When I was a wee young nerdlet, my father was a part-time farmer. That is, he was a suit-wearing St. John’s executive by day, and the muck-slinging mastermind behind a Pouch Cove hobby farm by evening and weekend. Turkeys, ducks, geese, pheasants, and, for one season, rabbits, lived short but comfortable lives under my dad’s watchful eye. Come fall they were sent off to be butchered and dressed. He’d sell a few, keep the rest, and we’d be well fed through to next season.
And there were chickens. Some for eating—broilers and fryers, they’re called—and always a good number of laying hens. So there were plenty of eggs at Dad’s house. Brown, white, bright-yolked, sometimes double-yolked, dependable eggs, fresh as anything. Which is why, I suppose, when I sit and dream about the coastal subsistence farm to which I will one day retire, hens are the first animals I picture populating the landscape, scratching for bugs and roosting peacefully in the spacious coop I will have built for them entirely from reclaimed materials.
Yes, this is what I think about, almost all the time.
Hens are the ultimate value-added product on a small farm. Their feed is fairly cheap, they peck and pick and eat the slugs out of your veggie patch, and, if conditions are right, they lay at least one egg a day. Get yourself a half-dozen hens and you’ve got three and a half cartons of eggs a week, which means enough quiches and meringues and crème caramel for you to start your own catering business on the side. Add a rooster to the flock, and your hens make more chicks. Some of those grow up to lay eggs, some of them end up in the soup pot. The cycle of life goes on, and you get to observe it while dining on soufflés and breakfasting on omelets. A wise investment, since, unlike milking cows or shearing sheep, collecting eggs requires practically no effort. Every day is like Easter morning. Only without the chocolate. And with more chicken poop.
My nutritionist (who some of you dear readers might recognize as my mom), calls eggs “perfect food.” They’re inexpensive, full of protein, easy to prepare, and versatile. They’ve got folate, vitamin B12, and the antioxidant lutein. They’re also one of the few protein sources that St. John’s-dwellers can find locally. While there might not be much small-scale meat production on the Avalon, there are a good few family farms producing enough eggs to sell here and there. Ask around at the Farmers’ Market (opening up for the season on June 6 at the Lion’s Club Chalet, and hot damn am I excited), or at any roadside stand and you should be able to hone in on someone willing to part with fresh, happy eggs. But even if you’re strictly a supermarket shopper, you can find local eggs without too much trouble.
If you do buy your eggs at the grocery store, don’t be seduced by promises made about eggs high in Omega-3 fatty acids—I don’t care what the Omega-3 people say, chickens weren’t meant to be force-fed flax seeds and fish oil. That’s some kind of monstrous agricultural hazard in waiting, that is. And while I’m all for the idea of free-range and free-run chickens, some of the large egg producers have taken “free-range” and “free-run” to mean “locked out in the cold all day and all night,” or “free to walk around in a concrete pen under fluorescent lights” which isn’t really all that much better, if you ask me. Organic eggs are lovely, but if they come shipped from Ontario in plastic or polystyrene cartons, doesn’t that kind of run counter to the whole ethos of organic growing? Best to actually find yourself a farmer, get to know him or her, and ask about the sort of conditions his or her chickens live under. If they’re free to eat the odd grub and get out and stretch their wings now and again, you’ll notice it in the flavour of the eggs.
And lest you get all twitterpated about the cholesterol issue, let me just tell you this: freaking out about eggs and cholesterol is so 1980s. And not in a hip cool retro way. Recent studies all say that, for the average healthy person, there is no reason at all to limit egg consumption, and even people with high cholesterol levels can happily indulge in two eggs a week, which is a nice Sunday morning omelet, or two days’ worth of fried egg sandwiches, or a third of a flourless chocolate cake (well, maybe not that).
A few things to do with eggs
1. You’ve probably eaten soft-boiled eggs with toast soldiers, but try swapping out the toast for steamed asparagus – which will be in season here real soon.
2. If you’re in your early 30s or younger, you completely missed out on the era of the devilled egg. Learn from your elders: devilled eggs are awesome, and ever-so-slightly kitschy. Look up a recipe in any pre-1980s cookbook, or ask your nan.
3. Here’s one for barbecue season: boil some large new potatoes until perfectly soft. Half them and scoop out egg-sized recesses (save the extra cooked potato for, well, anything). Crack eggs into the hollowed-out potatoes and place the potato halves on the barbecue (make little tin-foil nests for them if they don’t look like they’ll stand up straight). Sprinkle with grated cheese, chopped cooked bacon, chives, whatever. Cover the barbecue and wait until eggs are cooked through (yolks should be runny). Eat at a picnic table or on a blanket on the lawn, with the sun low in the sky and a cold beverage in hand.
4. If you’ve never made your own mayonnaise, and if you don’t get weirded out by the thought of eating raw eggs, stay tuned for an upcoming Food Nerd Tutorial on mayonnaise makery. Trust me, it’ll be fun. And tasty. I promise.
Send your questions, comments, and suggestions for how to justify eating as much chocolate cake as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org