Baba Yaga Season
It's Baba Yaga season. As the Earth tilts and the light shifts, I find myself reclaiming ancestral kitchen wisdom and witchery for sturdy bones and thrifty hands, for brave hearts and sharp eyes of discernment--all needed to navigate the encroaching darkness; the winter season of the soul. Imagining my great grandmother and her's before her at the door to the Yaga's hut. Peeling, chopping, sorting the bones of animals, destroying to create nourishment from what looks like death.
Baba Yaga— the old wise Crone in the folktale Vassilisa. The ancient death goddess known in other cultures as Kali, Durga, Lilith, Hecate and many other names. She is the one who demands boundaries, who knows that life is built on the rich hummus of what has died. She is the keeper of the secrets to the alchemy of regeneration. Perhaps the ancient Alchemists were mistaken looking for immortality, when the true golden answer to living forever is regeneration? The Yaga lives in a great wooden hut that constantly travels from place to place raised up on stilts of chicken feet.
What does it mean to live in a house built on chicken feet where Baba Yaga resides?
The riddles of the Yaga are not answered by the meek of heart (or stomach), these are the riddles that can only be reckoned with by living the answers.
The kind of questions that demand sacrifice in the form of our very life, the giving over of a part of ourselves, our time, our sweat and blood to following the questions down a dark trail into the forest-swamp where the Yaga not only lives, but thrives.
There is something beyond human and animal about chicken feet. The dinosaur like quality of their scaly skin that I peel off by hand, the toe nails like talons. A different wild wisdom of ages long past. Reptilian wisdom, cold blooded survival, the evolution of the ages taught in their tendons, have something to teach me too.
Chicken feet in soup and stew is about as nourishing and as primal as it can get.
Below is the recipe I use from Nourishing Traditions cook book by Sally Fallon for making bone broth and chicken stock, for knocking on the Yaga’s door when deep nourishment is needed to enter into the darkness, into the mysteries of life.
Chicken Bone Broth Recipe
These guys, like Baba Yaga are not straightforward to work with. It’s taken me many tries to find a rhythm and a way to peel the skin and chop the talons off that works well for me. So why even bother? Chicken feet contain so much goodness from the minerals in the bones to the collagen packed paws—chicken feet add the “je ne sais quoi” to your broth in both flavor and nutrition. A good chicken stock will gel when in the fridge because of the collagen content, but most broths wont get there without a little help from the feet of the chicken. Here’s a link to a good resource on chicken feet benefits Chicken Feet.
You really must peel the feet so that your stock doesn’t have a strange flavor. Some chicken feet will come with the skins/scales coming off the feet already—this can happen naturally when farmers are harvesting chickens they must first blanch the birds to get the feathers off. If they dip the birds deep enough in the boiling water to also get their feet, you may be lucky enough to have a few feet that are pre-blanched and peel off easily. So peel off what you can first. Put the rest of the feet aside to blanch. To blanch the feet prepare an icy bath and boil a pot of water. Put the chicken feet with skins on in the boiling water for no more than 30 seconds. Pull out and dunk in the ice bath. Then peel. Only work with 3 feet or so at a time, and repeat the process until done. Once the feet are peeled you can use a sharp chopping knife to cut off the talons. Cut as close to the talon as possible. I find chopping from the top of the foot works best and at a slight angle.
Once they are peeled and talons removed put into your chicken stock and simmer for 6-24 hrs. Do not let it boil, that will affect the collagen you are hoping to get from the chicken feet that is so nourishing for our bodies.
I generally make my chicken stock below without the feet first. I simmer my chicken stock for 12-24hrs, strain out the chicken and veggies and put the broth back in the pot and then add the chicken feet for another 12-24hrs of simmering. I’m not sure why I do this, but it feels right to me!
1 whole free-range chicken or 2-3 pounds of bony chicken parts (necks, backs, breastbones, wings, or other chix scraps
gizzards from one chicken (optional)
feet from one chicken (optional.) I use at least 6-12 feet
1 gallon cold filtered water
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
1 bunch parsley
If you are using the whole chicken, cut off the wings and remove the neck, fat glands and gizzards from the cavity. By all means, use the chicken feet if you can find them. They are full of gelatin. If you can find it, use a whole chicken, with the head intact. You can sometimes find these in Oriental markets, but make sure you look for farm-raised, free-range birds for the best nutrition.
Cut the chicken parts into pieces – if you’re using a whole chicken, cut off the wings and the neck and cut those down. Put the chicken and/or chicken pieces in a large stainless steel stock pot and cover with the water, vinegar and veggies (minus the parsley). Let the mixture stand for 30-60 minutes. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that rises to the top. Once you have that all skimmed, reduce the heat and cook (covered) for 6 hours to 24 hours. The longer the better – it will yield a much richer stock. About 10 minutes before the stock is done, add the parsley. The parsley is important because it adds mineral ions to the broth.
Let the broth cool slightly and then remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon or tongs. If you used a whole chicken, make sure you save the meat for casseroles or soup. The skin and small bones will be soft enough that you can feed them to your cat or dog without any harm. Strain the stock into another bowl and stick it in the fridge until the broth congeals and the fat rises to the top. Skim off the fat and reserve it for future projects. (Or don’t I leave the fat in! Yumm)
The best chicken feet I have had the pleasure to work with are from Rock Bottom Ranch Aspen Center for Enviromental Studies Thank you for tending with such care to these animals during both their life and death.