Mark Twain's Roast Chickens.
Recently Major John B. Downing of Middleport, Ohio, was discussing army chicken stealing and the various ways the boys had of preparing them to be served. The Major was a Mississippi River pilot in his young days and stood at the wheel as a cub under the watchful eye of "Sam" Clemens, the Mark Twain of the present day.
"Speaking of chicken stealing," said the Major, who is now gray and reminiscent, "we had great times on the Mississippi when Mark Twain, Jake Estep, and myself were together. Jake would have made a typical soldier. He could locate a fat pullet in a a whole coop of half-breeds.
"In those days we carried a great deal of poultry from points along the Mississippi River to New Orleans, particularly during the holiday season. At many places the coops were four and five deep on the levee when we landed. Estep always had an eye out for a particularly promising coop, and usually kept in mind the place where it had been stored away.
"Shortly before midnight he would go on deck and extract several plump fowls from the coops he had 'pre-empted.' The chickens were dispatched without a protesting squawk, the entrails removed, but the feathers left intact. Seasoning were then inserted, and the fowls inclosed in a heaving casing of soft clay to the thickness of two inches. The were then cast among the hot embers in the ashpan and permitted to roast to the Queen's taste. When thoroughly cooked, they were removed, and the clay casing broken from about them. The feathers came away with the clay, leaving clean, smoking hot fowls ready for the dish of hot butter awaiting them up stairs. Estep with a fork stripped the flesh from the bones into the melted butter, while the rest of us stood about and smacked our lips in anticipation. Dear, dear, but they were good! In cooking them in that way all the rich flavors were retained--I can almost taste them now, and I wish I could as a matter of fact."
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