A review of and an exclusive interview with author Janice Cole.
Last evening before sunset, Mr. B and I pulled our deck chairs out onto the lawn for an hour and watched our little flock of young chickens glory in the green grass outside their coop.
Occasionally, a truck would honk a few streets away or a helicopter would whir far overhead on its way to the airport, and they would run for the safety of the coop door, where they stood huddled until the scary danger had passed. Then it was right back to the grass again.
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In the fading of the day, life was sweet, sitting there watching Rosylnn Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Harriet Johnston and Hillary Rodham Clinton peck away… our own little slice of Mayberry.
I think it was that feeling of nostalgia that first drew me to. Written by chicken caretaker and veteran food writer Janice Cole, Chicken and Egg chronicles the amusing, exasperating, down-and-occasionally-dirty details in the life of a first-time chicken steward. [Bad pun intended.]
Both a guide for new and would-be backyard chicken hobbyists and a recipe resource for home cooks; Chicken and Egg is an entertaining and informative read, even if you have no intention of ever raising chickens.
Janice has great affection for her feathered charges and their antics, and shares both her triumphs and her foibles in her book. Moreover, she makes it clear that while the promise of fresh, organic eggs from happy chickens is definitely a bonus, if you think you can just buy a few chicks and then sit back and wait for “free” eggs to pop out, you will be sadly disappointed. Even a quick once-over of her book will reveal that keeping chickens takes some work, and the eggs are definitely not free. (What with a coop, feed, and other necessities, I figure that our first dozen will run about $29 - for each egg.)
Both stories and recipes in the book are organized by season, from Early Spring through Late Winter. (Yay! Seasonal cooking!)
Lovely full-color photographs accompany the creative collection of 125 chicken and egg recipes, and all the recipes that I have tried thus far have been flavorsome, well outlined, and easy to prepare. It is Janice’s advice and recollections, however, that make this book shine. Chicken and Egg covers everything from choosing a coop to the miracle of your first egg, and her stories of adventure and hardship with her chickens are engagingly funny, making for an easy, relaxing read.
Janice was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, and her thoughts reflect the same love for her chickens that is so well expressed in her book.
What advice would you give to would-be suburban chicken farmers?
I would advise them to begin small. Start with a flock of three or four hens at the most, as a small flock will be a little less work, require less feed and less clean up than a larger flock. You can also get by with a smaller coop, which may be easier to build or less expensive to buy. If you find that you love it, then by all means increase the flock size.
I would also ask new owners to consider the future of their hens. Will they be keeping their hens as pets until they die a natural life? (If so, as my experience points out, this could be ten years or more.) Or will they want to rotate their flock so they always have fully laying hens available? If that’s the case, will they be able to slaughter their hens or bring them someplace to have them slaughtered? They should know, there really isn’t a market for those who want to give away their non-laying hens to someone who will keep them as pets.
Along that vein, Janice also shared her thoughts over the loss of one of her original flock this spring:
Cleo, one of my three original girls, passed away. She was over nine years old—amazing for a chicken—but still doing remarkably well in spite of suffering from a tumor in her abdomen. One minute she was eating a treat of fruit; five minutes later she had passed away. Knowing she was ill, I honestly expected to lose her over the winter months but she had continued to eat well and keep up with the rest of the flock. Luckily she didn’t seem to be in much pain.
It’s always hard losing a pet, as I’m sure you know, but I felt especially sad because she was one of my favorites and always loved to sit cuddled in my lap. Her flock mate Roxanne (also in the book) is still going strong and, in fact, is still laying eggs this spring!
What is one of your favorite chicken stories that didn’t make it into the book?
I think one of my best memories since writing the book has been watching a mother chick handle her babies.
A friend of mine asked if I would be interested in taking home a Silkie hen along with her day-old chicks. Of course I was thrilled and quickly drove out to pick them up from my friend’s farm. (Back story: Originally, the Silkie had been mine, along with her flock mate who was guaranteed to be female but turned out to be a rooster, hence their transfer to my friend’s farm.)
What was fascinating about this experience was that mama Jazzy had hatched eggs that were not her own, so the chicks quickly grew larger than their small bantam mother hen. It didn’t bother Jazzy or the babies at all; she continued to smother them with love and protect them with a fierceness that was amazing to see. She grew twice as large as she fluffed up her feathers protecting her babes from the other hens in my flock. And as the chicks grew larger than mama, they all still tried to hide under her tiny wings and faithfully followed her in a line around the yard as she marched them proudly around showing them how to dig for worms and chase bugs.
(I guess that, when it comes to Mothering, some things don't vary much between chickens and people.)
Bottom line: Janice's book is entertaining, informative and full of delicious recipes. If you are interested in keeping chickens, or just like to cook, I highly encourage you to check it out.
Be sure to check out Janice's recipe for Strawberry Soufflé with Caramelized Almonds, which she has generously allowed me to share here with you!