We have acquired chickens by several methods over the 12 years that we've been chicken-keepers. We have ordered them by phone and then received them in the mail. We have driven long distances to buy them from crazy people who are bizarrely devoted to some arcane heirloom breed (arguably, by finding these people and then driving miles and miles to their remote location for the purpose of this exchange, forfeiting our own claims to sanity.) We have gone to time-consuming lengths to incubate eggs in our house, only to see a justifiably snooty hen march out from under the coop with a family she hatched the old-fashioned way.
We have some spectacular pure-bred, pedigree, fancy-dan chickens that we ordered: Crested Golden Polish, Frizzle, Silkie, etc.
General Tucker Stinkyfanny, Second Assistant Vice-Rooster, a purebred Frizzle
But the home-brew chickens are among the handsomest on our farm; witness the Golden-Frosted Mullet Mezzo-Frizzle:
Chicken genetics turn out to be fairly simple for the lay-person (you should pardon the term) to understand, in that crossing a green-egg-layer with a speckled-egg-layer tends to produce a speckled-green-egg-layer, and crossing a poofy-head-feathered one with a poofy-cheek-feathered one will net you a bunch of demi-head-poofed, demi-cheek-poofed chickens. And so on. Mullet Boy is not alone--our flock has a bunch of stunning examples of these principles.
On most farms concerned with things like profit margins and feed-to-egg ratios, chickens head for the soup pot when they stop laying a reliable one egg per day and start laying, erratically, eggs too large to fit in the standard egg carton--by two years of age. Around here, we run a retirement home for chickens and should probably sell eggs for about eleven dollars apiece. A fresh barnyard egg tastes good enough to warrant that charge, but I don’t think the market will bear it.
Whenever I begin to feel weary of stepping in chicken poop and shooing dusty birds off my porch, I steer my thoughts to the eggs, and a memory of one of my then-tiny daughters ordering three scrambled with a side of toast while we were traveling. “Mama, what’s wrong with these eggs?” she asked me after the waiter set them down in front of her. I peered. Eggs scrambled at home are a vivid nasturtium-y turmeric color, while these were the same color as the butter in the butter dish. I suppose that’s worth a little poop on the shoes.
Even if you do not have an opera company of chickens in your yard, you probably have access to a better class of egg than the stupormarket has to offer. I could point you towards plenty of horrifying literature about the egg industry and sobering facts like two hens to a cage the size of a piece of printer paper and eggs warehoused for months before they reach the store shelves, or I could spare you that and just plead with you to fork it over for good ones. If you want a simple guideline, just try to buy eggs from people, not corporations. "Free-range" is a largely meaningless standard. Forget the nice picture on the egg carton label in the store. An egg factory can say its hens are “free range” if, at one end of the cavernous warehouse that houses tens of thousands of birds, there is a cat-door that leads outside. It doesn’t matter where it leads, and it doesn’t matter if none of the very miserable birds ever use it. Hey, man--they have the option.To make it possible for miserable birds, denied most of the happy jobs that occupy a hen’s day (picking through the grass, rolling in the dust, finding some privacy to lay an egg) to live in close quarters without pecking each other to bits from boredom and hysteria, the birds are de-beaked. “De-beaked” is an awful word, but let me assure you it is a euphemism even so.
Are your fingers creeping up towards your ears? It isn’t pretty information, I know. But this is all done for us, the consumer. In our names, and then we support it with our dollars. We do have to start somewhere if we are going to fix this mess. Why not with eggs?
In compensation for harshing your mellow, here is a recipe for muffins that taste like cheesecake, and yet are good for you. They are even better for you if you add a quarter cup of oat bran to them, but that’s all up to you. Happy eggs make them a vivid yellow that will give you pleasure in the morning light.
adapted from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café
makes 12 muffins
2 c flour
½ t salt
1 ½ t baking powder
1/8 t baking soda
finely grated zest of a lemon or orange
½ to 2/3 c sugar
the optional 1/4 cup of oatbran
1 c ricotta cheese
1 c buttermilk
1 T fresh lemon juice
2t vanilla extract
4T ( ½ a stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ c frozen strawberries
Lay the strawberries on a cutting board to thaw slightly while you get everything else in order, otherwise the berries will fly around the kitchen like asteroids when you try to chop them.
Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease your muffin pans, or line them with papers.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.
In another medium bowl, beat the buttermilk into the ricotta, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in the vanilla and lemon juice.
Coarsely chop the now-slightly-relaxed strawberries.
Add the ricotta mixture and the strawberries to the dry ingredients, stir once, then dump in the melted butter (you just don’t want the melted butter to hit the cold stuff first, or it globs), and combine the mixtures quickly and lightly. Don’t over-beat; just make sure all the dry stuff is wet, and accept a few lumps.
Portion out among the cups, filling them to the top.
Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned and the top springs back when you poke it gently. Let cool in the pan for ten minutes if you can stand it, as these are soft and will benefit from the chance to firm up a bit, then remove to a rack.
The original recipe called for cherries, which has merit as an idea, and I think peaches or raspberries (no chopping!) would be delicious, too.
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