July 19th, 2015 by Ed Bruske
Originally I was going to title this post “Going Amish.” But then I thought it would be even more appropriate to salute our friend Jim Kunstler and his series of novels, “World Made By Hand,” describing a not-too-distant world right here in Upstate New York struggling to cope after the world runs out of fossil fuels and civilization collapses. In either direction–back tot the Amish, or forward to Kunstlerville–you end up in very much the same spot: working without power tools.
Jim’s theme has been on my mind a lot lately as we harvested our Freedom Ranger chickens–more than 50 of them–without the aid of the electric plucker we bought just two years ago. One day the motor just upped and quit on us for no apparent reason. And whereas there used to be guys on almost every corner who worked on small electric motors, finding one now seems nigh on impossible. When I called the manufacturer of the EZ Plucker, I was told these motors sometimes die after practically no use at all. It needs to be replaced.
So much for craftsmanship.
This was not long after the hard drive in my computer died, launching me on a weeks-long repair adventure. And not long after the chicken plucker pooped out, our dishwasher gave up the ghost as well. I’m guessing it’s not more than six years old, left to us by the previous owner.
As far as the chickens were concerned, there was nothing to do but pluck them by hand, something I had never attempted before. First they go into scalding water (thankfully, the electric scalder has held up–so far) at a temperature around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Hold the (dead) bird by the legs and swish it around in the hot water for about a minute. Test by pulling on a couple of feathers. Then lay the chicken out on a flat surface and go to work.
After plucking more than 70 chickens by hand over the last month, I’ve gotten pretty good. Like Edward Scissorshands, my fingers fly and so do the feathers. Takes me about 10 minutes to get to a clean bird ready to be gutted–my wife’s job. And you know what? Those birds look ever so much better–fewer bruises and tears–than the ones that used to get the electric plucker treatment. I’ve gotten to where I can tell by how much resistance I feel tugging on the feathers just how much scalding is required. Yes, I’d hold my plucking up to just about anybody’s.
Likewise, the broken dishwasher has taken us back (or is it forward?) to a time when people actually stood at the sink, washed and dried as a team. Anybody remember that? One person did the washing, handing plates to a second–even a third–team member, who toweled the dishes dry and put them away.
Well, you won’t convince my wife the dishwasher doesn’t need replacing. And that seems to be the curse of our modern, mechanized lifestyle. Sure, electric appliances can make work lots easier. But they inevitably become an incredible annoyance–when they break down, that is. And don’t they always seem to break down eventually? And at the worst possible time?
It makes me think the Amish got it right: self-contained communities working mostly by hand with lots of kids to help with the labor.
At our age, we can’t do anything about the kids part. But we can do some things by hand. And take a little pride in the results.