Backyard eggs vs. store-bought: They taste the same
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Fresh eggs from well-treated chickens taste better than supermarket eggs. Ask anyone who raises chickens, or anyone who's thinking about raising chickens, or anyone who gets eggs from anyone who raises chickens. Ask anyone, actually.
Well, as of about a year ago, I raise chickens. And I wanted to believe.
When my husband, Kevin, and I made the move two years ago from Manhattan to two wooded acres on Cape Cod, we were determined to do all the things we couldn't do in the city. We garden, of course. We also fish and hunt, shellfish and lobster. We grow mushrooms and make sea salt. We brew root beer and dandelion wine.
And we raise chickens. Apparently, so does everybody and his brother. There aren't any official stats: Backyard chickens fly under the Department of Agriculture's radar. But they seem to be all the rage.
"When the economy is bad, poultry is good," says Bud Wood, president of Iowa's Murray McMurray Hatchery, a major supplier of backyard chicks. "We've been operating at capacity for three years." He also has seen his call volume increase and transaction size decrease; those are indicators of more, smaller flocks, he says.
Once folks get their chicks from Wood, many of them turn to Rob Ludlow, co-author of "Raising Chickens for Dummies" and the owner of BackYardChickens.com (motto: a chicken in every yard!), the largest online forum for noncommercial chicken keepers. He has seen his membership double in the past year, to 50,000.
The trend is easy to understand. Chickens don't cost much to feed. They are also funny, and you should never underestimate the value of livestock that makes you laugh. And, of course, there's that steady stream of eggs.
We collected our first egg last Sept. 22 (we made book on it). Although it was a runty thing, a scant two inches high, I rushed to my husband's office to show him. We have both known all our lives that chickens lay eggs, but we held it in our hands and marveled at the miraculousness of it, as though our chicken had laid a fig, or maybe a truffle. That evening, to keep the shell intact, we carefully poked holes in both ends and blew out the contents, which we scrambled in a little bit of butter. There was just enough for each of us to have a bite.
It was, of course, delicious. But it got me wondering. How much of the deliciousness came from the idea of it, and how much came from the actual yolk and white of it?
I kept wondering, for two egg-rich months. Then I got tired of wondering. There was only one thing to do, and it involved blindfolds and spoon-feeding. I recruited six friends who were willing to check their dignity at the door, and I scheduled an egg tasting.
I was lucky to enlist some blue-ribbon food professionals to give my tasting credibility. Doug and Dianne Langeland, the publishers of Edible Cape Cod magazine, didn't even have to be persuaded. "We're in," Doug said immediately when I told him my plan. Florence Lowell, owner of an excellent local restaurant called the Naked Oyster, can't resist anything that involves chickens. The rest of us were merely avocationally culinary, with some highly critical palates among the group.
I put four kinds of eggs in the lineup: ordinary supermarket-brand eggs, organic supermarket eggs, high-end organic Country Hen brand eggs and ours. To prepare, I practiced soft-cooking them to make sure they'd all have firm whites and runny yolks. I rummaged through drawers to find any scarf, bandanna or dish towel that could double as a blindfold. I stocked up on lox and bagels for apres-tasting.