the egg lady
doorbell rang the other afternoon. dozen eggs dozing there, asleep in two rows. one, the palest shade of green, laid by a south american mama chicken. all the rest, variations on caramel. or these days, you might say variations on mocha skim latte.
it’s not everyday eggs come rolling to your door. not in the dead of winter. but not everyone knows the egg lady.
seems, apparently, that i do. name’s carol. and she delivers the fruits of the hen. she was out making her rounds. she had a dozen for sophie, the nail lady at some chic little shop. another dozen for marge, who scrubs faces. and a dozen for pablo, who cuts hair. and then there was me.
unannounced, without warning, i was the proud owner of twelve organic, whole-grain-fed eggs.
i am quite sure my heart wouldn’t have pounded harder if ol’ ed mcmahon himself had come to my door, thrust cardboard check in my hand. i mean, i am a girl who dreams of an egg-laying mama with feathers. i even have her a name: lady chanticleer. it’s only the town laws keeping her and her hay from me and my make-believe farm.
i could not get over their beauty, the eggs. ‘specially the green one. so pale it merely whispered of green. didn’t come out and hit you over the head with it. certainly wasn’t the easter-egg green my boys thought that i meant, when at dinner i opened the lid, showed off the twelve apostles, awaited the chorus of oohs and of ahhs.
i’d been told by the egg lady that the yolk was really the thing worth applause. so first thing next morning, i cracked one, two, then three. i applauded, all right. the yolks were like sunrises, all golden, towards orange. round and taut and knowing right where they stood. not the so-so yolks from the grocery store shelf, the ones that wobble and ooze with the softest prick of a fork.
i sizzled the trio in a bath of french butter, nothin’ but the best for these babies. frothed them a bit, gave them time to regroup, then i rolled their new ruffly selves onto a plate. my boys nearly licked it.
well, you don’t go worshipping eggs without knowing a bit about who did the laying, so i put in a call to the egg farmer himself.
denny wettstein’s his name, lives down in carlock, illinois, down in the mackinaw river valley, smack dab in the heart of the heartland. denny and emily, that’s the farmer’s wife, have nine children and about 350 laying hens right here in the middle of winter. they’ve got 500 acres they farm, organically. they’ve got cattle and sheep and goats and pigs, even turkeys until mid-november. until it’s time for the turkeys to lay down their heads for our overstuffed tables. in the spring and the summer, their egg-laying flock grows to 2,000, but that includes plenty of meat birds, as denny puts it, meaning the ones you slather with sauce and toss on your grill.
the egg-layers, they are the lucky ones. they live as long as they lay.
and these hens–rhode island reds, black astrolopes, barred rocks, and the green-laying one, the araucana (a magnificent chilean hybrid with white feathery tufts that shoot from her ears, and look a heck of a lot like the sides of a handlebar mustache)–these hens nibble all day on what must be gourmet chicken feed. whereas the hens that lay the eggs that you can grab off the shelf at the grocery store probably exist on a bland diet of just corn and soybeans, farmer denny is mixing his feed with his very own hands, and he makes for his hens a fine meal of five organic grains–corn, soybean, oats, wheat and this time of year when the pastures are ice, he grinds up hay for his girls. (in the summertime, the hens gulp down plenty of fresh grass, and fresh bugs, too, and denny says a summer egg is even more lip-lickin’ than these in the bug-less days of winter.)
now these hens are not cooped up in some cold crowded apartment. nope. they live in a heated house, thank you, where they can imbibe of warm water and feed 24 hours a day. like an all-night diner.
and denny tells me, the chickens, what with their feathers, don’t mind the cold. but they are rather finicky about snows on their feets.
i asked denny how he likes his eggs best, and he gave me the recipe for egg-and-cheese casserole. when i inquired as to how many eggs i might want to crack for this casserole, he chuckled. told me at his house they use two dozen for breakfast. but then, he reminded, he’s putting eggs in nine little mouths.
you might not need two dozen for your crew.
here’s how denny does breakfast: crack eggs; add cheese, grated; toss in chopped onion, peppers, sausage, potatoes, whatever stirs you; stir. pour into buttered casserole. let sit in fridge overnight. pop in 350-degree oven come sunrise. bake for 40 to 45 minutes, you’ll have to keep an eye on your eggs.
but then, if they’re denny’s, you’ll want to.
the wettstein’s amazing organic eggs are coming to oak park this saturday. they’ll be at the buzz cafe, by the dozen, from 1 to 3 in the afternoon. they’re $4 a dozen when they make the trip up to chicago. but if you want to drive down to carlock, turn in at the farm gate just off u.s. highway 150, and grab a dozen out of the ice box on the wettstein’s front porch, they’re a steal at $2.50 a dozen. the ice box is open six days a week. buzz cafe is at the corner of harrison and lombard, a whole lot closer than carlock. tell denny hullo for me.
p.s. did i mention that the wettstein eggs are, at most, three days from the nest when they slide into the carton, and land on your stoop? the ones you find at the grocery might be as many as 30 days old. oh, what a difference those days make…
There is something so nice in knowing from where one’s food comes. From the Wettstein Farm to our plates. And yes, the eggs DO taste better. And, the yolks DO center themselves and shine like the sun from the pan. Isn’t it nice to get excited about something as small and overlooked as an egg? Happy Day!
