By Nancy Finlay
Jacques Makowsky grew up in Czarist Russia, a few blocks from the Kremlin. His family ran a successful printing business with close ties to the Czarist government and were forced to flee during the Russian Revolution. Like many Russian emigres, the Makowskys wound up in Paris, where they established a second printing business. There Jacques met and married Alphonsine Davalis, later known as Therese or Te, who was working as a shopgirl. Following the Nazi invasion in 1940, the Makowsky family fled France and eventually reached New York, where Jacques started yet another printing business, specializing in fancy boxes for perfumes and cosmetics.
The Makowskys did not remain in New York for long, however. The family purchased a farm in Pomfret, Connecticut, in 1948 and named it Idle Wild Farm. They began raising guinea hens, and game birds such as wild turkeys, wild ducks, and pheasants.
Following a fire which destroyed much of their existing stock, however, they began experimenting with cross-breeding chickens. In 1950, they crossed a white Cornish cock with a White Plymouth Rock hen to produce a small hybrid that they patented and marketed as the Rock Cornish Game Hen. The little chickens first became popular in high-end restaurants, then began appearing in grocery stores and markets. The business grew rapidly as the demand increased. At first, the Makowsky’s own 156-acre farm raised and processed all of the hens, but by 1954, they began supplying chicks to other local farmers, who raised them and returned them to Idle Wild Farm when they were six weeks old and ready to be slaughtered. In 1956, 55 farms in the vicinity of Pomfret were raising, processing, and selling over three million Cornish Game Hen chicks.
National Popularity of Cornish Game Hens
Initially, the Cornish Game Hens were sold fresh, but soon the Makowskys began marketing frozen game hens. Therese would later be credited with developing gourmet recipes for these frozen birds.
In 1967, after more than 25 years, Jacques and Therese sold their farm and business and moved to Florida. Today, the little hybrid chickens developed by the Makowskys in Pomfret, Connecticut, remain popular with consumers. Large corporations, such as Tyson Foods and Bell & Evans, produce and market most Cornish Game Hens and they can be found in grocery stores throughout the nation.
Nancy Finlay grew up in Manchester, Connecticut. She has a BA from Smith College and an MFA and PhD from Princeton University. From 1998 to 2015, she was Curator of Graphics at the Connecticut Historical Society.