntered in the temples of vanished gods as readily as in Boston’s old North Station”.
From “Home Cookbook Of Wild Meat and Game”, by Bradford Angier.
Think about that, next time you contemplate a pigeon.
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Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
It is a heady and perplexing question, to be sure. Like the classical philosophers of old, I do not have an acceptable answer, either. I’m not even going to try.
However, for more and more people across this land, a more appropriate and timely question has evolved. They now ask themselves if perhaps they should acquire some chickens, which could provide some tasty eggs for their morning breakfast. People are now looking at their backyards with fresh eyes, searching for a handy and level spot to erect that new chicken coop. Unfortunately, the next question becomes all to prominent and leaps to center stage. “Is it legal, they ask”? Now there’s a question! Again, it is also not so easy to answer in simple terms. This can of worms is large, and it holds more slithering things than your well-tended compost pile.
For lack of a better term, the backyard chicken movement is exploding across the country, much to the chagrin of local jurisdictions and the faceless bureaucratic machine. It is a suburban, and increasingly urban phenomena. Well informed citizens are demanding high quality, locally grown food. Imagine that! The local food movement continues to gain momentum, with more followers and practitioners every day. It’s a national issue now, and it is not going away anytime soon. But it starts on the local level, and chickens are a big part of it.
For example, the city council of a small town near me, recently voted to consider new draft code provisions relating to chickens within the city limits and residential neighborhoods. Apparently, it is currently illegal to keep a chicken. Who knew? Well, several of the residents who testified did not. They had been keeping chickens for years, without issue. No one had bothered to discuss it with them. For some unexplained reason, it was time to come out of the chicken closet. They now wished to tend to their birds legally, with favor, and approval.
The city council was quick to state that it was a land use matter, and as such, falls within their purview. It’s all about zoning, you see, and it’s not about how you live, but where you live. It’s all about proper consideration, and planning. It’s about rules and regulation, and lawful ordinance. It’s about monitoring and control, enforcement, and penalty. I don’t think the entire, sordid show is about chickens at all.
Typically, an ordinance relating to poultry keeping will determine how many hens you can have, and where and how you must keep them. The birds must be contained and quiet, the coops must be secure. The installation of electric fencing can be required. One must mitigate for noxious odor, and control predators. The birds cannot be allowed to roam free and spread disease, or attract a wandering skunk. Above all, the noisy and offensive rooster is not allowed. They might disturb the neighbors, and it is simply too much for the controlling mind of the clerk. On and on it goes.
I don’t fault our nearby chicken keepers for trying, in fact I applaud them. It’s a noble and just cause, and they have done their best to work along the only route available to them. It is the manner in which we fight that disturbs me. The documenting newspaper article talks of how the group promises to play by the rules. One person is quoted in saying, “I’m confident we will be 100 percent in compliance”. “Compliant”, says she? The article goes on discuss the good points of chicken raising, of how it can educate children as to where their food comes from, while having fun. It touts the economic benefit that could be brought to the revenue of the hardware supply and the gardening store. It balances these ideas against the potential downsides and complaints, and makes the case that perhaps it is not a foolish idea, after all. “Foolish”, indeed. Imagine the foolishness of someone with the audacity to supply their own food.
The residents of Denver, Colorado begged for their right to keep animals some time ago, and now they live under some of the most draconian laws imaginable. Their ordinances require a permit to keep poultry on property. A fee is demanded, and stipulations must be met and maintained. Once permitted, the property is subject to inspection and multiple visits by more than one controlling agency. They arrive when they wish, without appointment. The property must be properly posted, and the neighbors so notified. Permits are subject to renewal, at the government’s discretion, with annual fees. Violators will be prosecuted. Does this sound like some type of preposterous science fiction movie, or a town, or city, near you? We are talking chickens here, and not about some dangerous and toothsome creature from outer space.
I want to know who gained the authority to decide that the chicken limit stops at four, five, or six. When did they decide that? Was I asked to voice my humble opinion? What made it so important to come up with such a law? Were the parameters based on some well thought out scientific study, funded with the public dollar, and performed by some chicken police think tank? Has anyone considered that roosters are an important piece of the poultry puzzle? If I am not mistaken, they are a vital and necessary component of procreation, and life. Though infertile, a willing hen will bless you with the miracle of an egg without the help of a male. A rooster is required if you wish to replenish your flock. Is it new life, that they despise?
