Farm-Fresh Eggs: Standing up for goodness, straight from the coop
By Leslie Klipsch
Long before I began wading through labels like “cage-free,” “organic,” and “free-range” and shelling out $4 for one dozen farm-fresh eggs at a specialty grocery, my grandmother was selling them out of her Iowa farmhouse for 50 cents a dozen.
I remember the parade of women who would drive up the gravel lane, greet the barking dog and perch just inside the doorway of the house waiting for fresh eggs. My grandma, always gracious and ready to chat, would appear from her kitchen with several brittle cartons of light-brown eggs, plucked from under her Golden Cross hens during a mid-afternoon trip to the hen house in the backyard. These farm-fresh eggs, as anyone who watches the Food Network now knows, are the secret to perfect soufflé and creamy custard.
Having recently returned to my Iowa roots after living in Chicago (where I continually impressed my foodie friends with products I hauled east after visits home), I am thrilled to find farm-fresh eggs readily available throughout the region. With these versatile oval gems, I keep my new kitchen abuzz. My noodles are more flavorful, my banana crΓ¨me pie richer, and my sunny side up a shade sunnier. My secret: an affinity for farm-fresh eggs and my grandmother’s recipes.
I am not alone in my enthusiasm. Joe Thibodeaux, executive chef of The Faithful Pilot in LeClaire, Iowa, uses farm-fresh eggs purchased from a farm in Preston, Iowa.
“Our baker loves farm-fresh eggs,” he told me recently. “She makes crΓ¨me brulee with farm-fresh eggs and you can really tell the difference when she uses those eggs rather than the mass produced eggs.”
Popular Sunday morning choices like omelets and quiche Lorraine are made with eggs purchased from a farmer that Thibodeaux and his staff have personal contact with, something he values. He says the only drawback with farm-fresh eggs is that, depending on the batch, the yolk is sometimes smaller than he would like. “Still, the taste is so much better that it’s worth it to have to use a few extra eggs.”
Beyond flavor and success in the skillet, eggs are also rich in immune-boosting nutrients. According to the American Egg Board (which for years has promoted the “incredible, edible egg”), adding eggs to your daily diet can help prevent common colds and illnesses. Selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and zinc are all found in eggs and are all proven to help bolster the immune system. Additionally, eggs pack high-quality protein —one egg contains 6 grams of protein, which is 13 percent of the recommended daily intake for the average person. Excellent protein, good fat and all kinds of culinary possibilities —a carton of eggs, which yields up to six servings, is an unbeatable bargain.
Cathy LaFrenz has 45 hens on her flower farm just outside of Donahue, Iowa. Her birds vary as much as her flowers; she keeps several rare and unusual breeds of chickens whose eggs are green, blue, pink, ivory and different shades of brown. “I have pretty chickens, pretty eggs,” she says.
LaFrenz collects around 23 eggs a day and sells them from the flower farm or by special arrangement for around $2 a dozen. These farm-fresh eggs are rarely over a week old by the time they reach her customers’ hands. This is a stark contrast to the dozen eggs you might buy at the grocery store, where they may be up to nine months out of the coop.
“Crack open one of my eggs and a store-bought egg,” says LaFrenz, “and you’ll see that the store-bought egg’s yolk is a lot lower, a lot flatter, and it won’t stand up in the skillet. You’ll see that the white runs a lot more in the skillet as well. When you put my egg in the skillet, you’ll see that the yolk is stronger, will stand up, and is a nice orange ball. The white stays together.”
Part of the difference is the freshness of the egg; other factors include what the chicken is fed and its environment. Ed Kraklio of Nostalgia Farms in Walcott, Iowa, feeds his 55 laying hens ground oats, corn, table scraps, excess produce out of the farm’s greenhouse and extra bread made with all-natural ingredients. He also has been known to pay his nieces and nephews to collect grasshoppers and caterpillars from around the farm’s pond for the hens as well. Both the kids (more spending money) and the birds (more protein) benefit.
Additionally, Kraklio’s hens are pasture-raised. “As babies and adults, our hens get to run around,” he says. “Even in freezing temperatures, if we can get them in an area without snow on it, we throw their corn outside on the ground for them to go out and look for. It’s good exercise, keeps them very busy, and leads to better egg production. If your hens are trapped in a cage all day long and getting no exercise, all that can happen is that the eggs will be of a poorer quality than a healthier hen.”
Not surprisingly, his eggs are a staple ingredient in the Nostalgia Farms mustard and baked-goods line. He told me that customers constantly ask him why his cookies taste so much better than theirs. His response: “It’s because we used farm-fresh eggs. All the time. We use real butter and all-natural ingredients.” Farm-fresh and local is having its day in the culinary world and the fruits of our Midwestern farm communities are suddenly the makings of the hottest dishes in town.
The world has embraced the provincial, and what has been happening in the Radish region for generations is suddenly realized as ahead of the curve. Here in the Midwest — a hotbed of pasture-raised, steroid-free, organic and local — I am listening hard and taking notes.
Of course, things are always changing in the food world: This year’s nori is last year’s wasabi. It’s like LaFrenz told me, “I love my chicken eggs, but duck eggs ”¦ duck eggs make the best angel food.”