Saturday, September 5, 2009

- The Great Egg Debate

I was taken to task for my promotion of “fake eggs” in the “Cookie Dough Conundrum” posting the other day. Guilty as charged, although in my defense, I did read labels and chose the Better’n Eggs brand because it was 98% egg whites, didn’t have too many unpronounceable chemicals, and tasted as close to mega-mart eggs as I could find. So it's only 2% fake. Which is, I guess, about as indefensible as being 2% guilty or as impossible as being 2% pregnant. Fake is fake. (2018 update: So now I use pasturized egg whites from the dairy case ... unadulterated).

Duly chastised, my mission today was to find real eggs laid by real chickens on a real farm. To that end, Don and I headed out early to case the Dripping Springs Farmers Market. The first booth yielded tomatoes, potatoes, and delightfully small onions. (Which merits a parenthetical observation: why do food stores only carry monster-sized onions? Don’t they know you only need a little bit of onion if you’re cooking for one or two?)

The second booth yielded pay dirt: fresh eggs from free-range, pastured, bug and grass eating local chickens for only $4.00 a dozen.  Opening the carton of eggs was like opening a jewel box. I must confess, though I knew intellectually that they existed in more than two colors, I was rocked back on my heels at the sight of the multi-hued eggs. Betraying my total ignorance, I asked if the eggs got that way because of what the hens ate. No, the farmer patiently explained, egg color was determined by the variety of chicken. What kind of chickens? Heinz 57s, production reds, golden sexlinks, leggers, and one other that I can’t quite recall. Really. I looked ‘em up when I got home. And found a bit more on Google than I bargained for. Who knew?

In any case, there was no question that we were going to have eggs for lunch. I took out some leftover sausage (pork with poblano chile peppers made by Norman at the local grocery store ... but that’s another story), fried up some potato and onion cakes (the first batch of which I over-seasoned and had to trash), and sliced some fresh tomato (which looked way too much like a mega-mart variety and tasted much the same … you can’t trust everything you find at a farmers’ market).

The eggs I did last, knowing they would cook in a hurry. Melting butter in the skillet and then scrambling the eggs with my trusty bamboo spoon, I was caught off-guard by just how quickly they set into soft golden curds. Light and delicious, the eggs were a perfect foil to the spicy sausage and crispy potatoes. Lunch was a success and I was converted.

But I do have another confession to make. I can’t honestly say that the eggs tasted significantly different from store-bought eggs, which I’m sure will infuriate true egg aficionados. Perhaps it’s because my taste buds are not yet attuned to the subtleties of true egg flavor. Perhaps I need to sample another farmer’s wares. Perhaps I need to make some custard ice cream to better ascertain the flavor potential of the little jewels.

This much I do know: I love the idea of bug and grass eating chickens running around in a pasture much more than the idea of antibiotic-infused warehouse chickens that surely lead miserable lives. That idea alone is worth spending an extra three bucks per dozen to me. And I’ll happily keep working on further educating my taste buds.  No doubt it will be a pleasure.

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