Eggs, the perfect food in the perfect package. People have been eating eggs; chicken, duck, fish, turtle, and quail to mention a few, for thousands of years. This week I am thinking about chicken eggs. As I researched this topic I learned of many cruelties involved in the modern industry of supplying eggs. I do no want to speak of these…it is just too hard.
Living in an agricultural area allows me the opportunity to buy eggs laid by free range chickens. Yes, truly free range chickens, I see them everywhere even crossing the road, and they always make me smile. There is just something about a chicken, a yard bird as my Aunt Lily called them. They strut regally, always appear to be making grand decisions, and have not a worry in the world.
When it comes to chickens I am still very much a city girl. Eggs, always white, came from the market, the chicken was never to be seen. I am a bit like my Uncle Lester. The story of Lester and his chickens was always repeated at family gatherings. Lester had bought chickens for meat and eggs during WWII, however the chickens became pets that he fed during the war and for the rest of their natural lives. Works for me.
I am fascinated by the eggs I buy at the small farm stands sporting mini refrigerators. Opening the carton I find a palette of speckled red -brown, green, pink, blue, cream and yes shades of white and light brown eggs. Say what? Eggs are white or brown. Delightfully wrong. The color of a hen’s egg can be determined by the looking at its earlobe. Chicken’s ears are internal so this takes some doing. The color of the flesh will tell you the color of the egg. The intensity of the color will vary from egg to egg. Why are these eggs ignored by supermarkets as they are beautiful? Each time I buy a dozen I love being surprised by what will be inside.
Purchasing eggs at these stands gives me real farm fresh eggs. Mass egg producers often store eggs for long periods of time, thirty days or more, before they hit the stores. There really is a difference between a farm fresh egg and what I call industry produced egg. When an egg is laid a very small air cell is created as it cools. With time air will pass into the pores of the shell and the cell will increase. The smaller the air cell the fresher the egg. Eggs will also lose water as they age. Very old eggs will actually float and should never be eaten.
Freshly laid eggs will have firm round yolks. With age the yolk will absorb water from the albumin and become flat and enlarged. As for the color of the yolks, that is triggered by what the chicken eats. It is illegal in the United States to use artificial color so hens are sometimes fed corn or marigold petals to enhance the yellow.
Each time I set out to learn more about nature I am amazed at how it all works together for success. When eggs are collected the shells have a nature coating called a bloom. This coating protects bacteria from entering the egg. Prior to using a farm fresh egg the bloom must be removed. To remove the bloom rub with a dry rough cloth. You can use water but it is not suggested. If there is a bit of manure on the eggs use a damp cloth to remove it. If the egg is really dirty wash with warm water and dry with a rough cloth. Using cold water will allow bacteria to enter the egg. Eggs should be kept in the refrigerator where they will last up to a month but not in the door where they will bounce around.
A hen will lay eggs for several years then stop. It is now time to thank her by allowing her to live out her life on the farm and not land in the cook pot.
If you have access to ‘real’ farm fresh eggs…..from the farmer, please take advantage of it. They may cost a bit more but there is a lot more work raising animals humanely and I am willing and able to pay for it. If you have a city friend with chickens see if you can help him or her by buying their extras. Perhaps you want a backyard hen house for yourself, there are classes. I have also read you can rent backyard chickens that will be picked up and cared for during the winter. Explore.