There is much research being done in this area as the ideals and terms once used to describe real food...organic, natural, free range, etc are being distorted and abused in an effort to keep us confused and to allow the corporations that control our food system to continue to get rich at the detriment of our physical, mental, and environmental good health. Unfortunately, you can't always believe what you read on food labels and packaging. It falls on our shoulders to use our own good sense as our guide. (A fun and enlightening resource is Michael Pollan's latest book, "Food Rules".)
One of my favorite examples in support of "we are what we eat" is eggs. In 2007, Mother Earth News published a great article comparing the nutritional content of conventional versus pastured organic eggs. A quick summation reads:
Our testing has found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol• 1⁄4 less saturated fat• 2⁄3 more vitamin A• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids• 3 times more vitamin E• 7 times more beta carotene & 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D
If you have always operated under the idea that eggs are evil cholesterol ridden foods to be consumed in only the most restricted moderation, please read their article (and others like it) and go on to make better choices in your food selection so that you can once again enjoy these delicious, nutrient packed power houses.
Now for some fun! With all of the warm weather we've had this winter I am hearing from my friends with chickens that it has been a banner winter for their egg production. Typically with the shorter daylight and cold temperatures chickens lay fewer eggs during the winter. These fun creatures are very much affected by temperature and daylight...just like we are! I am fortunate to have a good friend who raises some of the happiest chickens I know. These beautiful birds, when not in their spacious coop, are allowed to roam their country yard scratching and scavenging for bugs and whatever else they decide to eat. Their diet is also fortified with wonderful kitchen scraps and garden waste. These birds eat very well and it shows in the gorgeous eggs they produce. I am always so excited to get eggs from my friend when she has some to share. They are full of flavor, the whites are thick and sturdy, and the yolks are the prettiest golden orange I've ever seen. Sensory evidence of how the quality of these chicken's diet affect the quality of their eggs.
My friend said her hens are producing like crazy and recently brought me 5 dozen of her amazing eggs. I felt like I won the lottery! I knew exactly what I was going to do with them...make pickled eggs! Pickled eggs (also known as Tavern Eggs) are a delicacy in our great state and are most often found on the back bars of small town taverns. Pickling is a great way to preserve many types of food, and eggs are no exception. If you have often looked at those hazy jars with skepticism and if you've never tried a pickled egg, I challenge you to give them a try. If you like salty, vinegary snacks, you will love these! Pickled eggs make a handy, healthy, protein packed, delicious snack option for big and little appetites alike...particularlly if you get your eggs from a reputable farmer/egg producer. If you're not sure about the source of the eggs you're buying or the conditions in which they were produced, then ask. If the farmer, producer, or grocery store employee doesn't know or won't tell you, then you have the choice to go elsewhere. Again, the onus of our food choices falls on us. Sorry, climbing back up on my box aren't I?
My egg friend turned me on to a fun blog, Mother's Kitchen, that offers a fabulous pickled egg recipe and a new technique for hard cooking your eggs...steaming! As many of you know, the fresher the eggs, the harder they can be to peel. It's a function of the air cell inside the egg and pH of the proteins. I usually ask my egg friend or farmers for their older eggs when I know I'm planning to hard cook them. Mother's Kitchen suggests the steaming technique she uses avoids the peeling issue no matter how fresh the eggs are. I look forward to testing this myself over time to see if I have the same luck.
|Two dozen luscious eggs!|
|Hot pickled peppers I used from my pantry.|
The eggs I used for this pickling were 3-4 weeks old. The recipe was a snap to make and after sitting in my refrigerator for a minimum of 3 days, the results are delicious! I've been eating the eggs (always with some pieces of pickled onion, pepper, and garlic from the jar) for breakfast with toast and sautéed spinach, on salads, mashed for egg salad, and just by themselves. I would imagine they would be fantastic in a winter potato salad or mixed with some canned sardines or tuna! These eggs will be safe to eat for weeks to come, but I don't think they'll last that long.
|Sliced pickled egg, garlic sautéed winter spinach, Silly Yak Dakota toast.|
Harvesting the bounty that Mother Nature gives us, in the condition it was intended, is good common sense. Finding ways to preserve that bounty so it can be enjoyed longer or used at a later date can be a little tricky, but is often much easier than we think. Real food offers us the best option for better health, better economics, and it just plain tastes better.
If you need some help finding farm fresh eggs here are a few ideas:
1. Get to know your neighbors. More and more people are raising their own backyard chickens right in the middle of your city. If your commute takes you outside the city limits keep your eyes open for farms with "eggs for sale" signs.
2. Check out your local farmer's market and talk to the farmers there to decide whose eggs you'd like to buy. In Madison, our Dane County Farmer's Market runs year round (on Saturdays)
3. Pasture Patterns offers an egg CSA (as do other farmer's) and they also offer their eggs in some local retail outlets.
4. Ruegsegger Farms sells their eggs through their Paoli Local Foods grocery store and they are currently offering a sale due to the abundance of their winter eggs! (If you can't access the Facebook link, give the store a call to ask about the special....it's while the supply lasts!)