Carol delivered a dozen eggs to me too! I ate my green-shelled one hardboiled and it WAS very good. (Hardboiling instructions: Place cold water, salt and egg(s) in a sauce pan. Bring all to a boil. Cover pan, turn off heat and wait 12 minutes for the perfect hard-boiledness.) I think this is so interesting – the new word-of-mouth marketing of produce from the farm. It’s really kind of a phenomenon – using high tech blogging and e-mail and internet to get people to know about and appreciate low tech and simple things like farm-fresh eggs.
we down here in fair AZ don’t have the Wettsteins, but we do have the Harts (very appropriate name), and Debbie is my ‘egglady’, sometimes she is my ‘squashlady’, sometimes she is the ‘goatmeatlady’ and other times she is just my friend. I think one of the best things about having an egglady is that they (the eggs) almost always arrive unannounced……..Mine are usually waiting for me on the nursery counter at church on a Sunday morning (yes, Debbie is also a ‘nurserylady’). While I haven’t seen a pale green egg yet, I do love to open the recycled egg carton and admire the different shades of ‘mocha skim latte’ along with a few white ones, some that still have ‘stuff’ on them (I like to think it’s just dirt)…….Oh, but in the pan, that’s where the real appreciation happens……….They just look healthier…….a nice high yolk, in that deep orange color…..and the taste is just wonderful……..Not so long ago I split one of those recycled egg cartons in half at church and shared them with a new found friend………..a friend who has since become much more……..I think I need to write my ‘egglady’ a thank you note………
I like that new voice on the blog–VVPV. Lots more bloggers are coming. A busy blog this will be. More tables! More chairs!
Barbara, you are inspired and inspiring! My Grandma Henrietta always had us say “Thank You” (out loud) to the hens when we gathered their eggs during our summer stays on the farm. So “thank you” to Barbara and to Carol and of course to Denny and Emily Wettstein and their hens. It is such a privelege to know who raises the hens who lay our eggs, and to know they are treated with the love and care they deserve. Barbara, your ode to the egg brings to mind Vladimir Nabokov’s recipe for boiled eggs .. . which I’ll have to dig up when I get home tonight. A presto . . . Terra
With my husband out of town and 2/3rds of my children elsewhere for dinner. I made French toast for my youngest and an omelette for me. But I’m missing those gorgeous eggs Barbara wrote about. Any ideas for those of us who are nowhere near Oak Park? I miss the farmer’s markets so much in the winter, but if we could get a good egg, that ease our wait for produce that actually tastes like something??
EGGS A LA NABOCOQUE I stumbled across this recipe in the New York Public library’s collection of Nabokov manuscripts. In amongst his drafts of Lolita and Pnin and Laughter in the Dark (written on 4×6 index cards and kept in shoe boxes), his letters to other writers (a response to a query from E.B. White about the natural history of spiders), and his querulous notes to himself (‘Things I Hate’), was this single sheet handwritten in pencil: Eggs a la Nabocoque Boil water in a saucepan (bubbles mean it is boiling!). Take two eggs (for one person) out of the refrigerator. Hold them under the hot tap water to make them ready for what awaits them. Place each in a pan, one a bit after the other, and let them slip soundlessly into the (boiling) water. Consult your wristwatch. Stand over them with a spoon preventing them (they are apt to roll) from knocking against the damned side of the pan. If, however, an egg cracks in the water (now bubbling like mad) and starts to disgorge a cloud of white stuff like a medium in an old-fashioned seance, fish it out and throw it away. Take another and be more careful. After 200 seconds have passed, or, say, 240 (taking interruptions into account), start scooping the eggs out. Place them, round end up, in two egg cups. With a small spoon tap-tap in a circle and then pry open the lid of the shell. Have some salt and buttered bread (white) ready. Eat. — V.N. November 18, 1972 A Notation in ink was made at the top: “Maxime de la Falaise McKendry for a cooking book.” And a later Notation under it: ÿ”Never acknowledged by Maxime.”
oh my lord. nabokov on eggs, here at the table. the table has never looked so grand. oh if all the great literary minds might have penned us the cookery route through life. to terra, for sharing her diggings from the NYPL. to terra for sharing herself. bless you and thank you…..the chair lady, heart pounding…