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In Praise of Backyard Hens’ Eggs

A late summer diversion

This may seem incredible and laughable to those with more rural experience, but as a lifelong city dweller – a third-generation native of New York City – who grew up and spent much of her life living in small Manhattan apartments, I tasted home raised eggs for this first time this summer. A gift from a friend who raises chickens in her backyard in southeast Portland, Oregon, where I now live, the eggs were not only delicious but beautiful. Pale creamy browns, deep russet with red speckles, and light watery aqua blue green. Unlike store-bought eggs, the size of eggs in the dozen varied from very large to smaller and more tapered. The shells on some were slightly pebbled (a feature, apparently, of one particular hen.) Also unlike store-bought eggs – even the “free-range” organic eggs I buy – these eggs have gloriously golden yellow yolks – a color that makes scrambled eggs look as if they have been infused with saffron threads. The yolks are also more noticeably spherical, pillowed almost marigold yellow orbs. Their flavor is hard to describe but the difference from store-bought was something akin to the taste of a tomato right off the plant vs. even a good tomato bought after shipping.

I am no expert on raising poultry at home or keeping chickens here in Portland, but as evidenced by a proliferation of interest , enthusiastic reception for the “Tour de Coops,” taking place here and around the country (a Google search brings up over 2 million results), my delight in these home hen eggs is not unique. There is so little food most of us grow, raise, hunt or fish for ourselves, so little that we eat about which we can say, “I know exactly where it came from,” – down to address, phone number, and name of the human whose hands made it possible – that when we can, there’s a certain pride of place that comes with beating the eggs, slicing the vegetables, eating the fruit or roasting the meat and fish.

Who knew that a dozen eggs could bring such delight. I told friends and neighbors about them. I disc overed that the owner of my local coffee shop and family have recently begun raising chickens. Kim’s eyes lit up when I mentioned the eggs. “We have one hen,” she said with a big smile, “that lays double yolks. We fried the first one into a piece of toast with a hole cut out,” she told me. “I took a picture.” Down the block from my house are two Rhode Island reds who come to the front fence to greet passers by. If you say hello, they cock their heads, look alert, and coo. When I praised their beauty, their owner beamed and said, “Thank you. They give me great pleasure.” Now I’m thinking of leaving her a note, asking if I can buy or do a swap for any eggs their household can’t consume.

With my special dozen, I made scrambled eggs with Anaheim peppers and parmesan. Quiche loaded with vegetables. And to see how the whites whipped, made a batch of chocolate meringue cookies. I boiled an egg and sliced it with black pepper for lunch.

I know the purity of these eggs is influenced by what the chickens eat, the soil they graze on, water they drink and their ambient air. I know, given the state of the world’s environment, they are probably not entirely pristine. But they are such a joyful counter to industrially raised food, that  as soon as the last three pale turquoise Araucana hens eggs in my fridge are gone, I’m going to be visiting my chicken-raising neighbors with offers of swapping homemade pie, jam, cookies, and even cash for more backyard eggs.







Elizabeth Grossman, Contributing Writer, Earth Island Journal
Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, Watershed: The Undamming of America, and other books. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Salon, The Washington Post, The Nation, Mother Jones, Grist, Earth Island Journal, and other publications.

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