Sunday, July 20, 2014
When the broccoli is destroyed by deer before it even has a chance and you find half your kale to have fallen victim to an epic snail snack, you can set your heart at ease because at least you have your eggs. I cannot recommend keeping chickens highly enough for anyone beginning to produce their own food for this very reason. While inevitably failing miserably at growing this or that, you will undoubtedly raise chickens with ease and in the process give you and yours food in the highest. And don't we know we all need a win when we first task ourselves with the business of going Back to the Land?
When our hens finally found their way back to their nesting boxes this spring after a long winter off, I was just as flooded with gratitude, wonder and love as I was the day they laid their first eggs. The eggs laid by hens on pasture are incomparable to anything else on the egg market. Our chickens graciously produce eggs by the bowlful this time of year, thus making them an unquestioned staple of our diet. A little boiling water, just enough time and a pinch of salt renders a barely set golden orb of heaven that I could gladly enjoy at every meal. While last year will be remembered for calves and piglets, I'll easily remember this as the year I fell in love with The Egg. I ate the first of many soft boiled eggs, relishing special moments with Gus as we so carefully excavated that sun-gold goodness, and I mastered flipping a fried egg without breaking the yolk, a true sign of the Eggs with Every Meal Diet.
The perhaps surprising part of this whole love affair is that until recent years I hadn't been a huge fan of eggs. Or, more accurately, they were never much a fan of me. Always the source of digestive unrest, I either avoided or regretted eggs. It wasn't until I began keeping chickens and rotationally grazing them on pasture that I could eat eggs as freely as I do now. Even the eggs from my backyard flock during my suburban days made me sick, something I can only conclude came from too much supplemental diet where their natural diet was lacking. Chickens on pasture are able to enjoy their natural foraged diet of insects, plants, worms and seeds. Not only that, they're able to be chickens- out in the sunshine and fresh air, spreading their wings and dirt bathing until their heart is content. It only makes since that an animal allowed to live as it wishes with the diet it prefers would produce a far superior offering than that of its caged, poorly fed counterpart. It's the difference between raw milk and its pasteurized, bastardized distant cousin on the supermarket shelf. It's the difference between the bacon of a pig raised with her nose rooting around in the earth and that of a pig raised in a feedlot and pumped full of antibiotics, the latter of the two bacons having to be flavored before hitting shelves. It's the difference between the beef of a cow given room to breathe with an array of forage and one given gut rotting grain on a depressing cement floor. I write this with conviction: the only egg worth eating is from a truly free range hen on pasture. It's so important- to the welfare of the hens we take from, but also to our own health.
People are so often put off by the price tag that comes with a dozen eggs from free range hens on pasture. But, even at $5 a dozen, eggs are still an incredibly affordable animal protein. That's less than .42 cents an egg! It's not that pastured eggs are so expensive; it's that conventional eggs are so cheap, and we've gotten shamefully accustomed. We've learned to compartmentalize animals down to their cuts and their price per pound, instead of valuing them as a whole, living being from start to bacon and eggs on the plate. Many of us have real entitlement issues with food and it becomes particularly obvious when it comes time to put animal products in our baskets. When you buy pastured eggs, it's not just about what's in the carton. You're buying assurances- of animal welfare, of a superior product in taste and in health, of continued efforts to be a steward of the earth and its animals from the farmer who collected and washed those eggs for you. You can't get those things from conventional eggs, or even eggs emblazoned with the buzzwords Organic! Cage Free! Free Range! No Antibiotics! Most chickens whose eggs fall under these labels will still never see the light of day, never have much more than cement to walk around on, never be treated with the respect deserved by a creature responsible for feeding our families. Some are subjected to beak cutting and molting through starvation, others are allowed access to outside but without any regulation on the quality or duration. And those are the good cases. Chickens raised for conventional eggs are in cages that are at best the size of a legal sheet of paper. No room to spread their wings, no sun, no dirt bath. All take on our part, no give.
Met with the first what are we going to do with all these eggs?? of the 2014 season, I had the idea to work on a series of egg recipes using our delicious pastured eggs of which I'm obscenely proud. From the basic boiled to the superb souffle- it's going to eggcellent! But I would be remiss to not talk about the egg and its beloved producer first. Chickens are silly and not too terribly bright, but they're lovely, beautiful, giving creatures. None of us are so big or so deserving that those we take from should receive nothing in return. What I've discovered is this: the key to a perfectly boiled or scrambled or sunny side up-er isn't about perfect technique; it's about starting with a good egg. It's about finding the person who mucks the chicken coop or washes the eggs or moves the girls around on pasture. If you can get that close to your eggs, you can scramble with a clean conscience, and I really encourage you to do so.
Check out this fantastic health comparison between pastured eggs and conventional eggs done by Mother Earth News.
Go here to read more on what exactly those feel-good egg labels mean.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Milla once made a distinction between The Homesteader and The Farmer. I can't remember when or where or really elaborate on what she had to say about the two (aside from saying that she was The Homesteader having never wished to be The Farmer), but I remember thinking maybe I was trying to wrap my head around this whole thing wrong.
The dream is simple. It's to lessen our needs and meet as many of those left as we can. And then, where ends aren't meeting up, use our personal strengths and skills. Piano lessons, knitting, pottery. I thought for a long time that having this land and the desire for the life that came with it meant that I needed to do something beyond what it could do for our family, but that isn't true and there's a great deal of freedom in that. Freedom to create, freedom to get there when we get there, freedom to live a life as it happens- with dead snapdragons and blooming poppies and strawberry ice cream that isn't quite right.
Monday, June 2, 2014
I thought Year One would be the sweetest- a long exhale after the big flight home. But there's something undeniably special about Year Two, the year in which you begin to Welcome Back, to relish in the joys and quirks of a place familiar. I didn't know to expect the lilacs last year. The lilacs or the lupine or the wild daisies or the peonies or all the wildflowers that cover nearly every inch of this place. But this year I'm waiting, watching. Pulling down branches, examining patches. As the days fall away to summer I'm turning from the calendar to find the passage of time marked by this bud, that bloom. We're half past magnolia. High lilac. A quarter 'til clover.