The 35-Cent Chicken


Theresa, Mary, Lillian & Peter c1939 - Copy

Sometimes what we do in the kitchen has more to do with family interactions than with common sense.

A phrase from your grandmother’s day can be a just a cross-stitched motto or it can be a guiding beacon.

My grandmother sent her husband and brother off to WWI, then had to deal with a global depression and yet another world war, all while raising three children.

The old saying “Waste not, want not” was time-tested for her and her struggles have somehow carried forward as a genetic memory in my bones.

Flash forward to today, and a lot of my genetic memories seem difficult to justify while standing in the supermarket. Especially if your guiding beacon is a cross-stitched motto.

My husband likes to cook. He uses chicken breasts for some of his favorite recipes, and when he was single he bought boneless, skinned breasts from the butcher case. He didn’t care that this is the most expensive way to buy chicken.

“It reduces waste to buy just the breasts,” he said. “I’m not buying all those bones and parts I’m not going to use.”

So, what’s not to use on the rest of the chicken? This is what I was thinking, and this became a standing ‘discussion’ that occurred every time we bought chicken together. After we got married.

Shopping alone there was no discussion. If he picked up the groceries, my darling would buy boned, skinned breasts. If I went shopping, the whole bird came home, and I cut it into parts for him on the counter.

Since the white meat was all he wanted, I would ‘steal’ the rest of the carcass for chicken soup and pot pies. I could feed the two of us a plentitude of meals from just one bird, with soup left over to cheer up any ailing friends. Soon, I had a fan base and it just seemed silly to not purchase the rest of the chicken too.  To me, anyway.

And increasingly, we learned about the value of bone soup for the body, especially as we begin to get older. It became fun for me to see how much good one little bird could do, and using all of it seemed a good way to honor the life it gave to feed our family.

Perhaps the side of frugality had won over any lingering doubts. Dark meat and the inner, tastier bits of chicken were being tolerated and even regularly enjoyed at the table. But this wasn’t enough to stop the same old discussion at every new trip to the meat counter.

Today, something happened that may have changed everything. The butcher was kind enough to let me know that the boneless, skinless breasts they were selling came from the same place that sold the whole chickens beside them in the case. I asked the butcher to wrap up a whole bird for me and then asked if she would also weigh two breasts out for me, out of curiosity. Calculating the difference, it turns out the rest of the chicken only cost us 35 cents.

Empirical evidence: Buying the rest of the bird leaves us with wallets and bellies both a little fuller. Ongoing discussions being what they are in a marriage, anything may happen next time at the butcher’s stall. If logic rules the day, we might anticipate the discussion on the value of breastbone, back and thighs has ended.

…And dusting off her hands from the victory garden, with a twinkle in her eye, my grandmother’s admonition rings fresh in my ears, “Waste not, want not, Dear.”

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