HENS circa 1950

Cornish Game Hens are an important food from my favorite vintage period, the 1950s and 60s, because they didn’t exist until 1950.   The Rock Cornish Game Hen was originally bred by Therese Makowsky in Connecticut in 1950.  She cross-bred the Cornish chicken (which came from Cornwall, England) with the White Plymouth Rock chicken.  That result was a short legged, fat breasted little bird that weighed about two pounds!  In the 1980s, Tyson began raising them and now, two-thirds sold in the U.S. come from Tyson.

During my early childhood, we raised chickens in our back yard … for both eggs and meat.  This was not uncommon in small rural towns of the 1950s.  It is kind of funny that the cycle has brought us back to that!  Several of my neighbors have beautiful chicken coops!

When I was a child, we had a dog named Ringer.  Mother would tell him to “get one” and he would bring her a chicken.  She’d go through the process, which I won’t describe, of preparing that chicken for the frying pan!   Of course, we enjoyed lots of fresh eggs on a regular basis.

Chicken was always a favorite on our supper table, but the year Mother introduced Daddy to Cornish Game Hens, there were sparks!  Mother had helped prepare an evening meal for lots of community leaders and Cornish Game Hen was the menu.  Daddy was not happy that she had worked all day and well into the evening to help with that special event.  He was unhappy … until she brought home a little fat hen for him to snack on!  He was in love.  All wasforgiven!  He said that was the best little chicken he had ever eaten.  From then on, Cornish Game Hens became a frequent Sunday Dinner!  I carried that tradition into my own home in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the Aldi store made its debut in my little town in the 1980s that we had easy access to the little birds.  Our supermarkets didn’t carry them except during holiday times.   Once they were easy to find at Aldi, they became favorite dinner party fare, too.  Our friends loved them, and it was so easy to cut them in half for a reasonable serving size!  The presentation is beautiful, served whole or halved!

My vintage cookbooks don’t include many recipes for Cornish Game Hens.  The one I love most, however, calls for stuffing the little birds with oyster stuffing and roasting them smothered in butter, salt and pepper.  My second favorite, I’ll share with you today.  Lemon Roasted Cornish Game Hen.

It is important to point out that these little birds really absorb flavor.  The use of lots of fresh herbs, fruits including citrus and stone fruits,  apples and pears … certainly adds to the flavor.  Spices representing the cuisine of other cultures is a perfect way to prepare them.  Use your imagination and know that your finished product will be delicious!

There are two ways to roast these birds.  If you are stuffing them, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and cover the roasting pan with a lid or foil.  Roast for 45 minutes, then uncover the pan and continue to roast about 10 minutes, so the skin gets crispy.  It is important to start with a covered pan, so the stuffing gets done.

If you are not stuffing the birds, roast them uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 – 60 minutes.  The length of time depends upon the weight of the birds.  Use your thermometer and when they reach 170 degrees, they are done.

Always let birds stand for ten minutes before carving.

When I write that we love Cornish Game Hens, you’ll see that in what I share today … more than a couple recipes!

Butter Roasted Cornish Hens

This is my Sunday Dinner style!  A simple roasted hen served with mashed potatoes and a favorite vegetable.  I simply stuff the bird with a piece of onion and celery, rub it with butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning.  When I have fresh sage, a sprig goes inside it, too.  Roast the birds uncovered at 350 degrees for approximately 50 minutes.  Use your meat thermometer to make sure it is done!

You’ll notice that the green beans in this picture are also roasted.  As long as the oven is on, add a sheet pan of vegetables.  I tossed these in lemon infused olive oil and added pepper.  Delicious.

Spanish Style Cornish Hens

 This hen was prepared for a special dinner commemorating the movie Mary Queen of Scots.  I flavored the bird with herbs of Spain.   I made a rub of turmeric, saffron, garlic, oregano and cumin.   I rubbed the birds with the spices and let them sit in the fridge overnight.  Those flavors were so obvious in each bite!  I stuffed each bird with pieces of naval oranges, including the peel.  I roasted the hens uncovered.  Delicious!

Citrus Cornish Game Hens

I just prepared this bird not long ago and used it to serve two people!  The citrus flavor is remarkable mixed with fresh herbs .. thyme, pineapple sage and Mexican tarragon (which has a bit of a licorice flavor).   I rubbed the bird with lemon infused olive oil and stuffed it with half a lemon and half a lime.  I also placed fresh herbs in the cavity.  I roasted uncovered at 350 degrees.   The dressing I served with this bird was a combination of wild rice and cornbread.  Make your favorite and be creative!   Had I stuffed the bird with the rice/cornbread … I would have started my baking by covering the roasting pan with foil, as I’ve described previously in this post.


 Cornish Hens with Plums and Grape Leaves

This is probably my favorite way to prepare a roasted game hen … with fruit.  I posted this previously and this is what I wrote!

The plums and grapes have been harvested, but the cool evenings this time of year often produce some new tender grape leaves and I love to use them in cooking.  The earthy grassy flavor is a nice addition to roasted poultry and pork. A couple of overripe plums in the crisper prompted me to create!  I stuffed my game hen with chopped plums, rosemary and chopped grape leaves.  I placed a few sections of plum around the bird and tucked in some sprigs of rosemary and sprinkled on a little salt and pepper. I always roast my game hens at 350 degrees and the larger ones take a little over an hour to get fall off the bone done. That's the way we like them! No, I didn't use any other spices because I wanted the grape leaf and rosemary flavors to be dominant. 


You can use any stone fruit to prepare this recipe.  It is so good with peaches, but when I use peaches, I also prefer to grill my bird on the BBQ grill.  I add chopped peaches to the sauce I use and then finish the dish with peach halves that have also been grilled.

You can marinate these little birds and expect bold flavors.  You can dry rub them and expect bold flavors.  You can simply sprinkle with salt and pepper and still expect a bold flavor .. of scrumptious!

This is a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetable project.  I'll be sharing it with a couple blog parties, too ... so make sure you click through the list on my sidebar.   Enjoy!

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