As Heritage Month invites us to explore our family roots, here’s a poultry tale of how one family has ruffled its feathers over the years, and still managed to find happiness at home.
By Rochelle Barrish
It’s heritage month, and depending on your lineage, you either go back to the ancestral home to check on the family estate and repaint the family crest, or gather around the braai with the troops.
Food and heritage go hand in hand, and for me, all my early food memories lead to roast chicken. There’s something communal and familial about it. To me it means family.
The men getting the biggest pieces, kids fighting over drumsticks and wings, and the women fighting over the neck and tail bones. Yes, we did nose to tail eating way before it was trendy.
I come from a long line of pavement specials, so there is no ancestral home and definitely no family crest. But if there’s one bird that deserves to be on our family crest, when we eventually get around to tracing our roots, it should be the cheeky chicken.
For as long as I can remember, my family has had hilarious or bizarre incidences with chickens and most of our family jokes, the ones that are repeated at every gathering, start or end with a chicken.
My favourite is the one where my granny had a chicken coop that gave her fresh eggs to sell to neighbours. She had a healthy bunch of hens and a randy rooster who was called up for duty whenever needed.
The biggest threat to the coop was the neighbourhood dogs. But my granny’s big German Shepherd, Shiba, was a great watchdog and he would fight off any intruders, human and canine.
Granny decided to have Shiba fixed when Lady, the Dobermann joined the family. Lady objected to being mounted by sinking her teeth into whosoever tried to mount her.
The story goes that as soon as Shiba healed, he no longer protected the coop. He would let his former sworn enemies just about help themselves without even looking their way.
On some days he even partook himself – these must’ve been the days he remembered what was done to him at the SPCA. Granny never got over his betrayal and he became the only child of a childless couple.
My naughtiest cousin, in his teen years, wanted money for the games arcade and decided to take his boiled egg from his lunchbox, stash it under a hen and steal the freshly laid egg to sell it. This little enterprise carried on for three weeks before he no longer got boiled eggs in his lunchbox.
On Christmas morning of that year, he received his stocking from Granny and it stunk up the house. Granny saved all his boiled eggs in her shed and gave it to him as a Christmas present. That was the end of his mischievous ways and the reason he’s still known as “Eier” to this day.
My grandpa was the most soft-spoken, mellow man I ever knew. By all accounts he was a man of very little words. Chicken was always on the Sunday roast menu, as lamb and gammon was only affordable at Christmas.
Granny tried to dress up the chicken for 50 years, but a few years before his death, Gramps had an epic meltdown that made the entire street come to a standstill. He apparently said: chicken again. And Granny said: it’s apricot chicken, John.
Gramps went off on a string of expletives, and said no matter how you expletive dress the chicken, it’s still expletive chicken. He flung the cooked bird out the back yard, where it was pounced on by the rogue rooster. That was the one and only time he ever raised his voice, according to his kids.
Then there’s the poor German guy who fancied one of my cousins. He proposed and she told him he’d have to do a token lobola as there wasn’t really place for big livestock at her mother’s house.
The loved-up couple discussed how to do it respectfully and she suggested 12 chickens because of our history of keeping chickens. Seb the German (who is now a beloved family member) asked the receptionist at his office where he could source 12 chickens.
Lucky for him, her side-hustle was selling frozen chickens and chicken products, payable on payday for your convenience. Imagine my aunt’s face when Seb the German pitched with a tray of frozen, headless, featherless birds.
Nowadays, all the chickens, their farmers, their watchdogs, and those who despised eating chicken Sunday after Sunday are gone. We still don’t have a family crest, and another generation’s starting up.
My son is finally eating solid foods and he watches baby TV while we experiment with all sorts of proteins, carbs and veggies. One day he makes the connection to the lamb on his plate and the lamb on TV and cries inconsolably.
We eventually discover he’s happy with eating chicken but no other animals or birds. So from that day on, any and every protein in his plate is chicken and he eats it with gusto.
We have to be sure to let family and friends know that they have to ask him if he would like “chicken’ if they dish meat for him and just like that, another hilarious chicken story starts up in our family.
We have “red chicken” and “pink chicken” on our plates. Burgers are made from “meat” and I hope to not be around when he discovers that there is no red or pink chicken as, like his great grandad before him, he is an easy-going, quiet guy and I don’t think our family should have another chicken-flying-out-the-backdoor-while-the-neighbours-stare skandaal so soon. One per generation is enough, to be honest.
- This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.