By KRISTEN LEE-CHARLSON
I only remember my grandfather would put the egg up like this, looking towards Heaven and thanking the birds for the food that he found. . . . He’d call the birds just like they were people . . .and he said, “Thank you for letting me find the egg for my meal today.” Huna Tingit, memory of springtime gull-egg harvesting
When we bought our house nearly three and a half years ago, the chickens were included, they were part of the contract. After living in a neighborhood with covenants forbidding dandelions, clotheslines and backyard hens we were excited to try our hands at urban chicken raising.
But recently I had given up hope, thought my chickens’ laying lives were over. It has been months since a single egg has been laid and they were all about to end up in the stock pot, especially after the incessant loud clucking disturbing my peace this past week. Since we adopted these birds and had no idea of their age I just assumed they were past their prime and done laying. After getting my attention yesterday by clucking at the top of her lungs, I shooed one of the girls off the back patio. While outside I realized that a good sweeping was necessary to clean up the mess from fall and winter. With the sun and blue sky overhead I happily picked up the broom. Imagine my surprise when I discovered over a dozen eggs hiding behind a pile of outdoor furniture. No wonder the loud guttural sound coming from these birds – they had been trying to tell me something, I should have listened sooner.
I quickly got a basket and gathered the blue and brown eggs and took them inside. Before I could crack one open, my daughter accidentally knocked the basket off of the counter and onto the floor and all but two broke. I was furious! and then thrilled…..giddy even, to see the most beautiful yolks around. These yolks are the darkest orange you have ever seen — and I know my eggs. Weekly I source dozens upon dozens of farm-fresh eggs from many local farmers and producers, and although there are some amazing eggs out there none compare to the eggs that come from my own backyard.
Conventional grocery store eggs pale in comparison, literally. Cage-free, organic eggs don’t even come close; in fact, as a conscious consumer it can be pretty confusing when it comes to purchasing eggs. What do all of the labels mean anyway? Vegetarian-fed, cage-free, free-range, organic, certified humane – which ones are best? For us, for the chickens, for both?
Next week I will share the down and dirty details about what to look for when purchasing eggs and demystifying the “labels”. In the meantime, the farmers’ markets are thriving in Missoula, look for farm-fresh eggs there or maybe from your neighbor. Eating local doesn’t get much closer than this!
Asparagus or Spinach Frittata – Serves 3–4
Use whatever produce is in season at the farmers’ market.
1 small bunch asparagus, (or spinach) about ¾ pound
1 large or 2 small leeks
2 tablespoons butter
4–5 hen eggs from family farm chickens, or 1–2 goose eggs, or 3–4 duck eggs
¼ cup cream, half-and-half, or whole milk (from a local dairy, if possible)
¼-½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste (you might want to use the lesser amount if using cheese; more if not)
Pepper, freshly ground
Nutmeg—a little grated fresh, or ⅛ teaspoon powdered
¼ cup grated cheese such as cheddar or Monterey Jack, or crumbled local feta (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 300º.
2. Break off the tough ends of the asparagus. Cut the spears into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal. If using spinach, wash, dry and chop.
3. Slice the leeks into thick rounds. Put them into a bowl of cold water and mix to get the dirt out.
4. Melt the butter in an oven-safe skillet (cast iron or stainless steel). When it’s hot, lift the leeks out of the water in handfuls, shaking off any excess water, and put into the pan. Sauté over medium heat until just tender.
5. Add the asparagus pieces to the pan along with about a tablespoon of water. Cover the pan and allow the asparagus to steam for one to three minutes, until just tender. If using spinach omit water and gently sauté in tablespoon of butter.
6. Meanwhile, mix together the eggs with cream, milk or combination.
7. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
8. Add the asparagus to the pan and pour the egg mixture over, then add the cheese, pressing it gently into the eggs. Let this cook on the stovetop over low heat for a minute or two, and then transfer to the oven and bake until the eggs are just set—this may be as little as five minutes. (You can also finish under a broiler, as long as the pan isn’t too deep and you keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn.)
9. Remove from the oven, cool for a few minutes, and slice and eat. Serve with salad and maybe a few steamed new potatoes.
Kristen Lee-Charlson is recognized for her food consulting knowledge, exceptional menus and passion for the local food system. She has hosted a variety of modern homemaking classes from cheesemaking to butchery. Recently she founded the Heirloom Principles a consulting agency for chefs, institutions and individuals for the sourcing of locally-produced and sustainably-raised products. She is an accomplished chef, caterer and home-cook. As a mother of four, she is dedicated to educating and empowering others about traditional food preparation and the joy and economy of eating local. Kristen is a strong advocate for a more localized and resilient food system. Daily she creates and consumes real food for her family including sauerkraut stomped by her children’s bare feet and eggs from her backyard hens. As an urban renaissance woman her ambition is to eat more local pastured pork.