A couple of weeks ago my favourite chicken, Minn, came to a sticky end. I was inside when I heard a blood-curdling squawk and saw something flash past the window. I raced out to see a spaniel trotting down the field towards the shore, a bundle in its mouth and a trail of downy feathers in its wake. Ginger feathers. My heart sank. ‘Not Minn’, I heard myself say. ‘Not ginger Minn.’ I watched as a man, the owner, wrestled Minn from his dog’s mouth and quickly, professionally, twisted her neck. He trudged up the field towards me, the dog slinking behind. Clearly mortified, he apologised and – in a show of manly practicality – offered to pluck her. My bottom lip trembled. ‘No! I couldn’t eat her. She was a pet’, I cried, my voice breaking. The man looked uncomfortable.
Back at the cottage Marilyn was running in circles crowing wildly and Martha, the nervous one, was nowhere to be seen. I eventually found her shivering under a bush. Reunited, they soon got over their fright and the loss of Minn (it took all of about, oh, five minutes), I didn’t though. I really missed her.
Bereft seems a dramatic word to use – she is, or was, only a hen after all – but that’s how I felt. I missed her bounding out of the hen hut in the morning, first to the food, waiting patiently at the back door for a snack, clucking contentedly as she nibbled on a strawberry or two. Yes, Minn had a healthy appetite. She was also the boldest of the bunch. The trusty trio went everywhere together, exploring further afield (they were spotted on the beach one day) with Minn out front like an intrepid tour guide. Nothing seemed to scare her. Mum reckons that’s why the dog got her instead of the other chickens – she stood up to (maybe even took on?) the attacking mutt. Martha and Marilyn stick closer to home these days.
Minn was a great layer. One speckled brown egg a day without fail. I like to think this is because she was a happy chicken. Although her life was short, it was a sweet. She ranged free, taking dust baths in the vegetable plot, scratching on the road, visiting my neighbours’ gardens for a change of scene. It allowed her to shine. I’m quite a carnivore, but I haven’t been able to eat meat since Minn died (apart from one chicken sandwich when I forgot). I think of her face, cocked sideways, intelligent little eyes looking up at me – a personality.
As well as uncovering my inner vegetarian, I’ve one other thing to thank Minn for – home-made lemon curd. I tried making it one day when I was over-run with eggs. It’s the most delicious thing in the world: creamy, silky, tart and probably not very good for cholesterol levels. So in memory of Minn the magnificent chicken, here’s the recipe.
It’s dead simple to make. You’ll need the zest and juice of four lemons, four large eggs, 350g caster sugar, 200g unsalted butter and I dessertspoon of cornflower. Whisk the eggs in a saucepan, then add the rest of the ingredients and place over a medium heat. You now need to whisk continuously until you feel the mixture thicken – it’ll take about eight minutes. Give it another minute, then remove from the heat and pour into your jars, cover and store in the fridge. It only keeps for two weeks, so you’ll need to scoff it quickly (Minn would have).