New York Times restaurant critic Grimes’s tale of the chicken that came to visit one day and settled in to live in the backyard.
Times readers may recall Grimes’s charming and wildly popular article about the chicken’s mysterious appearance behind the house. Here, he’s expanded the story into the slimmest, most charming of tales, tracing the trajectory of his and his wife’s relationship with the unexpected visitor. Grimes lives in Astoria, Queens, a “quiet, workaday place” with almost no hint of the rural, other than scattered patches of scruffy lawn. Although he and his wife had, historically, fed a small community of stray cats, this was their first experience with a stray bird. Bemused by and somewhat concerned about their avian friend, the two dove into research about how best to feed and care for it, and Grimes now shares their discoveries. Chickens, it turns out, will eat “just about anything short of plastic lawn furniture.” Despite their ubiquity in today’s supermarkets, they were seen more as a source of entertainment than food until the 19th century, when cockfighting was outlawed. Then in 1845, when Queen Victoria received a gift of Cochin chickens, chicken mania arrived. Grimes’s bird, he found on perusing a breeder’s guide, was most likely a Black Australorp, the result of international breeding to produce a “mild-mannered superchicken.” While all of these chicken facts are instructive, the author’s true flair lies in describing the bird itself, with its looks, moods, and inscrutable origins, its scraps with cats, its egglaying, scratching, and pecking. “As far as I could tell,” says Grimes, “it had nothing to do, but it did nothing with a grand flourish.” And that’s as good a description as any for My Fine Feathered Friend.