The message they wish to send is clear. How dare you think of enjoying a private egg or two, for yourselves, in peace? You are a criminal of the worst kind, guilty as charged until proven innocent. Your fine, and punishment, is what we say it is. And oh, by the way, the chickens now belong to us.
It is a proverbial, in your face case, of the foxes guarding not one, but all of the hen houses. I like foxes, and I would prefer to preserve their good name. The truth is, they are not foxes anyway, as that would be too tame a description. Bloody tongued wolves would be more like it, circling impatiently in the dark night, eager to blow your house down. The devil is always in the carefully crafted details of the hidden contract, and they administered and diverted our rights away many years ago.
Yet, the wheels are wobbling on the fatally damaged, corporate driven shopping cart. We are taking our chicken coops back, one backyard at a time. They know it, and they cannot allow it. They are desperate, and they grow more terrified every day. We know the truth, and can see the madness of their souls. They hold power over us because we empower them. We didn’t even show up for the fight.
My advice is uncomplicated. Don’t give it all up to them so easily. Refuse to grovel before the beast. It’s sad and pathetic, and it makes us look small. Compliance is not an option, and the monster’s cravings are insatiable. Do not give them the satisfaction of obtaining what they seek, nor allow them the sustaining succor of our fear.
It is time to bypass the lowly denizens of the city council, and their ilk. The time has come to dress down the petty and falsely officious policeman of your subdivisions, and expose the multitude of local tyrants and self-important snitches.
It is time to ignore the directives from the “authorities” on high, or the blather of the party line. They do not have our best interests in mind. If they did they would encourage and help, and not preclude or impede. It’s time to stop playing their dishonest game. Why should we? They don’t play fair, and they never have.
It is time to slip the chains of the oppressors, and throw them back at their flimsy facades. Take a stand, and stare the predator in the eye. Do something disobedient and bold, today. It’s been done before, many, many times. Our acts cannot be separated from the revolutionary history of the sleeping giant, the once free people of our United States.
Let us rise from our knees and stop asking for their permission. It is not their’s to give. It’s that simple. Go out and get a chicken or two, and perhaps a rooster to go with it. Let its morning crow announce to the world that you are awake, and ready. It all starts with a chicken and an egg, on the home grounds of an independent, proud, and defiant people.
For most of us, frequent trips to the grocery store are a necessary and common activity. It’s what we do, and what we’ve always done. When we get there we expect to find rows and rows of neatly packaged food stacked high, far, and wide. Hell, we demand it! Most people believe that it will always be like that, and of course it will be, right?
Well, maybe, and then again, maybe not. For the most part the supermarkets are still there. Yet, for some time now something seems terribly amiss. It has become harder and harder to fill that shopping cart with an adequate amount of high quality, nourishing food, especially if you take a moment to read the tiny print of indecipherable contents on the label. No doubt you’ve tried, and grown increasingly uneasy.
And it doesn’t take great powers of observation to conclude that the packages grow smaller while the price climbs higher with each successive trip. It’s the terrifying tale of the incredibly shrinking dollar, and it is probably not going to get better anytime soon. The effects are devastating and cruel, and it’s a painful thing to watch. It’s quite obvious that something’s gotta give.
From our point of view it is time to think out of the proverbial box, or in this case, the shopping bag. If you agree, think rabbits. They can help, and not just a little, but a lot. They are ready, willing, and able to work on your behalf. It’s what they do. Raising rabbits might be one of the best way’s to stretch your food budget, in the midst of what can only be described as a salvage economy left for the once great middle class.
Rabbits make a lot of sense for anyone that is interested in providing some, or most of their own food, for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few:
They are quiet, easy to raise and care for, with minimum space requirements.
One buck and three or four does can provide enough meat to satisfy much of a small family’s fresh meat needs for the year.
Rabbit meat can help keep the doctor away, too. It is high in protein, Omega 3 Fatty Acids, B12, iron, and a wide range of minerals.
It is remarkably low in calories and harmful saturated fats, and free of antibiotics and other chemicals. Rabbit liver is an “original” health food.
The meat is nutrient dense and about twice as filling as chicken. A little rabbit meat goes a long way.
Feed conversion rates are excellent for domestic rabbits. They convert calories to body weight much more efficiently, and cheaply, than other animals, particularly beef.
