Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Tale of Two Eggs

I grew up eating eggs gathered from a ramshackle henhouse, which was located just a few steps away from our kitchen door. The variety of eggs produced by our chickens never failed to amaze us. The shells ranged from creamy white to sand-colored to cocoa-brown - including our favorites, the blue and green ones from the diminutive Bantams. We were lucky indeed.

And so it is that I go through the world still seeking eggs that taste like those did. I buy all sorts of eggs labeled "organic" and "free range", and sometimes I love them, sometimes I don't. There doesn't seem to be a science to it.

Last week, at the San Rafael Civic Center Farmer's Market, I found beautiful brown eggs from Santa Rosa, sold by two positively adorable gentlemen with rough, knobby hands and enormous smiles. One dozen large brown beauties: $3.25.

I was so happy to have these wonderful eggs that I decided to treat them special. One morning when I didn't have any urgent chores, I dreamed up a little breakfast indulgence for myself. For starters, I poached two of the eggs - using this method from Elaine Corn over at Sally's Place, which is genius - it works like a charm, and I shall indeed toss out my poaching cups forever.

Next, I split an English muffin and put a few bits of fresh butter on top and stuck them under the broiler. Then I mixed 1/4 cup of creme fraiche (made myself last week, easy and fantastic) with a handful of chopped dill, a squeeze of lemon, salt and freshly ground pepper.

I slid the eggs onto the toasted English muffins, and drizzled the dill-creme fraiche over the top. And then I grabbed a fork and knife. The muffin was crusty and warm; the egg white was springy and soft; the yolk was light yellow on the outside and dark and golden on the inside, where it oozed ever-so-slightly.

I was, for a few moments, in heaven.

I suppose it is no surprise, then, that the eggs were gone in short order, and I ended up running to Safeway a few days later so that I could duplicate my poached-eggs-on-toast success for my sweetheart, the morning after he returned home. I will write more about my feelings about Safeway later. Suffice it to say that I found Safeway brand organic eggs - $4 a dozen - and ran back out.

For our breakfast, I used the last two Santa Rosa eggs and two of the Safeway eggs. Cracking the eggs side by side, I was astonished at the difference in the look of them. The Safeway egg yolks were pale yellow, in stark contrast to the deep orange of the Santa Rosa eggs. The whites of the Safeway eggs were thicker and firmer than the Santa Rosa eggs. The whites of the local eggs were runnier and also slightly cloudier, the cloudy factor due to the fact that they were fresher, and therefore contained more carbon dioxide.

To my taste buds, the local eggs were richer and creamier, and had a more complex flavor. But is that simply because I already had a predjudice towards them over the ones from Safeway? I don't know. I've been hunting around online to find out what the difference in yolk color means, and every site I've found has said that color is related to diet - lighter yolks come from a diet high in wheat, barley or cornmeal, while darker yolks indicate yellow corn or greens included in the diet. All the sites I found said that the color does not influence the taste.

Does anyone else have a clue about this?

All I know is that the Safeway eggs have since languished in the refrigerator, and today I handed back my empty carton to the man in the plaid shirt and bought another dozen of my favorites.

I'm glad that Safeway is starting to carry a few organic items - and that someone at the end of that carton of eggs is making a living - but I have a hard time getting over my deep-seated loathing of large supermarket chains. And so I have a twinge of guilt, which I suppose will go away when I decide to bake something and use the Safeway eggs up so that they aren't just sitting there, neglected...


At 9:07 AM, Blogger Sam said...

I just can't eat Safeway eggs since I discovered Marin Sun Farm Eggs. The colour difference is obvious, but they just taste so much better. Not only that - you are supporting sustainable agriculture - so you can eat them with a clear conscious knowing the chickens have been treated well.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Molly said...

Jennifer, thanks so much for pointing the way to those friendly-sounding poached-egg instructions! I haven't tried to poach one since last fall--my first attempt--when I went through an entire dozen, just trying to get ONE that worked properly. Total disaster. The method you used sounds much more intuitive. I can't wait to try it--hopefully with some eggs from next weekend's farmers' market...

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Lisa B-K/Jim K said...

I keep a few chickens for eggs.

One thing I love, besides the taste, is the color the yolks give to whatever I'm making - pancakes, poundcake, even scrambled eggs. I feed them organic feed from a family farm 40 miles from here, kitchen scraps, weeds and thinnings from my garden, and they have access to as many bugs and worms as they can cram into their beaks.

Good food in, good food out, IMO.

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