Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Easter Eggs

My chickens were hoping to take advantage of the recent good weather to catch a few rays and generally relax after a tough winter. Think again, I said, this is a purpose driven flock! They have now been informed of the upcoming Easter morning breakfast following our sunrise service at St James'. They have grudgingly agreed to consume as many insects and greens as possible over the next ten days so as to produce the requisite number of proper tasting eggs with deep yellow/orange yolks. I'll start collecting them on Thursday. By Holy Saturday the next week I'll have a hundred and twenty - more or less. Enough for breakfast

It's a strange combination of folks from various churches (or no church) who we get out to our sunrise service. A mixed bag of young and old from our congregation - the youth group from the local Church of Scotland. A grandmother and her two wee granddaughters. We meet in the old church yard at St Mungo's - down the hill among the graves and in the darkness. We say a psalm and a few prayers. Others join us in dribs and drabs. The movement is then upward - up towards high ground - we say a few prayers, a mandolin is produced and we sing some songs.

The Easter drama took place in the same pink light of dawn as another small group of people moved around and tried to understand the import of what they've been told in part - daring to hope against hope.

So speaking of eggs. We're no longer used to a nice fresh egg straight from the henhouse. We phone up the rector after he's given us a half-dozen of the best eggs available in Christendom and we say "those eggs tasted different. You sure they were okay? The white of the egg wasn't perfectly clear. Part of the white was raised up high and the other bit was runny."

So - first of all - with respect to the eggs you bought at Tesco last time you went shopping - there was at least two weeks and probably three which separated their production at the business end of the chicken to the time they were placed on the shelf by the pimply lad in the green apron. In that three weeks the following things happened:

During the first day all the CO2 left the white of the egg. A perfectly fresh egg when cracked into a bowl will have a slightly cloudy white. That's how you know you're eating it within 24 hours of being laid. The cloudy raw eggwhite is a good thing. An egg has structures - there are two little cords which anchor the yolk inside the egg - called chalazae and in a fresh egg these are visible. There are always two of them. No, they're not embryoes or imperfections - they are supposed to be there. They'll be gone within three days so you'll never see them in a Tesco egg - only in a nice fresh egg laid by one of the Rector's hens who spends her day running around after beetles. You might see a small disk on the surface of the yolk - sure, flap your hands and worry a little more! No, this is not a developing embryo either. This is the place on the yolk - called the germinal disk wherein a fertilized egg would eventually develop an embryo once placed under a broody hen or in an incubator. You can find a germinal disk on a a fertilized egg - you can find one on a sterile egg. They're part of the egg you will never see as the Tesco egg slowly loses all its form and turns to undifferentiated goo sitting in the lorry, sitting in the warehouse, sitting at the back of the store and eventually sitting on the shelf. A fresh egg also has two types of albumen or egg-white. When you break one of my eggs onto a plate you'll see the runny bit which spreads out and the thick bit which has some height and maintains its form. Height is one of the hallmarks of a good fresh egg - the height of the thick eggwhite and the height of the yolk. My eggs stand out. They're outstanding. They stand at attention in the frying pan and on your plate. Eventually they stand at attention on your toast. Enjoy!

If you're not coming to the sunrise service at St James' Church then for goodness sake find a farmer near you and buy yourselves some proper eggs for your Easter lunch!