You can supplement their diet with your table scraps or garden wastes, or what you might have growing in your fields or about your neighborhood. In fact, many people never have to buy any type of commercial feed product.
They are easy to barter for other needed or desirable items, or sell as breeding stock to other people.
They are easy to butcher, process, and package.
Recipes for all parts of the rabbit abound. Stew it, grill it, bake or fry. The possibilities are endless, and it tastes great too!
Their droppings are fabulous for your garden, and you can sell the coveted manure. They also provide great food for your worms.
The rabbit skins can be made into many kinds of useful clothing.
Now you know why the rabbit has been called the ultimate homestead animal, or even “the new urban chicken”. I agree with each and every reason just mentioned, and can add a few more.
I despise shopping as a matter of principle anyway, and I consider any opportunity to avoid a trip to the market a celebrated victory. It saves money on gas and car expenses, which add up in a big hurry these days.
Why drive a car for several miles to pick up some groceries, when you can simply walk out your back door and grab some fine ingredients for your table? We like to pick some spinach and fork a couple of potatoes on our way back from the hutch. It’s called lunch, and we didn’t have to wait in a long line of frustrated people or suffer the indignities of a surly clerk. You might guess what we think of the self-serve scanning machine.
When you finish your meal, throw all of the leftover table scraps into your worm bin under your rabbit hutch. Bend down, and stir around until you have a pile of worms for your handy coffee can. Grab your trusty fishing rod, and head for the closest lake.
Have some fun, and relax. Spend a few hours in the fresh air and sun with a friend or a loved one. Catch a batch of scrappy fish for tomorrow’s meal. Save the offal and other bits from cleaning your fish, and give them to your chickens. They need some protein too, and it makes for happy and vibrant hens. Gather their bountiful eggs in the morning, add some selected produce from your garden in the backyard, and enjoy a comforting, leisurely breakfast.
Later, take a brisk walk along a quiet road to invigorate and tone. You’ll have the time, because you won’t need to shop for food. Be sure to wave at everyone else as they pass you on the way to the supermarket, and try not to flash a big, self-satisfied smile. No point in rubbing it in.
I have noticed that one of the most common superlatives used to describe the taste of a squab is “delectable”. Webster defines the meaning as highly pleasing, delightful, and delicious, and others add luscious, extremely pleasing to the sense of taste, and capable of causing desire. Having eaten a few, I must concur.
I began raising pigeons and squabs after reading “Raising Small Meat Animals” by Victor M. Giammattei, D.V.M., 1976. His chapter named “Raising Delectable Squabs” caught my eye, and I quote from the first paragraph. It reads: “Curiously, few people today are familiar with squabs, even fewer have eaten them, and fewer yet have raised them. There’s no logic in this, for squabs are easy to raise, and their meat is the finest of all poultry meats”.
O.K., you have my attention, sir. I was one of the uninitiated, for at that time I had never eaten a squab either nor seen it offered. He went on. “Squab ranks along with filet mignon, lobster, or suckling kid (young goat). It is found only on the menus of better restaurants and hotels, on steamships, in country clubs, and in some hospitals. It has been a dinner entrée for kings, queens, and other nobility since the time of the ancient greeks…Considering the ease with which they can be raised, the quality of their meat, and the modest cost to the backyard grower, there is no reason why the energetic family should be without squab meat – in the author’s opinion, the choicest of all meats”. Why not indeed, I asked? How had I managed to miss this taste treat? Sign me up.
If this were not enough to convince me about the quality of squab, I have since found other interesting references. Philippa Scott, from her “Gourmet Game”, lists a recipe for “Trid”, or Moroccan Pancakes Stuffed With Pigeon. She writes: “In his “Moorish Recipes”, John, fourth Marquis of Bute, suggests that this dish might well have been introduced into Morocco in the time of Mulai Idris, descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, who fled to Morocco from Mecca, and whose body lies buried at Fez, the land of his exile. It is reputed to be the oldest Arab dish, and it is said that when the Prophet Mohammed was asked what he liked best in the world, he answered that he loved his wife above everything, but after her he loved “Trid”.
The chinese have raised squab for over 2000 years. Today squab farms are big business in china, with several hundred being operated with government approval and encouragement. They are also big medicine. The chinese believe that squab is not only delicious and easily digestible, but that the meat and broth can be used to treat a variety of health ailments. The ancient people used to call pigeons “the sweet blooded animal”, and can be used to cure anemia, weakness, and fatigue. It can be used to prevent high blood pressure, vascular sclerosis, and osteoporosis, just to name a few. Pigeon was the first kind of poultry to be designated as “green food” from the China Green Food Development Center, which means pigeon is the most clean and unsullied meat product to consume.
