Hundred-year-old Directions for Dressing a Chicken

Dressed ChickenMy mother knew how to dress a chicken. I’m (happily) clueless about how to even approach dressing a bird. A hundred years ago,  dressing a chicken was apparently considered such an important skill that a home economics textbook contained directions for how to do it. Times sure have changed!

In case you ever need to dress a chicken, here are the directions:

To Dress a Chicken

  1. Remove feathers by pulling them out, after plunging the fowl into boiling water and holding it there for a moment or two. Fowls are sometimes picked without scalding, if the work can be done immediately after they are killed.
  2. Singe the plucked fowl by holding it in a flame of gas or burning paper, being sure that all parts are exposed during the process so that all hairs are removed.
  3. Cut off the head, if it has not been removed. The neck may be removed by pushing back the skin and cutting it off.
  4. Remove the feet in cutting and breaking the legs at the joints.
  5. Make an incision one inch above the vent and crosswise between the legs. Draw out the intestines and other organs carefully, cutting away the vent. Remove from the mass the heart, liver and gizzard, being careful not to break the gall bladder which lies under the liver. Cut the gall bladder away carefully.
  6. Remove the skin from around the gizzard; open the gizzard and remove the inner skin and contents.
  7. Wash the liver, gizzard and heart, squeezing the latter to remove any blood. These organs are known as the “giblets.”
  8. The crop and windpipe may be removed at the neck. Do this without breaking the crop, or tearing the skin at the neck.
  9. Remove all pinfeathers with a sharp-pointed small knife. Remove the oil bag from the tail.
  10. Wash the chicken well in cold water, both inside and out. Dry  with a cloth. The fowl is now ready to be used from baking.
  11. When a fowl is to be cut into pieces, as for stewing, it is usually convenient to remove the wings and legs before removing the intestines and other organs from the body.

Poultry should always be allowed to stand several hours after dressing before it is cooked.

Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

27 thoughts on “Hundred-year-old Directions for Dressing a Chicken

  1. I helped a friend who raised fryers during a harvest – it was a real assembly line! We used needle-nose pliers to pull the pin feathers… I can’t imagine trying to do it with a knife!

  2. I watched Grandma and her friends do it (pro tip: hang the chickens on the clothesline by their feet to drain the blood). I prefer getting my chicken from the meat market, but I’ve found a place that sells fresh, never frozen chicken, and the difference in taste is remarkable.

    1. Thanks for the tip – though I don’t think I’ll ever use it. Similarly to you, I prefer chicken that has already been dressed.

  3. Oh, this brings back memories. I can remember seeing both my grandmothers catch, behead, and dress chickens. I was fascinated to observe the women in South Africa dress chickens as well–in a communal group approach.

    1. A hundred years ago many families raised chickens, and then butchered them. Small backyard chicken enterprises seem to be once again growing in popularity in the U.S. – but my sense is that people seldom butcher the chickens that they raise anymore.

  4. Oh gross. As a child my grandmother would do this, but when I was staying with them for summer visits she did it early in the morning before I was awake. I’ll just stick to the grocery store chicken! Times have changed.

  5. If you do a chicken young enough ,you don’t have the pin feathers of an older bird. We would singed the old hens as they were full of fuzzy feathers whatever they are called.😁 The wings and tail also had pin feathers though to pull out. One does a duck the same way.. just add dawn dish soap to hot water to cut the oil on the ducks feathers.

    1. How true – When I pulled together this post, I also thought about how today directions such as these would a YouTube video rather than written instructions.

  6. Personally, if it comes down to that I’m not wasting my time with plucking feathers. I’ll skin the bird before I do that, feathers are just plain stinky and I don’t eat the skin anyway (tasty though it is). Nor would I fool with the giblets, urrrgh! I know some people like those, my husband was one, but that is just not something for me. Can’t eat beef liver either, as my mother in law used to say it just grows in my mouth, lol. My mom used to feed us it when we were kids and our Doberman just loved it!

    1. I also have bad memories of having to eat liver when I was a child. I think that people back then believed that you should eat liver once a week. You were lucky to have a Doberman that loved it. 🙂

  7. Good grief! No wonder they only served Chicken once a week, and well stewed in the pot at that! And no wonder it was considered an expensive treat, with all the skilled labor required! We are so pampered.

    1. Food preparation took so much more effort a hundred years ago. In the fall my husband and I like to gather black walnuts. It is A LOT of work to shell them. Similarly to your comment about it taking a lot of calories dress a chicken – I always feel like it take a lot of calories to shell walnuts.

  8. Wow, this brought back memories. I remember watching my mother catch, kill, and dress a chicken. She used a candle to burn of the “hair.” I remember thinking how bad it smelled. She let me help pull off the feathers. She used pliers to pull out the pin feathers.

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