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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Farm Fresh Eggs

Eggs in the Icebox or Not?
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that keeps its eggs in the refrigerator.  In fact, in Europe, eggs can be found in their cartons on the shelf with other shelved items.  (I've heard tales from expats wandering the chilled section of European markets looking, dazed, for eggs.  When directed to the shelves, they reach toward the cartons, shaking, as if reaching towards a snake.)  In the US, the eggs from battery factories, must be processed within 7 days of being laid. By the time they are collected, and washed, packed and shipped to the market those “fresh eggs” from the local mega mart could already be two weeks old.  Then there is the time they spend at the market, two to three weeks, and then the time they spend in your refrigerator.  So “fresh” is a loose definition at best.
So what’s the deal? 
Eggs are permeable membranes, covered in thousands of pores.  When an egg, fertilized or not, is laid, the last thing that happens to it on the way out of the hen is getting coated in a natural sealant called a “bloom”.  It is this bloom that quickly dries on the egg and seals the pores on the shell, making it impervious to bacteria and reduces the loss of moisture from the egg.  Nothing gets in or out of the egg.  This bloom is meant to protect the young developing chick inside.  (Even a fertile egg will not develop on the countertop.  More on that later.) 
In the factory egg system, this bloom is immediately washed off, as well as any chicken waste product and/or waste from broken eggs from the production line.  Since the bloom has been washed and scrubbed off, with anything from acid to chlorine, bacteria is now able to invade the egg and moisture is allowed to escape from the pores.  As moisture leaves the egg, carbon dioxide escapes from the egg and is replaced by oxygen, which speeds up the deterioration of the egg.  The cloudiness in a new egg white indicates the presence of carbon monoxide.  As an egg ages, more gas escapes, making the white more clear and more watery and runny.  You’ve probably used a store egg, that was at or near the date on the package and noticed this change.  Since the egg’s security firewall has been removed, to protect the consumer from bacterial growth, the eggs are kept in cold storage, usually below 40’ to INHIBIT bacterial growth.  (Bacteria may still be present, but cannot thrive and reproduce or thrive on, or in, the eggs at those temperatures.)
ONCE EGGS HAVE BEEN WASHED, and the protective bloom removed, THEY MUST BE STORED BELOW 40'F to inhibit bacterial growth.