On the american scene, the use of squab may be a result of the people’s memory and fondness for the tenderness and taste of the passenger pigeon, and we know what happened to that miraculous horde. They ate them. Thomas Jefferson and the history of the United States are forever intertwined. Among many other things, Jefferson was a “foodie”, should there have been a such a term around in those days. He loved his land, his crops, and his meals provided from them. He was famous for his dinner parties and for his dinner guests. Squab was on the menu, raised from his own lofts. “Squab in Compote”, a french recipe, was one of his favorite dishes.
William Randolph Hearst, in his day, was one of the richest and most powerful men in america. Like Jefferson, he was also famous for his dinner parties and the extensive menus. The estate was well-known for its squab loft’s and squab dinners, served to other american royalty and celebrities lucky enough to be included on the guest list. If they were very fortunate, “Hearst Ranch Squab” a roasted, stuffed bird, would be on the table.
So folks, try a squab today. If it’s good enough for a prophet, an american founding father, and one of the world’s richest men, it’s good enough for me. After all, 1.4 billion Chinese, with a “B”, cannot be wrong.
By the way, did I mention that you can raise them in a small backyard? You don’t have to be born of royal blood lines either, but you can dine like you do. They are, a most “delectable” bird.
Trid: Moroccan Pancakes Stuffed With Pigeon
1 1/2 pound pigeon meat, cut into about 20 pieces. Salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, good pinch of saffron, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 stick cinnamon, 1 tablespoon chopped chervil,1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 3 large onions (chopped), 1/2 cup water, 1 cup olive oil, 3 heaping cups flour.
Simmer the meat, salt and pepper, spices and herbs, onions, water, and 1/2 cup olive oil in a heavy casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Make a simple dough with the flour and very little water. Work it thoroughly, then make it into about 20 balls about the size of small hen’s eggs. Flatten each on a lightly oiled board into a very thin disc. Cook each on a dry griddle, not too hot but cooked on each side.
Arrange 1/2 of these cooked pancakes in a oven proof dish, overlapping each other and coming up the sides of the dish. When the meat is tender, remove the cinnamon stick, and arrange the meat on top of the pancakes. Cover with the remaining pancakes. Pour a little of the cooking liquid over the trid, and serve the rest as a sauce.
From Gourmet Game: Recipes and Anecdotes From Around The World by Philippa Scott.
Squab in Compote
6 plump squabs, 2 tablespoons butter, i cup finely chopped onion, 1 finely diced carrot, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 slices diced bacon, 1/4 pound sliced mushrooms, 1/3 cup Sherry, or Madeira.
Truss the squabs. Melt butter in a casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid. Add squabs along with onion, carrot, and salt. Saute until delicately browned on all sides, turning the birds frequently. Next add the bacon, mushrooms, and sherry or Madeira. Cover tightly and simmer in the oven gently for 40 or 45 minutes or until tender when tested with a fork. Do not over cook or they will fall apart. Remove birds, and serve with the sauce on the side.
Hearst Ranch Squab
6 plump squabs, 3 cups bread crumbs, 4 eggs, 2 cups grated Romano cheese, 2 gloves garlic, 2 teaspoons chopped parsley, 3 chopped onions, pinch of marjoram, salt and pepper to taste, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 cup claret.
Drain squabs dry, cut off tips of wings. Mix ingredients, except oil and claret. Stuff birds with mixture and skewer closed. Brush birds with oil and place breast up in an uncovered baking dish. Bake in oven preheated to 400 degrees until brown (35 minutes). Brush with oil, baste with claret. Serve on thin toast with a Borderlino or California red wine.
Challenging economic times call for ever more creative survival strategies. Food costs have exploded across the land, forcing families to squeeze every last penny from their rapidly devaluing dollars. Housing costs are another matter altogether and a home mortgage can be a terrible burden to bear. Just ask anyone who has lost their home through random hardship or the disappearing job. At times it seems a most unsolvable puzzle.
A man named MC (“Radiator Charlie”) Byles of West Virginia had a solution to these type of problems in the early 1940’s. In this case his answer was large and red and proud, and particularly delicious on a slab of steaming homemade bread with salt and mayonnaise.
