by Meredith Chilson I haven’t purchased eggs in about three years, not since my backyard flock of hens started laying. I’m happy to use fresh, flavorful eggs. I wasn’t worried a bit when the salmonella scare hit last year. I know my hens. I know what and where they’ve been eating; I know that the eggs are laid in nice, clean nests. I can trace the entire process from hen to nest to house to stove.
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could trace food like this: from hen to house? According to an archived NY Times article written by Mimi Sheraton, this is what happens to “factory farm” eggs: “After being conveyed from hens, eggs are washed … in 110-to-120-degree water mixed with detergent, chlorine and sometimes ammonia … and … covered with a thin film of clear, odorless oil.” Huh! Detergent and chlorine and ammonia and oil. Huh!
No wonder “my” eggs taste better. Here’s how I store eggs:
First of all, I gather eggs twice a day. That’s partly because my chicken coop is not heated in the winter. I think, too, that the longer an egg stays in a nest, the more chance there is that it will get dirty or broken. It’s also because I like to gather eggs. Remember Easter mornings when you were small, looking for eggs? It’s just like that for me every day…twice!
I gather eggs in a coated wire basket, and place them carefully, the less handling, the better. I inspect each egg as I take it from the nest, too. Then, the eggs go directly to the house. Cracked eggs go in a bowl for baking use, within a day or two. If any of the eggs have mud or manure on them I set them aside. Clean eggs go in a cardboard egg carton, large end up. If there’s a piece of straw or shavings on the egg, I flick it off, and then that egg also goes in the carton. And a word or two about cartons: I do re-use them; my neighbors drop them off at my house by the bagful. But, I only use cardboard, and only very clean ones. The others I recycle (the Styrofoam ones make great packing material for mailing breakable items).
Now, each egg that I have set aside gets personal attention. If they are muddy, and it can be wiped off, that happens. Then, each really dirty egg is washed in warm water. No soap, no detergent, and especially no chemicals! I dry each egg carefully, and then these eggs are put in a carton.
All the eggs are refrigerated. I store them on the middle shelf in my refrigerator, and try very hard to keep them away from strong smelling foods. When I’m ready to use the eggs, I wash them thoroughly with warm water.
Fresh egg with the "bloom" washed off
Here’s why I store eggs the way I do: Eggshells are porous.When an egg is laid, it is covered with a protective coating call the “bloom” that seals the pores in the eggs and therefore prevents bacteria and other nasty things from entering the egg. Washing, or even much handling, removes the bloom and the protection is lost.That’s the reasoning behind the factory farms adding an oil coating, in fact.In our own homes, with our own flocks, we still need to be cognizant of this.Thus, cracked eggs are used for baking -thorough cooking destroys most bacteria. Clean eggs and those with specks that can be brushed off are stored as is, bloom intact, and washed before use.Dirty eggs are washed after gathering, and should be used first, as their protective bloom (or cuticle, as it is sometimes called) will have been removed.
Store eggs with the large end up to center the yolk. Each egg has an air cell, small when fresh, and growing larger and larger as the egg ages. Fresh eggs will also have a dense, cloudy “white” or albumen. This is caused by carbon dioxide, which escapes as the egg ages. You can tell a really fresh egg if it has a cloudy, thick white around a high yolk. Even though “store-bought” eggs have dates on the cartons, it’s hard to tell for sure how old the eggs are. As I remember, though, the whites were always clear and thin on those eggs.
I have 20 hens in my flock. Some of the girls are now three years old, and not nearly the terrific layers they used to be. All but the three youngsters (new layers, less than 8 months old) are just coming off a molt, too, and just beginning to lay again. It’s cold here in Western New York, the nights are long, there’s not a lot of sunlight. So, on lucky days lately, I’ve been finding 5 eggs. Some days I can use 5 eggs, sometimes it takes me a week to use 5 eggs. I give the extras away to my neighbors, for a donation toward chicken feed. These days I don’t have many extras, of course, but each egg deserves to be stored correctly, and each has a history that can be traced directly back to the coop. You’ve heard of “sheep to shawl”? I’m promoting “hen to house”!