Archive for ‘Fresh Eggs’

September 7, 2012

Wilco and the perfect egg

It was lining up to be a perfect night.  My favorite band was performing at MASS MoCA, and we were going with our kids and friends.  As a treat, I let our hens free range for an hour — from 6 pm (when I left for a pre-concert dinner) until 7 pm, when my girlfriend Janette would swing by the house to close up the coop and bring her kids and mine to the concert.  The hens could have fun, too, pecking for worms  in the yard on a beautiful Berkshire evening.
     In the middle of dinner Janette called me: she was at my house, where there had been a chicken massacre. All but one were dead. Several hens had been decapitated and the others were missing, the only evidence being feathers scattered across the lawn. Hoodoo Voodoo?  My 14 year old son disposed of the remains without complaint. I was so grateful to him.     The next morning, the one hen remaining was clearly traumatized. Cheddar’s feathers were standing up on-end, making her look like Phyllis Diller. She stopped laying eggs, and let out nervous squawks from her perch. She wouldn’t leave the coop. Her eyes got glassy. Her poops (pardon me) got sickly. I cradled her in my arms in a warm sweatshirt every evening. She was at her window, sad and lonely. I thought I might lose her.
     A few weeks before, a neighbor had offered me 3 chicks and I’d demurred — I called and they were still available, but they weren’t big enough to leave her coop for another 2 weeks. Meanwhile we were going on vacation.  I asked Janette (who also has chickens) to take Cheddar for two weeks. I knew if Cheddar were alone – even if someone fed her — she’d die of heartache. I drove Cheddar to Janette’s, and when her golden retriever came out to greet us, Cheddar got panicky. Aha!  She’d seen dogs before and never overreacted.  It may have been a dog.  But it didn’t really matter. I put her in Janette’s coop with the other chickens and she was standoffish, looking like an awkward teenager who had just started middle school in a new town.  Though she did get a bit of her groove back, pecking at chicks who came near.
She remained a loner for the two weeks we were on vacation  — snubbing her new neighbors, squawking disgruntedly, refusing to lay eggs.
     Home from vacation, I dashed over to pick up Cheddar and was delighted that she came to me (that had never happened before).  She squatted (I love how they lift their wings as though raising long skirts) for me to pet her.  She ‘bawwkked’ in a low gravelly voice, her protestations unenthusiastic. I worried about transporting her loose in the car – my 9-year old would have nothing to do with holding her, and I didn’t have the heart to put her in a box — but she was so calm that I seated her in my lap and drove while she sat quietly and let me pet her feathers, acting like a purring old cat.
     When we got home, I held her to my chest and – I swear to God — she tucked her head into my neck and nuzzled me once with her beak. Then she let out a slow quiet “baawrrrk”. It was the damndest thing.The baby chicks were in our coop already, nervously clucking about her arrival. Unphased, she ignored them.  She was too busy scratching the floor of the coop, scratching in the yard, preoccupied with surveying her territory.The next morning she laid an egg, her first in five weeks.
     It’s just that simple.
March 24, 2012

Starting From Scratch

We knew zilch about raising chickens when we began.  I wasn’t even sure if a hen needed a rooster to lay an egg (it doesn’t).  We’d oohed and aahed over prized heirloom breeds at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair every August in West Tisbury, and while vacationing in the Caribbean our neighbors’ hens often would hop the fence and scratch around our yard, once even leaving a little brown calling card of an egg in Joe’s sandal in the bathroom.

Living in the country, we’d always embraced a ‘can do’ philosophy, from shoveling snow off the porch roof to digging a smoke pit in our backyard (Joe even lined the two earthen chambers with stones dug from the pit —  they don’t call our hill “Pine Cobble” for nothing). So converting one of our old sheds from tool storage into a coop one weekend wasn’t a big deal.  It may even have originally been a chicken coop, since when our house was built in 1911, the first owners had 4 acres of pasture – enough for a small farm — and built 3 outbuildings, including the shed. Soon we were experiencing the winter pleasure of catalogs arriving in the mail not only from White Flower Farm, but also from the McMurray Hatchery in Texas.  On cold winter nights we’d fuss over the cute chick photos. By springtime, we were not only checking out the sugar shacks that come alive on Vermont’s route 7 corridor when the sap starts flowing, but also the feed stores along the way, looking for baby chicks and heat lamps.  By Easter, we just jumped in and did it. Without a peep.

It wasn’t until after we’d had chickens about a year, and started to experiment with new recipes for all those eggs, that we realized another dividend of having your own hens: eggs from a safe source, with proper care, can be eaten raw.  Slowly it dawned on us that the coast was clear to resurrect those marvelous classic recipes that had all but vanished in recent years.  Hollandaise Sauce. Caesar salad. Real smoothies.

Joe’s Caesar Salad

We have a tradition in our household of trying to perfect a recipe. One winter I made a different apple pie every weekend, for 6 weeks. The variations weren’t dramatic – after all, how many ingredients can go into an apple pie? — but there were distinct, albeit subtle, differences.  My family voted which was their favorite, and it’s still the pie I make.  When we started getting eggs from our hens, Joe went on a mission to make the best Caesar salad of all time, experimenting with many variations. This is his amazing result.  As is true with all simple recipes, use only the finest ingredients (especially olive oil and parmesan) for the best results.

1 clove garlic

½ lemon

Extra virgin olive oil

French baguette, cut into large cracker-sized squares ¼ – 3/8” thick

2-3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

3 anchovy filets, with oil, diced

1 egg

½ cup grated parmesan

2 heads of romaine lettuce

Baguette for bread crumbs

Rub a large wooden bowl with a garlic clove, then sauté minced garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add croutons. Brown to crisp and set aside.  Boil egg for 60 seconds then cool under running water. Crack egg into bowl, scraping out whites that cling to shell. Add lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, anchovies, and Worcestershire sauce, and whisk together. Wash the romaine lettuce and slice crosswise into ½” strips. (Hint: romaine needs to be very crisp. If yours is not, soak in ice cold water for 5 minutes.) Toss with lettuce.  Top with croutons and grated parmesan, and generous amounts of black pepper.  (The anchovies will add quite a bit of salt, so we leave salt to individuals.)

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main dish