Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Capon is a noun and a verb

One of the many ways in which CSB and I differ (and it has been suggested by skeptics that we have Nothing in Common) is how we spent summer vacations as young adolescents. I swam badly, played tennis even worse, and wrote fairy tales and plays, though not about virgin saints. CSB worked on Ruth Sharp’s 153 acre farm in Bedford: Cantitoe Farm. By then Ruth Sharp was already legendary for working hard herself, and demanding the same from her summer laborers. In her late 60’s she drove a decrepit flatbed truck through the hay field while CSB walked along and tossed the bales up to his brother, who stood atop the flatbed. He told me: “She never stopped.”
Apropos of the unwelcome status of roosters in our village, CSB reminisced last night about the summer Will Perry, Ruth Sharp’s foreman, taught him to capon. “Ah yes, a capon,” I said. “I have always wondered about capons. I lay awake wondering about capons.”
A capon, I learned, is a castrated cock. To capon is to castrate a cock. CSB kindly explained the procedure: grab the cock by the legs, slice him between the legs, stick in your fingers and remove the testicles. Continue with next cock.
In case you are questioning, as I did: yes, the cocks are alive when this happens, and the slice is actually very small, and yes, of course they have internal testicles. (Soon you will be able to read all about vent-sexing chickens in my upcoming novel Absent a Miracle.) Less fondly, CSB recalled the overwhelming smell of ammonia in the chicken house.
You can also use the verb: to caponize.

Ruth Sharp died several years ago and in 2000 her farm was bought by – of all people – Martha Stewart. Certain things have changed. The newly constructed horse barn is massive and temperature controlled. There are 200 peony varieties, and yes, there are bees in architecturally lovely beehives. I have no idea if caponizing still goes on in the chicken house.


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