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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Country matters, right? By John von Daler

         First the chickens. They looked, well, Danish. Plump, pale, blond, satisfied with the life they had lived until recently. Now they were headless in Funen, stretched out on the counter in the kitchen of the old summer house.


The old lady had plucked them at home where she had all the right equipment. Then she had rolled them in newspapers and put them and a liter of double cream in a plastic bag and waddled with it from her place on the old post road down to our house by the water.
         Now the lady. As fat as she was tall, shorter than a ten-year-old kid, toothless but for one in the front upper mouth, gray-haired with a kerchief, she wore an apron over her cotton dress on which was printed a pattern with eternal postmen on eternal horses bent down to give eternally happy peasants letters from afar, all on a gray/blue background that stretched out and down from her broad hips like a lampshade you find in your cluttered attic. She had sparkling eyes, a short nose and broad cheeks.
         The old woman was one of the few people for whom the word "cackle" can be used often and with impunity. Down our driveway past hip roses and apple trees, she cackled her way as if a dead chicken and a carton of cream were reason for merriment and when we met her at eight oclock in the morning she cackled at the sight of us and swung her bag.
         A few weeks back we had asked her to come today to make her famous chicken with parsley. One of the uncles would turn sixty today. He wanted to be served country, parsley chicken made by the old lady on our wood-burning stove with the iron rings.
         We ushered her into the kitchen and she swung the chickens up onto the counter and asked for some newspapers so she could start up the stove with kindling and small logs. It was understood that she was not to be disturbed or socialized, but that like the attendants to a queen bee we were to fly around close by and zoom in every once in a while for requests.
         I, being a man, was supposed to stay away, but I did manage a few times to force one of the three doors to the kitchen and quite by accident to enter her domain.
         By the time of my first visit the fire in the stove was roaring and the old lady was standing at the sink washing each piece of the huge pile of fresh parsley picked in the garden. I tried to act busy and impatient as I settled in to watch her wash each minute piece of parsley and cut off each and every stem until only the small, clean leaves lay in a green mountain on a wooden board. There they would dry out for an hour or so.
         The next time I came by, I feigned great good humor and could see that the potatoes had been dug up and were now being washed one by one, carefully, their tender skins getting the same treatment that the backsides of the small ears of her children must have received at her hands thirty years ago. Never, ever have I seen so many small potatoes be so clean, scraped almost white, almost glistening.
         I messed around with clearing some woods after lunch and then took a nap just to stay away from the kitchen a while, but after the nap I happened in. The stove was hot. The old lady was lifting iron rings up and down to regulate the heat. She had stuffed the chicken with the parsley and was now browning it carefully in melted butter in a pan. She made sure that every inch had an even, light brown color. The fragrance of the frying bird filled the little kitchen.
         Every time she left the chicken she was busy with the cucumber salad: paper thin pieces of fresh cucumber in sugar and vineger. It had to be sliced and marinated and coddled. I had overstayed my time but the sights had been promising.
         I never managed to get into the kitchen again. But eight hours after the old lady had arrived, we were served the most delectable, moist chicken with luscious parsley and fresh, tasty potatoes under a creamy gravy and a pungent cucumber salad - and nothing else. But the chicken was big, the potatoes plentiful, the gravy thick and full of chicken taste, and the salad was a teasing mixture of sweet and sour. We finished the meal off with fresh strawberries from the garden.
         As we ate the old lady came in and flashed her single tooth in a proud smile. We all stood up and clapped. Then she waddled off in the direction of her little, thatch-roofed house.
         You say, isn't eight hours an awfully long time for making parsley chicken? My answer is: Funen was not built in a day, my friend. Funen was not built in a day.

My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) will be published on January 28. Order through Amazon.com, the publisher or your local bookstore. Please feel free to write a short review of "Pieces" in your own language at Amazon.com or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!
        




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