Squash Custard Pie

squashPumpkin pie is all the rage this time of year, but why just pumpkin?   Most pumpkins don’t have a lot of flavor (including the “sugar pie” small ones) and stores charge a premium price for pumpkin (often 2x 3x the price of other squash). The truth is that ANY winter (hard) squash will make an excellent “pumpkin” pie.  I prefer using butternut, or sweet meat, a turban, or even a couple of acorn squashes.

Cut the squash lengthwise, remove the seeds, and place face down in a pan with 1 inch of water in it. Cook the squash in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-40 minutes (until a knife inserts easily).  Cool. Scrape out the insides, and place into a blender with a little milk or cream, and blend until smooth.

Recipe:

You’ll need 1 1/2 cups of puree squash for a 9″ pie shell.  Add spices (1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger 1/4 teaspoon cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg) stir in well.  Add 1/2 cup white sugar, and 1/4 cup brown sugar, and a pinch of salt (to taste).   In a separate bowl beat 2 eggs slightly, until the yolks are broken, mix in 1 1/3 cups of unsweetened evaporated milk, or heavy cream (the difference will be in the final product. The cream gives a smoother, denser, and richer pie.) Mix well, pour into unbaked pie crust.  Bake in a hot oven (425 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30-45 minutes (check often after the 25 minute mark) until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.   Remove from oven, and cool.

Optional: to make the pie even richer, and darker in color, add a tablespoon of dark molasses.

Winter squash to use, include: Butternut, Blue Hubbard, Turban, Long Island Cheese, Kabocha, Sweet Dumpling,  Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Sweet Meat, White Pumpkin, Banana, Carnival, Delicata, Red Kuri, Buttercup (to name a few, this list is not complete).

Why stick with tired old pumpkin pie, when you can create a pie from any of the winter squashes?

 

Mayonnaise

hellman's fixed

1. Hellman’s Delivery Truck, circa 1930’s 2. BEST FOODS Real Mayonnaise Jar, 1939 3. Mr. Richard Hellmann, 1920’s 4. HELLMANN’S Real Mayonnaise Jar, 1939 5.) Richard Hellmann’s staff and original delicatessen, 1912 6. BEST FOODS delivery vehicle 1920’s

When most of us think of mayonnaise, we think of Best Foods, or Hellmann’s (depending which side of the country you are on). Few people actually TRY to make mayonnaise, because it has the reputation of being difficult to make.  Mayonnaise is a popular sauce for pairing with a wide variety of foods, was used in many ways, and had abundant variations. Much of this variety has been lost because of the ease of opening a jar. We have become so imprinted on the Hellman/Best Foods standard flavor that we overlook the delight to be found in fresh, homemade mayo.

I suspect that the commercial mayonnaise makers were responsible for the unreasonable claims that it is finicky and difficult to make. There are still pervasive myths. Among the most outlandish: Mayonnaise cannot be made by a menstruating woman. (It will fail to emulsify.) Also, mayonnaise cannot be made on a warm summer’s day, during a thunderstorm or a rainstorm, or when the barometer is showing a winter storm approaching. Some recipes insist that all the ingredients must be very cold, whereas others caution that they should be at room temperature. The mystique that surrounds creating the emulsion known as mayonnaise is certainly interesting. It makes you wonder: If it is so difficult to make, how is it that factories are able to consistently churn out truckloads of mayonnaise every day. (Do they ban menstruating women? Shut down during thunderstorms and fluctuating barometric pressure?)

The truth is: Mayonnaise is not difficult to make. If the idea was mastered in the 1500s, without refrigeration, by cooks during war campaigns — mayonnaise just cannot be that difficult.

The thing about making mayonnaise is that it, like most other cooking, is anything but an exact science. The most important ingredient (aside from good eggs and bland oil) is patience. A homemade product will, predictably, not turn out exactly the same every time. That is the nature of homemade, and the variations are part of the charm. The thing to remember about homemade mayonnaise is that it has a quality that cannot be mass-produced. It is an affordable luxury.

