Headlines and news reporters blast out about the price hike for fresh shell eggs. Food manufacturers claim they are ‘worried’ about the rising price of liquid egg. Hype and more hype – and nowhere close to what they’re doing with petrol and groceries in general.
The best egg producers, those with big money tied up in super-large scale laying farms have made the leap and invested in a kinder system – kinder that is to Mrs Hen who lives and lays there with her tens of thousands of identical hybrids.
I could not live without good eggs. I’m happy to pledge never to eat another one if they are as poor as most one finds in supermarkets – pale yolks sitting in loose albumen (white). This indicates a poor diet and an egg that was laid some weeks ago.
I know, like most people, that egg yolks and shells can be ‘coloured’ to whatever strength of yellow or brown the farmer wishes – he can control this by feeding beta-carotene in the birds’ ration. Some farmers – or best say ‘industrial’ egg producers – can’t even be bothered to spare the pennies to do this. The result is an omelette that’s more magnolia than maize coloured – and given our eyes tell us almost as much as our palates, we are turned away from this dull plate.
At the recent Salon International de l’Agricole in Paris I was reminded of the Marron egg – Marron being the breed that lays them. This egg is so deep brown I first thought it was an early Easter present, not a shell egg. Interestingly, on colour, those big egg eaters, the Spanish, like a white shelled egg with a deep yellow / almost orange yolk for their tortilla’s and revuelto’s.
Driving along a country lane near Borough Green (Kent) at the weekend, my partner found a small egg farmer selling his ‘mixed’ eggs at the gate. For £1.20 the half-dozen, you were sold a collection of pale blue bantam’s or pullet’s eggs, to white shelled and dark brown varieties – one almost as dark as a French Maron.
The news media is screaming about eggs being +£1.50 for six in the supermarket. I know better than most how the food business is tiered with margin grabbers – far too many people between the field and the shop, all expecting a cut on the farmers’ efforts for doing not much more than holding a ‘phone to their ear in a noisy trader’s office every day.
In Holland, Albert Heijn (the country’s largest supermarket chain) went 100% free range on eggs some 15 years ago. Holland is a major producer of eggs and not known for being a leader on farm animal welfare – but with eggs, Heijn cut through and made history. By 100%, they included any product in store which has eggs as an ingredient too. Slowly others followed and, in the UK, M&S led the pack and Waitrose followed on behind a year or more later.
This all matters because eggs are at the core of Blue Collar Gastronomy. A fine egg is a fine food. That they have become a commodity is all the worse for us all. With no Government department or other advisory body to counsel our farmers on the essential matter of taste, how are they meant to know better in a culture that is largely devoid of gastronomic aspiration – indeed a culture which still frowns on the very idea.
Food in the UK is for looking at – witness the ‘sleb chefs on TV and their formulaic best selling cookbooks. It’s not for making, with the exception of the small but growing band of Blue Collar Gastronauts, most of whom don’t even know they’ve enrolled to the cause.
Do this for me – it’s an inexpensive exercise. Make yourself two boiled eggs – one excellent one and one a commodity egg. Boil for 5 minutes and taste. Fry, scramble or make an omelette if you prefer – the result will be as over-whelmingly conclusive. You’ll never want to eat a commodity egg again – and with that, the hen, the farmer and the shopkeeper will benefit too. Eggs are too cheap to buy a poor one.
A fresh, fine egg is one that holds itself together on a plate when cracked – the white (albumen) should be firm and the yolk yellow verging on the orange. Forget all the stuff about floating them to check for freshness – it’s not exact science anyway.
Eggs are special. Boiled eggs are really special – treat yourself to some horn egg spoons and the taste experience will be even more delightfully explosive. I hope to share all this with one of the UK’s largest egg producers some day quite soon. For now, the UK is said to lead on the welfare side of egg production – next let’s have a crack at upping the flavour on a major scale. Once you’ve enjoyed a good egg, there’s no looking back.
Now we’ve buried the health hype about eggs being bad for us, it’s time to start learning to enjoy them at their best – from ‘worst’ up to ‘best’ category is still pennies. Starting with a pure breed bird, not one of the ‘industrial’ hybrids is another step our farmers should be encouraged to reach for.
Blue Collar Gastronomy will also be looking for people with genuine care for food and taste to head up retailers and other bodies connected with our food production – there are a few, but a few is not good enough. It should be total and an essential requirement for holding the post. NB: The Victorian age has passed – it’s no longer a sin to enjoy good food. NB 2: we are none of us so busy or poor that we can’t feed our families with good tasting food.
The eggs which inspired this piece were not one penny more expensive than a bog-standard supermarket half-dozen. Does anyone know why mainland Europe also sells eggs in dozens, when they’ve always been metric?
Go to work on an egg tomorrow – I shall and I’m not paid one penny to tell you that.