This blog, after all, was "hatched" from my obsessions with food. And, when I was very little, my family lived on a chicken farm in rural Utah. So, before I get to the crux of this story -- the egg, that is -- please walk with me along a short stroll through these formative years.
My memories as a 5-year-old are scanty, but there were other flora et fauna on the farm -- along with said chickens -- a goat plus a few deer and antelope, tamed by one of my grandfathers. There were many bountiful fruit trees, surrounded by rows and rows of plants redolent with tomatoes, green beans, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, soooo many carrots, sweet peas, rhubarb and the list goes on. Meat for dinner, cooked by one of my grandmothers, was often pheasant, duck or quail, hunted on their land.
One of my grandfathers specialized in raising humongous ("the size of your head!") vegetables -- novelties that inevitably would end up in some local newspaper's "AMAZING!" photo. My other grandfather -- a gruff, surly, no-nonsense man who, to me, seemed to stand at least 8 feet tall -- personally took charge of canning all vegetables and fruits. Several times each year, he would take over the old kitchen. My grandmother, usually kitchen commander-in-chief, was relegated to beating the dust out of the rugs and fluffing horsehair pillows for a few days. Eventually out of the kitchen would come dozens of bottles filled with the most amazing and perfectly preserved produce. Grandpa would let me "help" -- which only meant I could watch, but that was more access than he allowed anyone else in the family. I felt rather special. When I was a teen, eight years after Grandpa died, we were still eating his delicately spiced applesauce, stored in our basement.
Thus is the backstory to set up my Forked relationship with The Egg. We had lots of eggs -- big, little, white, brown, light green, mottled. My dad was an early riser, and I with him -- he being a hard worker and often out of town, these were the only hours I got to spend in his company. Every morning when at home, Dad made: EGGS. Mostly simple eggs, showing off their beauty of brilliant orange against bright white freshness -- usually basted, over-easy, poached or soft boiled. My favorite: a four-minute boiled egg, cradled in a special ceramic egg cup and eaten with a tiny sterling silver egg spoon (the only sterling we owned). Dad knew how to perfectly lop off the top inch with a sharp knife -- with nary a speck of shell left behind.
"Double-yolkers" were coveted prizes in our family. However, my two older, conspiratorial brothers somehow convinced me that whites were the most special -- so that they could trade my yolks for their whites. What did I know? Because, with these eggs, all was good. Very seldom were eggs scrambled -- and, if they were, Dad's scrambled eggs were not whipped, but distinctly velvety white against lush yellow. I never had an omelet until I was a grownup.
I do not even remember cereal from my childhood. The few times we had it, it was typically oatmeal or mush (in our case: fried "gooey" leftover oatmeal with maple syrup -- usually accompanied by AN EGG). And a favorite supper: corned-beef hash and soft-poached EGGS, not generally as perfect as our breakfast eggs, as my mom made these and just did not quite have the knack.
But my family moved away from the farm, around my 6th year on earth. Somewhere between the moon and the big city, our eggs came from the supermarket and eventually lost their luster. Make no mistake, I still liked eggs, but they just were not the same.
Eggs, of course, have had their own skirmishes to scramble. They became vilified as hefty little bombs of cholesterol and saturated fat. In my own family, my dad -- the "pusher" of all things Egg -- died of a massive coronary at age 55. So, one had to put down the Fork and consider it all.
Fast forward to some 50 years later, however, and enter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) free range eggs. Shortly after the turn of the millennium -- and after a move to the Midwest -- my husband and I discovered a world at our feet of fresh farm produce available from CSA local farms. And among the most special parts of this CSA relationship were EGGS ... just hours from beneath the hen, and into the pan.
These were the eggs of my childhood! Both smooth and pungent in color and flavor, they beckoned to me once again. Most supermarket eggs are often many weeks old before they ever reach your refrigerator. Plus, they come from chickens crammed into tiny pens, that never see the sun, never stretch a wing, never eat a bug, and they gorge themselves on manufactured feed. Apart from the humanitarian angle, such conditions simply do not make for eggs with the same flavor and healthiness of old.
One might imagine the circles of joy that came to the Naked Fork, in learning that free range eggs actually are more healthy than regular supermarket eggs. In fact, they are are not just better for you -- they are GOOD for you!
MOTHER EARTH NEWS has reported on some impressive findings from very recent research:
Eggs from hens raised on pasture, as compared to those commercially raised factory farm eggs, contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2X more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3X more vitamin E
• 7X more beta carotene
Pastured eggs have anywhere between 4-6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs.
Well, all things in moderation, I suppose. Eggs still have calories, and a certain amount of saturated fat. But eggs are a happy part of my life again. I still try to respect the probability that an apple, an orange or a stalk of broccoli might generally be a better choice than that second or third egg.
With free-range eggs always fresh in the fridge, I no longer feel quite as guilty. At my 60th birthday celebration, my sweet hubs made a list of things he loves about me: high on the list was the magic I make with egg dishes. I'm proud. I think it is also a fine tribute to my father, who -- after all -- contributed to the hatching of ME!
For a great recipe for Baked Eggs -- "minimalist style" (my favorite!), see this Mark Bittman VIDEO from the NY Times.
You might wonder how to obtain the freshest free-range eggs where YOU live? It most likely won't be in your local supermarket, or, for that matter, even a natural foods superstore, such as Whole Foods (who will certainly have organic and free range eggs -- but not likely local ones). Start with a Google search! Just enter "pastured eggs" + the name of your home town, and it's likely you'll come up with some wonderful resources. In the case of Indiana, below are a few great examples that I'm personally aware of. I really encourage finding LOCAL resources for eggs -- not just a box of eggs that says they are "free range and organic." Make sure they come from nearby where you live! Not only will these be the freshest imaginable, but you'll be supporting your local farmers ... and THAT, my friends, is fodder for another Naked Fork treatise (diatribe?) down the road.
Seven Springs Farms/Rush County, IN (and purveyors of the egg pictured above!)
Lone Pine Farms/Montgomery County, IN
Brown Family Farm/Montpelier, IN
Apple Family Farm/McCordsville, IN
Some other great places to learn about The Egg:
Mother Earth News: The Chicken & Egg Page
The TODAY SHOW: Which Eggs are Best?
Eggs A to Z (Georgia Egg Commission)
FAQ About Eggs
Organic Free-Range Eggs Less Likely to Carry Salmonella
The American Egg Board "Learn More About Eggs"