Growing up in Louisa – Fresh Eggs!
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
Growing up as a town kid, I took breakfast pretty much for granted, at least in my earliest years. By the time I had moved to Clay Street, I had been weaned from the bottle, had a full set of teeth, and was chomping down on whatever was provided. Of course eggs were standard, routine faire, whether fried or scrambled, or in an omelet. They were important to the dip that made up mom’s delicious French toast. I learned at my mommy’s knee that eggs came from chickens, but I can’t say I really understood how. It somehow didn’t seem right or sanitary, but if it was okay with mom then it was okay with me.
I remember once when I was invited to actually gather some eggs. I jumped at the chance because I knew my education would grow. That first time became a reoccurring event and fun times. Many mornings I would walk with our neighbor, Mr. Lions, to his chicken house down the block and across the street. During these trips we got to be ‘friends,’ and I learned to gather eggs. He would help me when we found a reluctant hen squatting and not willing to give up the nest. I recall he sometimes used fake eggs to encourage the hens to lay. I guess it worked because we always had a basket full of the real things when we turned back to home. Later, after Mr. Lyons had passed away, I would gather eggs with friends and relatives when I made visits to their respective farms. It was fun to go into the hen houses and gather the eggs, but it was even more fun to dig in and enjoy the fresh morsels. Until recently I had forgotten how good a fresh egg could taste.
Some years ago, my wife and I noticed and made mention of the difference between ‘free range’ eggs and store-bought eggs. The mass-produced ones come from chickens imprisoned in cages. The eggs roll down a ramp, then are graded and put into crates and boxes before being stored or shipped. I can tell you that these eggs aren’t the same. They literally pale when compared to those bright, fresh eggs gathered on the farm. Clearly, the smallish weak yellow yolk, is at best a washed out example of the bright, almost orange middle found in the fresh variety. I suppose it is caused by the feed, lack of sunlight, or a washed out gene pool. I’m surprised they haven’t tried to add color, but then again, maybe they have.
Another fact not well-known by the masses is that the mass-produced kind are not necessarily fresh in any real sense of the word. Farmers know that chickens lay better in the spring and fall, and that egg production actually shrinks in the very hot or very cold weather. Come to think of it, I produce better when I’m comfortable, too. Well, the point is that to keep the stores stocked year-around, a whole lot of eggs are produced and stored to try and maintain a constant supply. Shifts in supply does not always mean that demand shifts, too. For this reason, the law of supply and demand kicks in. A way to gauge the seasons is to look at the market indicators. Price fluctuations are higher in the end of summer and the winter months.
Another issue that effects supply are the medicines that flocks are given to keep down various diseases. Sometimes infections cause whole flocks of chickens to be slaughtered. Well, trust me, the law of supply and demand works in this case, too. Prices will reflect whether there’s a buildup of inventory, or supplies are exhausted. Commercial interests aren’t so much about the gathering of eggs since that is mostly automated, but keeping costs low and production up. Me? I’m about taste, which is not really a concern for commercial producers unless it can be exploited as a means to charge more.
There are arguments that the brown egg is better for you than the white, or that one is tastier than the other. That is debated on talk show after talk show and usually ends with a blind taste test that again proves they are the same. Arguments aside, I do know that the fresher, free-range eggs are more appetizing. They seem larger and the shells seem thicker, too. I guess that since I don’t eat the shells, but use them to add to my garden soil, thickness isn’t a big issue. I see them as a source for calcium in the compost.
A number of years ago, in spite of our living in a city, we kept some laying hens in a fenced area of our backyard. I remember that before we learned to clip their wings that we’d occasionally find ourselves chasing the elusive fowl throughout the neighborhood. It was good for a laugh, especially when the neighbors put down their briefcases and helped in the chase. I remember the Commonwealth Attorney was particularly good at catching chickens.
A favorite surprise happened when on occasion we’d come across an egg with double yokes. So it seems that hens throw out a twin sometimes, too. That’s no YOLK!
Besides layers, we also kept a couple of ducks. Those eggs were half-again larger and were delicious. The yolks stood tall and were pumpkin orange. When we stirred them into the batter for a pound cake we were already salivating in anticipation of the finished cake.
It wasn’t the embarrassment that caused us to give it up, but rather the raccoons that got into the pen and ate our chickens and ducks leaving only a duck bill for us to find in the morning. After several attempts to keep them out of the henhouse, we gave up. So while we tried the wild animals won out.
I’m now working in a rural area and have made an informal connection to a farmer who sells a small supply of fresh eggs. I have placed a standing order but would really like to have even more. Last weekend when I prepared some bacon and fresh, free range eggs for the two of us, the memory of these earlier times flooded my mind and my mouth.
I remember my mom folding several eggs into the cake batter as she stroked it with a wooden spoon. The broken yolks added a rich yellow to the mix. She used these in nearly every meal in some way, whether a dip, to add body, to keep the meatloaf from falling apart, or as a treat on the side. Whether the side dishes were pickled eggs, deviled eggs, an egg salad, or even poached as part of eggs benedict, they really made the meal and made memories.
Now that I’ve made you hungry, I wish that your larders be full and your nests contain all you need, and a little more; always a little more. email@example.com