The science behind it is simple. Mayonnaise is an emulsion, which is a mix of two immiscible ingredients. Immiscible means incapable of mixing without a third substance called an emulsifier. In the case of mayonnaise, it is oil with a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar, which is mixed SLOWLY into egg yolks’ (lecithin in the eggs acts as an emulsifier).  A pinch of mustard powder or squeeze of prepared mustard (called for in most recipes) is an additional emulsifier.  The acid (lemon juice or vinegar) strengthens and lengthens the yolk’s proteins.

 

It is egg, and oil, with a little acid added (any kind of vinegar, lemon, or lime), plus a dash of salt. Mustard does help the emulsion hold together, so it is a good addition. Everything else is a suggestion. Keep this in mind when you read the following recipes. You can experiment with different kinds of mustards (grain, brown, dry powdered, prepared yellow) for different flavors. You can use different oils or oil mixtures. You can add various spices or other ingredients. The worst thing is to try to duplicate Hellman’s/Best Foods in flavor, texture, and color. It is nearly (if not completely) impossible to obtain the white color of commercially made mayonnaise. Yours will always be a richer, more interesting yellow. The flavor will be broader and the texture richer and creamier. The final product will often be thick. Add a tablespoon or more of cold water (or cream) to thin it.

The natural variation of homemade mayonnaise is due to the ingredients, the temperament of the cook, and the eggs. Eggs are not just eggs. They vary in seasonal quality—a spring egg is “wetter” than a late summer egg. A stored egg or an older refrigerated egg is thicker and dryer than a newly laid egg. An egg from a chicken fed on natural grasses is vastly different from an egg from a chicken raised on commercial pellets. A pastured chicken egg is different from a battery cage chicken egg. A freshly laid egg is different to work with than a commercial store-bought egg. Eggs from different strains of chickens probably have some minute differences, and eggs from different species have some very different characteristics. (A duck egg yolk and white are thicker than those of a chicken egg. A goose egg yolk is creamier than either a duck’s or a chicken’s.)

A freshly laid chicken egg is the easiest to work with for mayonnaise. But, unless you have chickens, this won’t be an option. Duck eggs make a very thick and rich mayonnaise, although you might need to add milk, cream, or water to thin it. Goose eggs make delicious mayonnaise, although some people find that it is too intensely egg-flavored.

A little about oil: Olive oil is the standard go-to for mayonnaise, but many olive oils are too flavorful and any undesirable traits, such as bitterness or an overbearing acid flavor, will be accentuated in the mayonnaise. In most cases, this detracts from or clashes with the flavors in the meal. It is better to find a neutral olive oil (such as a Spanish one) or use another type of bland, neutral oil such as safflower or sunflower oil. You can even try melted unsalted butter, it makes a very interesting mayonnaise, which is quite rich, and very unique.

(What causes me the most challenges is one of my own human foibles: impatience. Do not attempt to make mayonnaise if you are in a hurry. Mayonnaise cannot be rushed.)

Making an emulsion takes patience! By its very nature, an emulsion is something that does not want to blend. You have to coax the egg into accepting the oil and dribble the oil in slowly. I use an eyedropper and try not to add more than a few drops at a time. (I have never tried “pour in a thin stream” without awful results). I dribble the oil, drop by drop, at the start, and then move up to teaspoonfuls. I also give the yolk ample time to “rest.”  Stopping for a moment is handy. Stop and take a breath. This tip is good to remember if you begin to see the emulsification stalling and the mayonnaise just beginning to “break” (forming big, ugly curds that will not go back together again). You can settle the mixture down by pausing, adding a few drops of cold water, and just waiting a moment before continuing.

If you want a good workout, use a wire whisk and a large bowl that will allow the yolk to spread out into a very thin layer. It will give you a clear view of what is going on, and if any breaking starts, you can stop it quickly. (A deep, narrow bowl does not afford as much control.)