At DunRovin Station we store our unwashed eggs on the counter.  They are kept dry and cool.  Assuming you’ll be eating them within a couple of months, there is no need to refrigerate the eggs. (Not that they are ever around that long here, YUM!)  Even then, studies have shown that they are still safe to eat, they just don’t cook as well.  We only wash our eggs right before we use them.  Overly dirty eggs, do not make it to our storage shelf.  They are, hold your hat, washed in the barn, then cooked and crumbled with the shells and fed back to the hens.  Yes, hens are omnivores.  They will eat anything, including each other, if given the chance.  Our hens are open pen, free range happy hens.  They are only closed in, for their safety;  due to predators, weather, or for sleeping at night.  Otherwise they are happily wandering about the acreage, under the watchful eyes of Zap – the Rooster - eating their high protein feed, chasing grasshoppers and butterflies, and enjoying the occasional treat tossed to them over the garden fence.  It’s all that protein and greenery that allows our hens to create those bright yellow and orange yolks!
I can hear you now, “WAIT?! You have a ROOSTER?!  But I don’t want to eat a baby chicken!”  You aren’t.  Did you ever wonder how a bird can lay several eggs over several days, sit on them, and then have them all hatch on the same day without one being “over cooked”, some “undercooked”, and the others “just right”?  Here’s how it works.
Firstly, a hen does not need a rooster to lay eggs. When she reaches about 20 weeks old, she starts to lay about an egg a day, depending on the breed.  It may be every day, or every couple of days.  If she has no rooster, that’s all you get –just an egg.  If she has a rooster, she will still lay an egg, but this time, the egg has both sets of chromosomes.  If left undisturbed, she will continue to fill a nest box with her eggs until she has enough.  Then she will SIT on the eggs.  It is this process, called “going broody”, that allows the fertile eggs to begin to develop an embryo.  Not until certain, very specific, environmental conditions occur will the eggs even START to develop.  When the mother hen sits, she keeps the eggs at over 100’F, and her body heat and closeness to the eggs increases the moisture around the eggs to incredible levels.  She becomes a living steam bath for the eggs.  So while not all laid at the same time, they all start developing at the same time, and therefore, all hatch within hours of each other on day 28.  I promise our eggs at the station are kept nowhere near the conditions of a broody hen.
Remember the “farm freshness” we learned about at the beginning?  Well how fresh are our eggs?  We currently have 14 pullets and hens (hens are birds over 1 year of age, pullets can be of laying age, or not, but are under one year old), and one rooster (technically a cockerel, since he is less than a year old).  As of this writing we have 5 laying eggs almost every day.  So it takes us less than 3 days to get a dozen eggs.  Demand is high, so as I fill a carton, out the door they go! The time to fill a carton can be slightly longer when we have a girl decide to take a broody break, or the heat of summer slows them down, or the loss of daylight in winter slows them down, OR unless I get the overwhelming urge for a good fluffy egg soufflé or such at home !  Soon all 14 SHOULD be laying, and those that want eggs, will not have to wait “their turn” for those jewel blue cartons to show up!
So if you decide to store your eggs on the counter, GOOD FOR YOU for stepping out of the (ice)box.  I won’t hesitate to tell you that it took a huge leap of faith and a great deal of research for me to get over that hurdle.  Old habits die hard.  Like I said, I wash my eggs right before I use them.  YOU MUST USE WARM WATER to wash your eggs.  If you are running your water and put your hand in it to test and can hardly feel it, the water temperature is 98’, make it warmer.  If you use cool or cold water, the membrane of the egg will contract and pull any bacteria on the outside of your eggshell to the inside of the egg, which defeats the purpose of washing your eggs.  I also use a drop of mild dish soap, like dawn, and teaspoon of bleach to 4 cups of water.  I mix the two in a bowl and take the eggs for a ride through, rinse them in warm water and let them dry on a plate, napkin, or other clean surface, while I prepare the rest of whatever I am making.
IF you decide to store your eggs in the refrigerator YOU MUST WASH THEM FIRST!!!! ALL OF THEM.  Following the washing and drying directions above and then place them in a CLEAN container in the refrigerator.  Do not reuse the old carton, which held the unwashed eggs.  We do NOT recycle our egg cartons, or use old grocery store containers.  Our containers are NEW and clean when we put our eggs in them.
“I cracked my eggs and there STUFF (or blood) in them!”  This rarely happens with factory eggs, but can.  It is more common in farm eggs.  Why?  Factory eggs are processed along a shockingly bright egg table.  Eggs that have meat spots or blood spots are either tossed in the garbage, or cracked and blended, and sold as prescrambled egg product for use in industrial settings or baking.  We do not light sort our eggs.  It’s a cosmetic thing.  The meat spots or blood spots will not harm you.  When cracking an egg, crack one at a time in a small bowl and then add that egg to your larger project.  Repeat with the next eggs.  If there are spots in the egg, and you WANT to remove them, you  can do so at this point with a spoon or fork. (It’s also a great way to chase bits of egg shell that get away from you.) 
“But what IS IT?”  As egg travels through the hen without the shell.  Amazing, but true.  It isn’t until near the end of the road, that the loose egg gets its final coating of calcium, and sometimes color (which we jokingly call the paint sprayer).  The meat or blood spots are simply harmless bits of the hen’s reproductive tract that got caught up in the encapsulation process.  This is also how you can end up with a double yolk egg.  Two eggs are released at once and contained in one shell.  These eggs are removed from the factory process, to protect our delicate consumer mindset.
“I made boiled eggs from your eggs, and they won’t peel!”  Yes, I know.  Shockingly enough, I still purchase store bought eggs.  These are for the SOLE purpose of making hardboiled eggs.  FRESH eggs hold tight to the inside membrane, and are low in water content.  OLD eggs, have a higher gas content and water content, and have looser protein strands and will boil and then peel.  Even an OLD farm fresh egg is nowhere NEAR as old as a store egg.  So when the hankering for egg salad, potato salad, or (DROOL) deviled eggs calls, I pull my store eggs from the refrigerator. Besides, farm eggs are SO amazing in dishes that feature eggs; like scrambles, quiche, soufflé, over easy, eggs benedict, over hard, etc, you’ll not want to waste them on boiling and mayonnaise!  Cakes and cookies?  SURE! But a deviled egg?  Nah.
“My eggs cook faster than they used to!”  Fresher eggs have less water in them.  You aren’t having to heat the water in a scrambled egg or fried egg before the egg starts to cook.  Fresh eggs DO cook more quickly than OLD eggs, so don’t wander from the stove! (As always, completely cook your egg product for food safety.  And do not eat raw egg product.)
One of the things I LOVE is when a person first opens one of our cartons for the first time is the “OOOOs and AHHHs” of finding a rainbow of color inside.  That’s all the goofball breeds of chickens we have.  We do not dye the eggs.  The chickens do!  It comes down to genetics.  Between all of our silly breeds here, our eggs range from the palest of pinks, tan, beige, sand, milk chocolate, chocolate, dark dark chocolate, olive green, and baby blue.  We fill our cartons as the girls lay them, so we cannot promise colors.  Each carton is hen’s choice.  This also includes grading or sizing of the eggs. 
Most of our eggs are in the larger medium size to large, to extra large in size range.  Again, it’s hen’s choice. We do hold back our tiny eggs from our new layers, until they start laying larger eggs.  The eggs in the carton can be used interchangeably in recipes.
We are not a commercial farm or business.  We raise chickens for fun and entertainment.  The eggs are a bonus.  The cost of a dozen eggs goes towards the cartons and their feed.  There is no way we could ever turn a profit on these critters or their eggs.  But we love caring for them and being able to share the fruits of everyone’s labor!
Please wash and store your eggs properly.
Happy Baking!
The DunRovin’ Girls:
Olive - Olive Egger -olive eggs
Hyacinth - Lavender Irvington - cream eggs 
Meriwether - Ameraucana - sky blue eggs
Nugget- Slash Maran - Dark Chocolate eggs
Violet - Blue Laced Red Wyandotte - pale pink/buff eggs
Daisy - Light Sussex - light brown eggs
Rose - Welsummer - light brown eggs
Leela- French Blue Copper Marana - Dark Chocolate Brown eggs
Flora- Black Ameraucana- sky blue eggs
Lucy& Ethel - Copper Marana - Dark Chocolate brown eggs 
Donder & Blitzen - daddy is a blue egg Ameraucana and mommy was a Red Leghorn light brown, So I call them American Reds-  blue/green eggs
 
Cirrus - Daddy blue eggs Ameraucana mommy was a Buff Orpington light brown. I call her an American Orpington - light green eggs? 
 
ZAP the Rooster - French Blue Maran

2 comments:

  1. A friend of ours just discovered that steaming fresh eggs = perfectly hard boiled, easy to peel fresh eggs! I haven't tried it, but thought I'd offer that as an option to try :)

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    1. Yes, I steam my eggs to hard boiled in an egg cooker as well. I still don not get a satisfactory result unless the eggs are at least two weeks old. Which is STILL two -4 weeks fresher than store bought! LOL.

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