(This was actually written about December 20, 2011, so if it seems a little dated, it is.)
Got your attention? It's not exactly bait and switch title, but close. There was a chicken massacre before the Ward Christmas party, but I don't know where or when it actually took place, a chicken gulag somewhere. I use a little more care when I volunteer offhandedly to help with Ward parties. I spoke at the wrong time to the wrong person (R.S. President) and before I knew it (seriously - in 3 minutes she had talked to the Bishop and changed the menu from the traditional ham to dutch oven chicken - it was official) , I was in charge of the meat for the Ward Christmas party - about 200 people.
I know there was a chicken massacre because Annie and I bought 29 trays of drumsticks, thighs and breasts in preparation. We actually kind of lost count of the number until we went to the dump. It got to be a blur. Three trays (styrofoam) filled a dutch oven, so that makes 9-2/3 ovens packed with chicken.
Unfortunately, I only have two ovens of any size, and since it was pretty bitterly cold I thought it best to cook them inside - ahead of time- rather than outside on the day of the party like you might do in the summer. We did this once before, maybe 25 years ago - and it worked out well. I just borrowed a bunch of ovens and stacked them.
In cold weather, and especially if there is wind, it is a lot harder to get the chicken done to falling-off-the-bone tender. If you'll pardon the expression, I chickened out. The sequence went like this: I packed one dutch oven with chicken parts, cooked it, put a new dutch oven in the big oven. Put the hot one outside to cool, deboned the chicken, made gravy from the juice, packed meat and gravy in a 1 gallon ziplock and repacked the oven with raw chicken, put the new hot one outside.......lather-rinse-repeat. It took a couple of days to get them all done, and then it was time to thaw the bags of chicken and gravy. But, you can feed a big family or small army with dutch ovens. The more the merrier. In the end we fed the ward and there was some left over.
It was a long introduction, but what I really wanted to post about was the left-overs. We had two big dutch ovens, and three of our biggest Farberware kettles full of de-boned chicken when the party started. When it ended, there was probably almost 2 gallons of chicken still in one kettle. I tried to get everyone to take some home, but they were surprisingly reluctant and in the end we took it home. In addition to the cooked chicken, there was the bones. 29 trays of chicken will create a bunch of bones - our turkey roaster was crammed-jammed full of them. I could barely get the lid on. The first boiling gave us about 8 quarts of rich broth. What to do with all of this good food?! Our freezer is pretty well full, and needs to be defrosted anyway, so freezing it would probably work, but it is a lot of work.
Last night I brought in two of the kettles and stuffed 7 quarts full of chicken and broth, and after about an hour of gentle heating in hot water, I pressure canned them. I'm not sure how much there will be in the end. I'm sure that there is another 7 quarts that will be ready to go tonight, and then I will boil the bones one more time, and I think I will get at least one more 7 quart batch.
I guess that the reason for this post is to illustrate that food is available for storage when you least expect it. Since we had the ward dinner and ended up with the left-over chicken and all the bones and broth, we found that a friend in our ward has a contact at one of the local grocery stores and gets ripe-to-over-ripe fruits and vegetables on a routine basis. Sometimes she calls us at about 8 pm - you are not really thinking about food storage at that time of night. We go over and she has a wide variety if produce in anywhere from good-but-ripe, to cut-out-the-bruise to hmmmm-this-should-go-on-the-garden condition. It's not likely that you will be able to get access to the cast-off's of your local store, but the point is that you don't have to buy everything at full price. When corn is 10-for-$1, it's time to bottle/freeze corn. Do the strawberries look a little ripe? You might be able to strike a deal, especially at a stand or smaller store.
Note: In the end we had 18 quarts of chicken and broth.