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Forklore

Chicken Feed Diet

April 10, 2002|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a lot of people know, pigs destined to be Smithfield hams are supposed to be fed on peanuts. Farmers have also designed special diets to improve the flavor of chickens. One of the oldest was the favorite of the Persian court a millennium and a half ago: hemp seeds. (The same medieval Persian gourmets also advised chasing chickens around to tire them out in the belief that this would make their flesh more tender, though it would actually stimulate enzymes having the opposite effect.)

One 17th century English cookbook, "The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie," gave no fewer than nine recipes for fattening chickens. The main idea was to feed them barley meal mixed with milk and sugar to "scour" their intestines, which was believed to make the flesh sweet and "exceeding white." After that you might give them chopped raisins. "The less drink they have, the better it is, for it washeth away their fat," Sir Kenelme warned, but you could give them leftover beer.

Just to make sure they were well scoured, he reported, some people would mingle the barley paste with "a little (about an eighth part) of powder of green glass beaten exceedingly small." Well, chickens swallow pebbles all the time, so maybe this wouldn't hurt them, but he did add, "When you eat them, you will find some of the powder of glass in their stomacks, i.e. gizzards." Some chicken owners preferred using brick dust rather than ground glass, possibly to avoid seeing the tiny green speckles glinting on their plates.

To have really fat chickens, he wrote, you should feed them raisins beaten to a pulp, soaked with milk and thickened with bread crumbs: "The delight of this [food] will make them eat continually," he claimed, "and they will be so fat ... that they will not be able to stand, but lie down upon their bellies to eat."

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