New Recipe: Mail Call: Timeless Chicken Advice – Grit

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Letters from Grit readers on timeless chicken advice, ventilation, building transformations, classrooms, pickled okra, and Polish Top Hats.



We write to you the good old-fashioned way, firmly believing that the world of electricity and electronics is having its last heyday. We really appreciate the encouragement we feel from Grit to keep up the good work of small farming! We hope you find some benefit from our tips and the historical (and true!) advice below.

Our favorite pet hen, Henny Penny, is a black bantam (Cochin-like). She’s in with the layers, because layers make lousy pets as a rule. She doesn’t lay hardly an egg, but she does help keep the layers calm and petlike with her fine example.

This advice is excerpted from Farming for Boys by Edmund Morris, which was published in 1868. “Others no doubt do better with their poultry in cold weather than myself. But my plan is to confine them in quarters that are roomy, airy, and kept as clean as a thorough cleaning once or twice a week can make them, with warm shelter from cold winds and rain. I am particular about letting them have only clean water to drink, and that always within reach. Then there is a full supply of broken oyster shells, lime, and bone dust with ashes and gravel. All these are necessary to continued good health, and to keep off vermin.”

Here’s what I think: Adequate ventilation is necessary. Provide warm water in winter, one or two times a day. Add drops of Tabasco sauce or a tiny pinch of ground cayenne pepper or hot pepper seeds to winter water. Chickens need extra corn in winter. Provide protection from owls. Sunshine and shade are both essential. Provide plenty of roosting space. Whole grains are OK to feed, as long as there’s plenty of grit. Bury a fence to keep digging predators out; we also use cattle panels with chicken wire tied to them. Roast eggshells until crunchy but not burned, and then crush them into crumbles with a rolling pin to use as a substitute for oyster shells. Use clear plastic (or glass) on windows in winter.

Naturally, it’s good to stave off boredom to help deter cannibalism from setting in. You can do this with well-placed feeding stations, a hanging ball, a window in the roost, and scratch on the floor. You can also try placing stumps in the run for chickens to jump on or run around, and a partial half-wall in the middle of the coop for chickens to run around if being attacked

M. Hund

Richfield Springs, New York

Milk House Transformation



I was just looking at the latest issue of Grit last night, and I really liked the article about the repurposed pig house (“Pig House Turned Party Barn,” March/April 2021). Then, I saw that you might be interested in hearing my story!

Last year, we repurposed the former milk house on our Iowa farm into a guesthouse, which we’ve rented out via Airbnb for the past year. We’ve really enjoyed hosting agritourism on the farm and educating people from all over about small farms.

house interior


The beams and concrete floor are original, as well as some stanchions and floor drains. The ceiling is repurposed tin from our lean-to, and one wall is barn wood salvaged from another farm building. Our website is The Lucky Star Farm.

Susan Kasal Young
Iowa City, Iowa


Grit in the Classroom

I’m writing to thank you for unknowingly helping me teach my agriculture and horticulture classes, both in person and virtually. I teach middle school and high school at a Lutheran school (LSA) in central Illinois. We don’t have the benefit of textbooks, so the internet and articles from Grit are my resources. So many articles in GRIT fit right in to my lessons, and they’re written with interesting facts woven into them. I started receiving GRIT several years ago, before I taught agriculture and horticulture. I saved every issue, not knowing they would be so helpful later on.

Nancy Schultz

Looking For

Stamp Exchange

I’m looking for stamp collectors who might be willing to exchange stamps with me. I only collect canceled U.S. stamps, and I’m missing several from 2019 and 2020.

Nancy S. Bach

517 Frankfort Ave. NE

Orange City, IA 51041

Pen Pals

I’m a recently retired U.S. Air Force veteran. I enjoy gardening, animals, canning, cooking, crafting, sustainability, languages, travel, Korean dramas, and anime. I’m originally from rural Mississippi.

Sarah Rucker

1452 Wrens Hwy

Thomson, GA 30824

Banana Chiffon Cake Recipe

I lost a recipe sent to me for Banana Chiffon Cake, and I would appreciate any recipe for it.

Sharon McClatchey

4467 W. 90th St. N.

Porter, OK 74454

Shop Vice Parts

I’m looking for a replacement spindle and spindle nut for a 1930s vintage Columbian 204-1⁄2 combination pipe vise (4-1⁄2-inch jaws).

Kenneth J. Ouellette

1082 County Road 214

Durango, CO 81303

Pickled Okra, Please

I read “Sow, Sow, Sow a Row” (March/April 2021), and I agree that a 20-foot row of okra in fertile soil will give a bumper crop. The only way I eat okra is as a fermented dill pickle. Fermentation will preserve okra in the refrigerator for a long time. First, stuff a wide-mouthed gallon jar with 5 to 10 smashed garlic cloves (depending on the size of the cloves and how much you like garlic), and then add fresh or dried dill weed. Next, stuff clean, fresh okra into the jar, and cover it with a brine made with a ratio of 1 tablespoon noniodized salt to 2 cups purified water. I usually need about 6 cups of brine. If you have grape leaves, use a couple to cover the top of the okra, which should be below the headspace. (I use a fermenting system called The Perfect Pickler, which has a way to keep the okra below the brine line. It also has a lid for wide-mouthed jars that has an air lock.) In about a week, you’ll have the best okra. I also use this method for cauliflower and green beans.

Lucinda Luttgen
via email

man and chicken

Showy Top Hat

I’m a retired psychologist at 75 years old. I remember Grit being delivered to our little subsistence farm in Pennsylvania in the 1950s. You can’t imagine my delight to find you again as an adult, and see Grit as a glossy magazine, not a few pages of newsprint, which I read page to page at 10 years old. Are you the same, or a separate entity?

I’m retired now on a small hobby farm, which gives me great joy. I would love to show you our current pride and joy. I raise Polish Top Hats, and we call this one our Magnificent White Stallion. He’s shown here with his friend and our favorite Chicago cop, Brian.

Might it be possible to publish this photo of my prize Top Hat? He’s a gorgeous rooster, and much loved.

Lojan E. Larowe
Michenry, Illinois

Lojan, thank you for sharing your photo. What a beautiful Polish Top Hat! GRIT magazine is indeed the same publication as the newspaper from the 1950s. GRIT got its start in 1882 as a Saturday edition of The Daily Sun and Banner newspaper. From there, GRIT developed into an independent newspaper, and then into the magazine we make today. We’re so glad you’ve enjoyed it through the years. — GRIT Editors

Share Your Thoughts

We welcome letters from our readers. If you’d like to comment on an article, share your opinions, or submit a “Looking For,” send us an email (with photos, if available) to, or send a letter to: GRIT Mail Call, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Electronic submissions are more likely to receive a timely response.

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