Rites of Spring

It must be opening day for baseball. Being a native Chicagoan, images of Comiskey Park are peppering my social media feed today. There’s a post or two about the Reds, a plethora of Cubs, and no Cardinals to be found.

I’m not a sports person, though, so my day is consumed with something else. I’m cooking feet.

Winter’s last hold is over down here in Western Kentucky (I claim this corner of the New South as my second home, a 400 mile run down from where I was born, 100 north of my paternal grandmother’s birthplace in Jackson, TN). Our daytime temperatures are hitting 70 more often than not, and if it gets down to 40 at night, we’re all wondering what we did to anger God or Mother Nature so.

These transitional temperatures combined with the ubiquitous moisture of Kentucky air can make for one hell of a viral garden. After spending yesterday’s 73 degree day running around the woods and exploring in the cool damp of Mammoth Cave, I’m using today’s 65 degree overcast to regroup at home and cook up a healing bone broth to help fight off any nasties we might have brewing. It’s officially day one of the kids’ spring break–we’re not wasting it being sick.

I had to call my mother on this. She is the reigning Soup Queen. Her broths and creams are incomparable, and while I’ll never know all of her secrets, I do know that her robust chicken soup starts with a package of severed chicken paws.

“Just barely cover them with water,” she said, “and boil them hard for 20 minutes. Then you’re going to dump all of that water. It gets scummy. You’ll see.”

She was right. The water turned a cloudy grey, and the stink of it, although not rotten, was decidedly dead.

“Then you’re going to rinse them under cold water and lay them out separately to cool. Let them get about room temperature. Now here’s the part that’s kind of gross,” she said. “You have to cut each of those little claws off right at the knuckle.”


“You just take your knife, and you’ll feel it, and just cut it off at the little weak knuckle point. They’ll come right off. After that, put the feet back in your pot–but you wash it up really good first from that first boil–and simmer them for five, six, seven hours. More if you have time. That’s how you get all that good stuff out of them.”

That’s the point I’m at right now. One dozen chicken feet—boiled clean and declawed—are simmering on my stove. The kids are mostly quiet; this overcast and yesterday’s adventure have us all a little subdued. Tonight we’ll dip bread in a rich broth and prepare for tomorrow’s visit to the Ohio River.

Happy Monday, friends.

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