A homespun gardener and inveterate tinkerer, he wanted to build a better, and bigger tomato. And build it he did. After several years of propagation his tomato plants could produce, mild, meaty, and delicious fruit of immense proportions. People flocked to his door for a look at a 3 pound tomato, and he was happy to accommodate them. Never one to miss an opportunity, he sold his seedling plants for $1 each and paid off his $6,000 home mortgage in a few short years. He named his new creation “the mortgage lifter”, and a backyard gardening legend was born.
That legend lives on today, and for good reason. Imagine paying off your property with the fruits of your backyard labor. Think about what life would be like without a house payment, or a weekly grocery bill large enough to choke a horse. It’s an inspiring and encouraging idea. It gives me hope. It can be done. Marshall Cletis Byles would tell you so, if he could.
I tip my gardening hat to him, and to the unbounded energies of his creativity. I’d say it’s time for many of us to take another look at his game changing idea. Perhaps it’s possible to follow his example and do our very best to lift the grinding weight of the mortgage from our backs. It may be an overly ambitious or unrealistic plan, but like him, I must try.
There are many ways to get there, and perhaps you have already begun or are well on your way. Our version of the “grocery lifter” comes in the form of rabbits and squab. Others beat back their bills with a small flock of geese, which possess the marvelous ability to efficiently convert grass to many pounds of tasty meat. The addition of a few pigs can provide miraculous results for your larder, particularly if you are a fan of pork and pig fat. Pigs, like tomatoes, have often been refered to as mortgage lifters. My neighbor has added a couple of steers to his small pasture and plans to keep one for the freezer and sell the other to cover his costs.
You may have an entirely different idea, but the intention is the same. I think it can be any animal or plant that works for you and fits your particular set of circumstances or comfort level.The important thing is that we all do a little to help ourselves and contribute to a more self-sufficient life. Every bit of food we can produce at home takes power form the corporate controlled food model. It gives us a reason to get up in the morning and keeps us grounded in the small satisfaction of a job well done.
So let’s hear it for the backyard gardener, the keeper of hens, the canner, and the prepper. Give thanks to the independent farmers and agricultural workers everywhere. Let’s revel in the joys of animal husbandry, fish farming, or beekeeping. Put a little bit of the farm and the old-fashioned barnyard back in your everyday life. You won’t regret it.
We can do it. We are doing it. Let’s decentralize, and unplug from the controlling grid. We must put our heads together, and our families and communities will follow. Let’s keep our friends close, and our enemies at bay. It’s the mortgage lifter revolution, because the very definition of mortgage is death and we must throw off the chains of that grim and unforgiving reaper of sorrows.
The spirit of MC Byles, like his seeds and giant heirloom tomatoes, live on. It can be seen in the successes of backyard entrepreneurs across the continents. Sometimes the path to independence and the bounty of a joyful life starts with a simple seed, planted in the welcoming and living earth of a backyard garden.
Long live the mortgage lifters and the backyard heroes, and the unlimited promise of a new day!
———-Do you have a backyard hero? Tell us your story…
“There’s nothin’ in the world that I like better than Bacon, lettuce and home grown tomatoes Up in the morning and out in the garden Pick you a ripe one, don’t get a hard ‘un Plant ’em in the springtime eat ’em in the summer All winter without ’em’s a culinary bummer I forget all about the sweatin’ and the diggin’ Every time I go out and pick me a big’un
Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes What’d life be without home grown tomatoes There’s only two things that money can’t buy That’s true love and home grown tomatoes
You can go out and eat ’em, that’s for sure But there’s nothin’ a home grown tomato won’t cure You can put ’em in a salad, put ’em in a stew You can make your own, very own tomato juice You can eat ’em with eggs, you can eat ’em with gravy You can eat ’em with beans, pinto or navy Put em on the side, put em on the middle Home grown tomatoes on a hot cake griddle
If I could change this life I lead You could call me Johnny Tomato Seed I know what this country needs It’s home grown tomatoes in every yard you see When I die don’t bury me In a box in a cold dark cemetery Out in the garden would be much better Where I could be pushin’ up home grown tomatoes”
From “Home Grown Tomato”, By Guy Clark, Sugar Hill Records, 1997.
A Journal of Honest Food, Freedom, and The Natural World