"I break some good eggs into a bowl, I beat them well, I put in a good piece of butter in the pan. I throw the eggs into it and I shake it constantly. I am happy, monsieur, if this recipe pleases you." Madame Poularde as quoted by Elizabeth David in “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine”
Now that the days are lengthening ever so slightly, the chickens have all started to lay again and I am relishing a simply cooked omelette... made with “good” eggs.
I love everything about an egg; nature's most perfect package. I turn each porcelain orb in my hand on the way back from the hen house, enjoying its unique shape and colour, speckle and lustre. Here's what I find.
Fig 1. Nifty is a small, nearly white hen who lays an enormous nearly white egg. Biggest egg to date... 100 grams!
Fig 2. Saffy favours a deep, coppery-brown burnished shell.
Fig 3. Darcy, the matriarch at 6 years old, (and the only surviving hen from our original four) leads by example and still lays a lightly speckled egg most days.
Fig 4. Little Hulanicki, hardly the size of a pigeon, lays a surprisingly large, pure white egg. Young and slim she struts around around in sixties style monochrome. I had been struggling for a name for her until I read Barbara Hulanicki's brilliant autobiography, 'From A to Biba'. The first Biba stores all had black and white chequerboard floors. Problem solved! Fig 5. Weighing in at a mere 12 grams I’ve no idea who laid this teeny egg. A phenomenon called "fairy" egg, it didn’t have a yolk and was probably the result of a reproductive cycle getting slowly into gear. Not much good for the omelette.
Binky lays a small roundish egg. She is a creature of habit with a passion for industrial architecture. She shuns the country-style nest box in the hen house and runs the length of the garden to lay under the oil tank. And the later I let the chickens out in the morning the faster she runs!
Who'd have thought egg collecting could be so much fun?
Tuesday As one does in the stodgy depths of January, I have been daydreaming. Perhaps 2014 should be the year when I attempt one new creative activity each week.... re-upholster an old armchair, make fridge magnets out of beach pebbles or, at the very least, cook a new recipe.
Plucking and gutting a chicken was not quite on my list (although it had crossed my mind). We do, after all, have a couple of spare roosters. I know a man who will willingly come and despatch any unwanted fowl. I’m sure he would have shown me the ropes, if the slinky red fox hadn't got there first!
From my studio yesterday I heard a disturbing level of clucking and squawking at dusk. I raced out to the hen house, just as said fox slipped covertly from the scene. I was lucky. He had only killed one cockerel. Head dismembered, lustrous sheen drained from its limp feathers; I was boldly determined that the fox wasn’t going to have the reward of eating this one.
So, my first creative challenge was thrust upon me.
It’s a well known fact that birds are much easier to pluck while still warm. I got that done swiftly, before dinner. Which left me the evening to do some research on crop removal, neck severing, 'powerflush lung removers', bile and the fascinating contents of gizzards.
My rooster could hang until the morning and I could tuck into bed reading masterly advice from Elizabeth David on simmering tough old birds.
Wednesday Strange how a good night’s sleep often clears the mind. There’s no way I can face dealing with that torpid corpse... the fox could have been carrying a deadly disease. The local butcher shook his head gravely at the very suggestion of coq-au-vin and what’s more the family have all flatly refused to have anything to do with the bird. I would have been dining alone on soup for weeks.
So, I’m going to shove him in the compost heap and attempt some genteel upholstery this weekend instead.
What a joy it is, in summer, to linger on the way to the vegetable patch; enjoying the beckoning fragrance of a new flower. To follow the meandering path of a passing butterfly. To pick a rainbow of produce and set a brimming basket down on the kitchen table.
A couple of years ago I made a promise to myself to grow more winter vegetables. Now, head bent against the wind and rain, light failing and mud clinging to my fork I’m beginning to question the pleasure of playing tug-of-war with an obstinate parsnip.
But at least when I resort to the allure of nice, clean, supermarket vegetables, I do spare a grateful thought for those who have toiled on my behalf.