Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Who are you eating?

A city dweller all my life, freshness is something I've learned to take on faith, as touted in the produce aisles of my local grocery store. It says right there how farm fresh that stuff really is. Last week, however, my aunt sent me home with a carton of eggs from from her coop, from her own flock of chickens.

Aunt Kathy lives in one of the rare cities outlying Los Angeles that manages to be a city, no really, but that is zoned semi-rural. Her backyard, to my eyes, is a small scale farm. Citrus trees, vegetable plot, herb garden, and two tiers of bee boxes. The whole yard overlooks a tree-filled canyon, and beyond that the western hills. She is about to harvest her first honey, something like fifty pounds!

And her flock has grown from humble beginnings to seven chickens (well, five hens and two chicks to be precise). Their coop recently underwent an expansion, I wouldn't doubt they needed a building permit: it's a veritable palace. 

These were by far the freshest eggs I've ever had. And I didn't have to trust my grocer on that. These are from hens that I know personally, if that's the right word for an avian acquaintance. I've met the ladies that brought these eggs to my table: Aunt Bea, Topaz, Lucy, Grace and Madeline.

In the carton, which is reused so actually might say something about how fresh the eggs are on the top, was a rainbow of pastel colors and pebbly textured shells. Pale celery green, tannish brown, ruddy brown, cream. Which of course got me to wondering, easter festivities aside, what makes colored eggs colored?

As any reputable resource will tell you, you'll know what color your hen will lay by looking at the color of her earlobes. (Earlobes? I haven't seen a chicken's ear, much less her earlobes). Here started my education in the exotic world of chicken breeds.  

The color of the eggs comes from pigment deposited in the shell when it's in the oviduct. Turns out that each breed of chicken reliably produces a particular color of egg. Rather than try to locate their earlobes, I just asked my Aunt Kathy about her parti-colored flock.

Aunt Bea is responsbile for the green eggs, top left in the carton (Seuss step aside), and also for a lovely lunch of egg salad today. She is an Americauna, which produce green, blue, olive or pink eggs (one color per chicken). Aunt Bea's green shells are even richer in color on the inside, which is unique to her breed: the pigmenting process starts earlier on and hence goes all the way through the shell.

Topaz is a Buff Orpington. What a great name, right? She gave me the darker brown eggs, top right for instance. And these are white inside the shell, because the pigmenting process happens differently. My aunt, not to be confused with Aunt Bea the chicken, has another breed who apparently lays chocolate brown eggs when she starts to lay. Mmm, the food analogy to describe, well at least in this context, food, is almost too much to bear.

Lucy, a Red Star, also provided some brown eggs, and Grace gave me the cream egg seen bottom right. She is a Speckled Sussex.

Once shelled, and mixed with anchovy, capers and dijon and slathered on bread, the eggs look like any other egg, regardless of the shell color. Do they taste different? Of course! They're amazingly fresh. And those chickens are LOVED. My cousin collects grubs from the compost to feed them, my nieces pet and hold them, and my aunt is rhapsodic about how beautiful they are, especially Grace, the Speckled Sussex.

I am what I eat, and I had a huge serving of color and a lot of love with lunch. Thanks, ladies. More eggs, please!

No comments:

Post a Comment