Apparently Benjamin Franklin once said that “an egg today is better than a hen tomorrow.” Or else it was a Turkish proverb; that Internet thingy is tricky with quotes. Either way, I think it’s true. Lately I have pondered the simplicity of the egg. Eggs have become a staple in our house over the past 8 months, ever since the seven tiny chicks we bought for $2 each in early spring last year started laying. As an animal husbandry novice (ok either I’m being kind to myself or that’s a perverse understatement), I had no idea what to expect from our urban flock of girls (I’ll break here for a quick paean to the eighth bird, a handsome silky rooster whose only real fault was hitting puberty — we miss you, Little Rooster Bill, we really do).
The birds arrived to the delight of our kids, and although I had no clue what I was doing, Mr. Punkernoodle — who grew up on a ranch with lots of chickens — and our neighbor and friend, who is a city girl like me but somehow seemed right away to be perfectly at home cooling off broody hens and raking up muddy poop, got the coop/mansion situated and the flock into a rhythm. Then the magic happened, and it almost hasn’t stopped since.
The girls produced quickly and reliably — we’ve averaged around five eggs a day across the seasons. Some days we get seven eggs from seven hens. The brood took a break in December, something we learned was normal from The Seattle Farm Cooperative, a group we found that connects people practicing small-scale farming and raising poultry and livestock within our urban area. Mr. Punkernoodle set the coop/mansion up with a small indoor warming light to shield the hens from cooler temps and an outdoor light in the yard to trick them into thinking daylight doesn’t end at 4:30 p.m., which we think helped encourage them to start back up with production after Christmas.
Eggs have a new value when they come from your own flock and, by extension, your own hard work (from coop upkeep to the cost of chicken food to the preparation and collection of kitchen scraps that keep the eggshells hard and the girls excited about a varied diet). I don’t think we actually save much money by growing our own eggs, but it’s been satisfying to get so close to our food, to be able to cut out that ambiguous grocery-store middle step for what’s become a reliable source of protein and yummy meals.
And that’s the thing: I’ve realized that as a busy person trying to juggle two picky kids, chaotic work and school schedules, a home business and my own selfish pursuits, I love eggs. I love them because they are fast, and they can be turned into breakfast, lunch and dinner plus used to bake dessert when you have unexpected guest or a desperate need for chocolate cake. Some great things that have become of our homegrown eggs: Something I have termed “French breakfast” – thick-cut fresh bread (preferably Tall Grass Bakery bread) topped with 2 cracked eggs, salt and pepper, and grated Gruyère, layered in individual oval-shaped bakeware and placed under the boiler on low for 10 minutes ’til the whites are cooked, the yolks still runny and the Gruyère bubbling — amazing. Semi-crunchy sprouted corn tortillas topped with melted cheese, a fried egg, a sprinkling of black beans and green onion shavings, avocado slices and a dollop of sour cream and hot sauce. Weekend Northwest Quiche with smoked salmon, local goat cheese, fresh dill and local crème fraîche. And creamy cheesecake with salted caramel topping.
The chickens were part of a project we undertook last year as a family to eat more of our food form local sources. And I’m glad they’ve worked out so well because otherwise we might be regarded right now as having catapulted off the wagon (I swear I’m going to go back to the farmer’s market starting this Sunday, no matter how much freezing, moldy, sideways bone-chilling rain is pelting down. I swear).
To be honest, the hens still mystify me a little bit — my 4-year-old happily shoves her arm under those warm feathered asses to grab the sometimes poop-covered eggs, while I have to take a deep breath and inch myself through it. But I am amazed at the satisfaction of seeing those little white and pink orbs pile up in the fridge and the proud crack they give on their way to becoming sustenance for my family. Thanks, girls.