Mrs. Beeton’s Poultry & Game – Choosing Poultry

To Choose Poultry.

When fresh, the eyes should be clear and not sunken, the feet limp and pliable, stiff dry feet being a sure indication that the bird has not been recently killed; the flesh should be firm and thick and if the bird is plucked there should be no discoloration of the skin.  Young male birds are considered the best.

Chickens, —The flesh of young chickens is the most delicate and easily assimilated of animal foods, which makes it especially suitable for invalids and persons whose digestion is weak.  Few animals undergo so great a change with regard to the quality of their flesh as the domestic fowl.   When quite young, cocks and hens are equally tender, but as chickens grow older the flesh of the cock is the first to toughen, and a cock a year old is fit only for conversion into soup.  A hen of the same age affords a substantial and palatable dish. This rule respecting age does not apply to capons, which when well-fed and well-dressed for the table, are surpassed by few animals for delicacy of flavour.  Even when three years old the capon is as tender as a chicken, with the additional advantage that his proper chicken flavour is more fully developed. The above remarks are applicable only to capons naturally fed and not crammed.  The latter process may produce a handsome-looking and heavy bird, but when tested by cooking its inferiority will be only too apparent.  As a rule, small-boned and short-legged poultry are generally found to be the more delicate in colour, flavour and fineness of flesh.

Fowls,  when young, should have a smooth red comb, smooth legs and feet; the cock bird is young when it has smooth legs and short spurs; hens when young have smooth legs.  The bones and beak of all young birds are soft and gelatinous, and they always harden with age; the end of the breastbone when young is soft and pliable; when otherwise, it may be accepted as some evidence of the advanced age of the bird.  The signs of and old fowl are its stiff, horny-looking feet, long spurs, dark-coloured and hairy thighs, stiff back and bones.  The plumage should be even and soft, downy feathers being found under the wings and on the breast.  Birds with uncut claws should be chosen, as the sinews are easier to remove.  Game fowls, and those with dark-coloured legs, are better for roasting than for boiling.  Fowls with white legs, such as Dorkings, are more suitable for boiling as they have whiter flesh.

Geese and Ducks when young usually have yellow feet and bills; as they grow old they become darker and reddish in colour.  The feet of freshly-killed geese and ducks are moist and soft, but, like those of fowls, they become dry and stiff when they have been killed some time.
—Geese, over a year old are, owing to toughness, of little use as table birds.

Pigeons.—When young, pigeons have small pink legs, large dark legs being a sign of an old bird.

Turkeys.—Turkeys, when young, have short spurs and smooth black legs; when legs are pale, or reddish and rough, and the spurs long, these marks may be taken as sure indications of age.  When freshly killed the eyes should be full and bright.  The flesh should be white, the breast full, and the neck long.
—A moderately-sized bird will be found most satisfactory. Turkeys should be hung up to bleed and, if freshly killed, improve by being hung for 3 or 4 days before cooking.  Norfolk turkeys and considered the best; the cock bird is usually selected for roasting.

Season for Poultry.

The cost of poultry varies considerably, being affected both by the season of the year and the district in which it is purchased.

The following table shows shows when the various species are in season, when they are best and cheapest, how usually cooked, and their average weight (before cooking):—

Poultry. In Season. Best and Cheapest. How Usually Cooked. Average Weight
Before Cooking.
lb. ozs.
Green Geese
Guinea Fowl
At any time.
March to Sept.
Aug. to March
All the year
Sept. to Feb.
Aug. to Nov.
Feb. to Aug.
All the year
Sept. to March.
July to Oct.
May to July
Sept. and Oct.
June to Oct.
Oct. and Nov.
March to Sept.
Nov. to Jan.
” “
” “
” “
” “
” “
” “
2  4
2  0
3  0
4  0
10  6
2  0
2  8
0  5
10  0

(Source) – Mrs. Beeton’s Poultry & Game; Including Sauces, Stuffings, Trussing and CarvingOver 300 Recipes, Fully Illustrated, Ward, Lock & Co., Limited, London and Melbourne – 1926

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— Adam Smith