Anyone who has ever been camping will know and recognise how much better everything tastes when cooked outdoors over a campfire, though not every outdoor cook would go to the lengths taken by W.H. Davies, a tramp and minor poet of the early 20th century, now probably best known for his poem ‘Leisure’ (‘What is this life if, full of care’), best known to those my age from a successful Centre Parks advert.
Originally from Newport, Davies spent much of his early life as a homeless vagabond travelling around the United States and Canada. He made his way by begging, for the most part, but also tried his hand at fruit-picking and canal building, and made several Trans-Atlantic trips as a cattle-man. All that came to an end one day in Canada, when he had the misfortune to stumble whilst trying to jump onto a moving freight train, and the wheel severed his right foot at the ankle.
Five weeks later, he returned to Britain, equipped with a new wooden leg, and began his attempts to establish himself in a literary career. This recipe is taken from The Autobiography of a Super Tramp, his most popular prose work.
- Take one chicken, unplucked.
N.B. It is probably not a good idea to inquire too closely into where this unplucked chicken came from. The choice of the verb ‘Take’ is not as innocuous as it might be in other cookbooks.
- Cover it in a thick layer of mud.
You heard me.
- Bake under a pile of hot ashes, until the mud has dried into a solid crust.
- Break off the mud crust. The chicken beneath should be ‘as clean as a new born babe, with all its feathers and down stuck hard in the mud.’
The result, according to Davies, is a chicken ‘far more tasty than the one at home, that was plucked and gutted with care and roasted or baked to a supposed nicety’ – though perhaps it is best suited to those who bemoan, like him, that ‘this food of civilisation certainly seemed to suffer from a lack of good wholesome dirt, and I should have liked to have had my own wood fire at the end of the backyard, were it not for shame.’