In municipalities that allow small-scale residential farming of chickens, the slim copy of Minnie Rose Lovgreen’s Recipe for Raising Chickens that recently crossed my desk will have definite educational value. But for the average cityslicker, it will be Lovgreen’s oddly compelling, down-to-earth voice that’s the real appeal of this book —without a doubt the most delightful and engaging piece of writing I’ve read in a very long time.
Lovgreen probably never thought of herself as a fascinating person. But consider her life story. Born in 1888 in England, Lovgreen was the eighth of nineteen children. In 1912, she and her brother decided to set off for Canada on a ship called the Titanic. But Lovgreen got bored waiting for the ship to be sail-ready, and hopped instead onboard another Montreal-bound ship. Those details alone were enough to make me place my order for Lovgreen’s other book, As Far As I Can Remember; Minnie Rose’s Story, also available at Trillium Press.
By 1920, Lovgreen had made her way to Washington State, where she met and married Danish-born Leo Lovgreen. They worked together for 30 years, creating a 170-acre dairy farm, where Lovgreen also learned all about rising chickens. After some 60 years, she decided to collect her wisdom in a simple, hand-lettered 31-page booklet, which was illustrated by Elizabeth Hutchison Zwick.
If you do want to raise chickens the old-fashioned way, this is probably an excellent primer. If not, it’s full of wonderful insights from Lovgreen, and delightful gems of wisdom, such as:
You’re much better off with a broody hen, even if you have to borrow one.
One or two white eggs in a box bring out the value of the brown ones… they look real pretty.
If two roosters get fighting hard, the only way I can do (sic) is to take a board and slap one of them in the face.
A quick read, this is the perfect book for the cottage — as bedside reading or, in a comfy chair in the shade. But while it’s tempting to characterize it as charming anachronism, it’s worth remembering that Lovgreen lived in a time and place when connections to the land, and to the food chain that sustains us, were much stronger and more visible.
Lovgreen and her husband probably got just about everything they needed to survive from the land, or the local community. When I compare that with the fact that my husband, who’s an elementary school teacher, regularly encounters kids who don’t realize that apples come from a tree, I worry about what we’ve lost by becoming increasingly removed from the realities of food production. Makes you wonder about the nature of our progress, doesn’t it?
And if you read and enjoy this book, you must look for a copy of Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I, about a young newlywed— also in Washington State — who finds out that her husband has plans to start a chicken farm. The book was made into a sweet and funny little movie of the same name, released in 1947, and starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray.