Thought to descend from a cross of common hens from Normandy, the Crèvecœur chicken is one of the oldest standard-bred fowls of France and is critically endangered, with less than a thousand birds alive across the globe. Known to have a gentle and deliberate manner, the predominantly black chicken has a distinguishing, pompadour-like crest and feathers that glisten beetle green and purple in the sunlight.
It is sadly fitting, given the dire state of the bird’s population, that the name “Crève Coeur” translates literally to “broken heart,” the origins of this name linked to the village Crèvecœur-en-Auge in Normandy, where farmers who settled the region discovered the land to be less than fertile, and hence, were heartbroken.
The breed has been prized in France from as early as the twelfth century, when farmers were obliged to make their annual payment to landlords in the form of two fully grown Crèvecœur capons (roosters fattened for eating). By the eighteenth century, it had become a signifier of a certain societal status, as the table hen of choice for upper-middle-class Parisians, who purchased over 150,000 of the birds annually in the city’s markets.
The fine flesh and light bones of the poultry ensured its presence on French tables into the twentieth century, until World War II when the Crèvecœur unwittingly fell victim to its own popularity. The occupying forces, who demanded to eat in the style of the middle-class French, developed such a voracious appetite for the chicken that is was eaten into near extinction within two years.
The foresight of dedicated farmers meant that a precious few of the Crèvecœur were hidden away, allowing breeders devoted to the protection of heritage poultry and organizations like the Livestock Conservancy and Slow Food, to slowly re-establish the rare bird’s numbers enough to see it once again on dinner tables.
Special thanks to the Livestock Conservancy for assisting PRIOR with this shoot.
Conor Burke is a creative director and photographer living in New York, by way of Sydney and Dublin. He oversees PRIOR’s creative, having previously run photographer and interior artist Martyn Thompson’s design studio. Before that he was the market editor at VOGUE Living and a contributing editor at GQ Australia.