Someone predicted the eggs would arrive around Halloween, and that turned out to be more or less accurate. I was gone when those first eggs were laid, but I remember the following week, walking out to the coop and collecting a tiny pullet egg to cook for lunch. It was everything I hoped it would be — delicious, fresh and straight off our property. In an act of life imitating art, I sat down at our dining room table and focused on every calorie I consumed. It was a transcendental experience.
For a person who strives (but almost always fails) for self-sufficiency, this felt like a breakthrough. The stock market might collapse, the literary world might shun me, a giant asteroid might collide with the earth, and yet — my family and I would have fresh eggs. As long as we preserved that little coop full of chickens there was a sense we were invincible.
In my last dispatch regarding our chickens, you might remember that I bemoaned the mounting costs tallied against the loud absence of any eggs. The truth is, the chickens are still not free. In fact, they are a losing concern, monetarily-speaking.
A month ago I found myself loading a cart full of feed and pushing it across a snowy parking lot. Some fellow asked me, “How many chickens you got?” I could tell he was amused watching me mush roughly 500 pounds of feed through three inches of sleet and snow.
“Seventeen,” I answered, sweat beading on my brow.
“Must be fun,” he said.
“Worst thing that ever happened to me,” I said.
Alright, it isn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me. Not by a long shot. I still get a kick out of our chickens. But winter doesn’t make things easier. No one wants to go out into a sub-zero night to refresh their water, feed, or check production. A few nights ago I stole into the coop to collect eggs and some chicken (I never figured out which one) sprayed a jet of wet manure all down a new pair of blue jeans and onto a prized new pair of leather boots.
I cannot truly claim to be a chicken farmer, but I know this: A chicken farmer does not dare enter the coop in a tuxedo. Or new blue jeans. Chickens may be dumb, but it is also possible that they have a sense of humor.
Anyway, the recent upshot is that we’re overrun by eggs. Each day, our ladies are laying over a dozen eggs. At the onset of this experiment, I imagined that eating a dozen eggs a day (between four people) would be a piece of cake. Heck, I envisioned a lot of pieces of cake, many cakes — even crème brulee! Three eggs a family member — no sweat. But it doesn’t take much for our eggs to stockpile. One child deciding they’re “tired of eggs.” Someone starting a diet. A weekend vacation. Suddenly, the counter is covered in eggs.
And these are not the beautiful eggs you see at the grocery store with their matte shine, all perfectly sized and packaged. No, home-grown eggs can be covered in all manner of… patina. Chicken poop, feathers, hay, dirt… whatever the birds track into the coop that eventually gets transferred into the nesting boxes. We do our level-best to keep a tidy coop, but the birds have their own agendas.
So I find myself at the kitchen sink, cleaning dozens and dozens of eggs before donating them to relatives, fondly recollecting those days when I bought a dozen eggs for a buck from the grocery store. A dozen eggs perfectly cleaned, perfectly packaged…
Our egg enterprise has made us uncommonly generous. Generous, because we are unwilling to monetize our chickens. The only thing more inconvenient than the chickens themselves is the notion of some stranger barreling down our driveway at supper-time to buy a dozen eggs. Therefore, we give away what we might otherwise sell.
My father-in-law hails from a big farming family in Strum. We ship a dozen eggs down there perhaps once a week. My sister-in-law has two small boys who love eating eggs; she is the recipient of a few dozen eggs a week. Also: my mom, my in-laws, any unsuspecting neighbors, friends… We don’t charge for our eggs because, at this point, the goal is simply moving eggs off our counter and into someone’s refrigerator. Why place a monetary roadblock between those two points?
We’ve also become connoisseurs of the egg. My wife, Regina, has plundered the recipes of David Chang for his Momofuku soy-sauce eggs. And lately, we’ve grown keen on cooking our eggs in a pan full of heavy cream alongside freshly baked bread and with a bottle of hot sauce close at hand. There was a day in the not-too distant past when I did not care for hard-boiled eggs. Friends, that day has come and gone. If Regina cooks the egg, I will eat it.
It’s been months since I ate that first, most expensive egg in the world, and though there are days when I am jaded by the birds, I still delight in them, their eggs. A few days ago, a childhood friend visited our house. A successful doctor in Toronto, he has traveled the world and eaten his share of haute cuisine. Adding a little salt and pepper to an egg Regina had soft-boiled, he stuffed into his mouth, chewed and declared seriously, “That’s the best egg I’ve ever eaten.”
Sometimes a compliment is worth much more than money.