Letter from Birdland: Eggs are a true sign of spring

Jubilee in Birdland! The chickens are rejoicing! The snow is almost gone. Instead, they find an unfamiliar, fibrous material, gray and brown, where the snow used to be. It is flattened to the earth and reminds them of something, of some other color their world was practically made of.

They scratch and peck and try to call up the springtime. They give praise by laying warm, brown eggs. They knew the light was coming back, and over the past few weeks, we would find just one egg, laid on the floor of the coop every few days. With the returning light and resuming warmth, the eggs came back bit by bit until the day we could open wide the doors of the coop. The birds rushed out into the sunshine and began their busy work.

Michael found the first eggs in the garage nesting box. When I came home that evening, my husband greeted me at the door holding out the eggs, four in one hand, three in the other.

It's been so long since we've had fresh eggs that seven seems like a hoard. I can't even remember what I used to do with them. Time to get out my egg coddler!

I know I used to save up eggs secretly for something ... ah yes! Pickled eggs with beets. I'd need a dozen or maybe a dozen and a half — enough to fill my saucepan with eggs. Now, we don't want the really fresh ones, and that is why I put away a few every day and let them age a bit. Every day a tiny bit of air escapes from the tiny pores in the shell, increasing the cushion of air between the membrane and the shell.

If we're going to hatch eggs, we don't want the air there, but if we're going to peel the hard-boiled eggs, the pocket of air makes the eggs much easier to peel. I add cold water to cover and a tablespoon of oil. I cover them and heat them to a rolling boil and then turn off the fire and let them sit in the hot water bath. After 20 minutes, they are hard-boiled, but not too hard. Then I drain them and add a tray of ice cubes. I cover the saucepan again and give it a firm shake. The ice crashes into the eggs and crackles the shells. Now the shells will slip off the eggs so easily.

When I have a nice big bowl of eggs, I add beets (fresh or canned, it doesn't matter) with the juice. I add some vinegar (cider, red wine or balsamic) to taste. (Make sure to use a glass or ceramic bowl so it won't react with the vinegar.) You want it to be sour but not puckerish. Then I add olive oil, whatever herbs I happen to have growing in the garden or dried in the pantry, salt and pepper, and some honey. I let it mellow in a bowl in the fridge overnight. By morning, those eggs will be a lovely magenta, the texture a little rubbery. The yolks will be smooth and buttery.

The longer the eggs sit in the brine, the deeper the pink will go — sometimes down to the yolk. The eggs will keep in the fridge until we eat them all (which is just a few days, so we really don't know how long they might last).

While I'm waiting for my hoard to age, I coddle an egg or two for breakfast. Crack them into my egg coddlers, little ceramic jars with a screw-on lid. Add a tiny bit of butter, herbs, cheese and then submerge the coddler in boiling water for four minutes (for a soft coddled egg. Longer if you don't like a runny yolk). Then open the lid and spoon out golden deliciousness.

The chickens praise the sun, and I praise the eggs. Jubilee!

Lay in beauty; praise in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in all the cycles of the year. You can read more about Birdland and see pictures at letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Hays can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com.

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