When I was little my Mom could, only occasionally, get me to eat eggs. She would usually scramble them, sans cheese, on toast. They were bland and I commonly left the table with a headache. When she would hard boil them, I avoided the yoke. It turned an olive green on the outside and a pale yellow on the inside. The texture was chalky and, when I was brave enough to eat some, the flakes of yoke would stick to the roof of my mouth. And again, it gave me a headache. I quickly learned that our dog, Peanuts, was tail-waggingly happy to take the yoke off my hands and plate.
For years I simply cut eggs out of my diet because the ensuing headache was literally that. But once I graduated beyond scrambled and hard boiled recipes, and added some freaking salt, they got better.
The next egg problem came just as I started buying my own groceries. Which ones to buy? My mom always taught me to open to carton and check for broken shells. Simple as that. But now the cartons are covered with labels like organic, cage-free, vegetarian-fed, free range, blah blah blah. Other than the organic, those labels are not regulated and can be slapped on by any marketing team.
My goal in the grocery store is to pick eggs that are the most local and come from the most cared for chickens. I’m not saying the chickens must live indoors and sleep on feather pillows (which they kind of do anyway every time they sit down), but I don’t want to support a farm that packs them in so tightly they can’t move or flap their wings or stretch their legs — which are all normal chicken behaviors.
And I should know, because my chickens do those things everyday. I have two chickens in my backyard. I bought Liz Lemon and Sarah Palin (and Cindy Lou Who — RIP, who was lost to the wild streets of downtown York in Dec.) this summer for $2 each. I built them a coop, fenced off a 50 square-foot section of the yard and welcomed them to grow. They arrived as three-week old noise-makers. They were in between the awwww-inducing balls-of-fluff look and their caramel-colored adult feathers — which made them look more like their dinosaur predecessors than any other live stage.
In the last four months they have pulled up and consumed all the grass within their fence, plus the daily handfuls I bring from the yards of neighbors who are slow with the mower. They have lost all their fluff and now sport elegant, and extremely smooth, translucent feathers that gleam in the sunshine. And they squawk. The incessant cheeps of chick-hood have been replaced with slightly deeper, much louder and annoyingly sustained notes to express their bird-brained thoughts. From what I can interpret, they just want food. But because they’re chickens, if I refill their feed bottle in the morning, they won’t venture back into the coop to enjoy its stocked contents until dusk. They would rather spend the day complaining of hunger.
My intention of raising chickens is to put an end to the wasted 10-minute intervals spent standing in front of the egg section at the grocery trying to decide which carton of eggs will make me feel the least guilty.
After months of scooping chicken poo I was rewarded. This week my ladies left a surprise for me in the coop. On Boxing Day, I found three, light brown ovals right in front of the feed bottle. (What goes in must come out?) I immediately collected the bounty, congratulated the chickens on a job well laid and fired up the skillet.
The next day’s menu featured deviled eggs. And while I will no longer put eggs on the grocery list, I still had a few left in the fridge from an earlier trip. That made for an excellent opportunity to compare my backyard eggs to the commercially produced, origin unknown eggs from the store.
Sitting at the kitchen table, plate of paprika-dusted deviled eggs in front of me, I picked up one of my chicken’s eggs. It was slightly smaller than the Grade A Large eggs, and tasted different too. It was easy to notice the change when I tried a store-bought egg next. The first thing I tasted was that flavor from childhood. It triggered memories of scrunching my face, sticking out my tongue, slipping Peanuts the yoke and leaving with a headache. My backyard chicken’s eggs were free of the taste that put me off as a kid.
I know that the headaches were a psychological trigger that I developed completely independent of the eggs’ nutrition, preparation or origin. It’s entirely possible, if not true, that my eggs are chemically identical to the store-bought variety.
But my chickens eat grass and bugs, not corn fortified with antibiotics. The yokes of their eggs are a deep, sunny yellow.
And they don’t taste like headaches.