Spring is when everything begins to come alive in nature. One of the most fulfilling returns is chickens laying their eggs. Early spring is the traditional time for family owned chickens to start popping out their orbs of goodness in mass quantities. So today, Easter, is a great day to hard boil tons of eggs, dye them funny colors and scatter them about the yard for some young tot to discover. But it surprises me how many people I talk to don’t understand the basics about the incredible egg.
The shell color is determined by the breed of chicken. A traditional Leghorn makes white eggs , Rhode Island and many other breeds produces brown shells, and Araucanas produce eggs shaded green to blue. Some breeds have speckling on the shells. Easter egg hunters should thank the hen for pre-colored eggs. A single hen produces one egg every 26 to 28 hours. This averages to about six eggs a week. Perhaps they take Sunday off.
The quality of eggs is directly affected by what a hen eats. A chicken deficient in calcium makes thin, brittle shells. A chicken with access to carotene found in fresh vegetation produces yolks with a deep orange color. Another variable is age; chickens over two years old begin to lose the egg production frequency of the young. This is when chickens in industrial farms are culled but home raised chickens can lay eggs for many more years. My mom has a chicken almost ten years old that still produces the occasional tiny egg.
My husband and I ran a little comparison test with four different types of eggs to see if we could tell the difference between traditional AA, free range and cage free, brown home grown, and green home grown. I included the green egg just to prove they are just as good as regular; I like green eggs and ham Sam! The traditional eggs cost between $ 1.30 and $2.29 per dozen. Free range/ cage free eggs cost $4.79 per dozen. And I bartered two bottles of homemade beer for a dozen home grown eggs from my co-worker.
The free range/ cage free eggs had the thickest shells. The traditional had a large yolk. And the home grown egg yolk had a slightly darker orange color. When fried, the color of the home grown eggs became more clearly darker orange and held its form better in the pan. The traditional egg had a runnier egg white. And for some reason the free range/ cage free egg took the longest to cook. With a taste test, the variation was very slight but the home grown eggs tasted fattier and the traditional had fewer flavors.
I did learn something from this test: the difference between the egg types was narrower than I was expecting. There were some slight variances in texture and flavor, but unless you are a picky fried egg eater like me, most eggs will be delicious. How the hen was raised and cared for makes the biggest difference to me…and the chickens.
P.S. If anyone asks, the egg came first.