I’ve read that you can use a hand whisk, a rotary hand mixer, an electric hand mixer, a stick blender, an upright blender, or a food processor. However, I have used only a whisk or an electric hand mixer. It took me about three tries (one afternoon) before I managed to find a technique that worked for me. I have tried since then to use a blender and a food processor but always return to what I find easiest: the hand mixer and a big bowl with a flat bottom. But there is no one right way. Experiment, and find what works for you.

Expect a few mishaps before you get your technique down. The most common error, from my experience, is rushing it and adding the oil too fast. The point is to keep the egg yolk (or yolks) in motion while you add the oil, a drop at a time.

Basic Simple Mayo Recipe:

Mayonnaise

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon wine vinegar or lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon prepared mustard
1½ cups olive oil, salad oil, or mixture

2 tablespoons boiling water

Beat egg yolks with salt, mustard, and vinegar or lemon juice. Add oil, a drop at a time, and keep beating. Dribble oil in, in short bursts, beating constantly to make sure egg mixture absorbs oil smoothly. Dribble, and then stop and beat. Dribble, stop, and beat. When 1/3 cup oil is mixed in, the chance of the whole sauce’s breaking is lessened, so you can add oil in larger amounts (such as a teaspoon at a time). Continue until all oil has been used. The end result will be very thick and creamy. Thin with a little boiling water or a mixture of hot water and more vinegar or lemon juice if mixture is too thick. Add seasoning after mayonnaise has been chilled, covered, for an hour. (If not covered, it may develop an unsightly “skin” on top.)

If you are at all fearful of the dreaded “salmonella” (which I will cover on a different post, and best avoided by buying the freshest eggs, from the most natural source you can find — like a farmer’s market with the actual chicken wrangler right there selling them, or, naturally, from chickens wandering your backyard) then here is a “cooked” mayo recipe:

Cooked Mayo

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon dry mustard

dash pepper

1 cup very light olive oil

In double boiler, over simmering water, stir egg yolks, lemon juice, water, mustard, and pepper until blended. Continue stirring constantly. Using a glass cooking thermometer, get temperature to 140 degrees and maintain that temperature for 3½ minutes. Remove from heat (take pan off hot water), and let sit for several minutes to cool. Pour into blender, cover, and blend at high speed. Add oil, drop by drop, slowly. Keep adding more oil while blender is going, until all oil is absorbed. Yolk will become very thick and smooth. Occasionally turn off blender to scrape down sides with rubber spatula. Remove mayonnaise from blender, and placed in covered container. Keep refrigerated.

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Country Life, continued

Honor boxes are great.  In the summer I visit a small little honor farm that has fantastic, fresh vegetables. The farm has been in existence since the 1920’s, by one family. I find it quaint. The quality is great — although, you have to expect a few earwigs, and the occasional baby slug, in the mix. The leaves might not be perfect (a few holes chewed through by some errant bug). But, what a bargain. I can’t eat $20 of vegetables in a week.  Cabbage, kale, collard greens, lettuces, squash, corn, beans, carrots, potatoes — come through from early summer to early autumn. vege honor farmvege honor farm 2

I place my money under a chunk of wood, and serve myself.  It’s absolutely why I love living out of the city.  There are a lot of honor boxes and little farm stands. There are even a few “pick it yourself” farms.  You go out into the field, and select the foods, and load up a basket.  Can’t get any fresher than that!

There is an honor honey shack, where I buy a glass quart jar of the amber gold, and a dairy farm that has a regular old refrigerator — full of fresh milk — sitting on a covered deck. (You put the money on the door shelf.)

There are cutting flower farms, too.

It is pleasant to take a drive, through the back roads, and frequenting these places.

 

Country Life

eggs signIt is getting to be that time of year again.  I think I look forward to the coming of Spring and Summer just as excitedly as I used to as a child.   Only my reasons have changed. As a kid, I would look forward to sleeping in, and long lazy hot days.

Now, giddy, I anticipate the honor farm’s return.  In the area I live, which is quasi-rural, driving the back roads you’ll see signs that announce that eggs are for sale.  The “honor box” payment system is very common around.  So, my regular weekly shopping includes stopping at a few of these rural shopping sites.   I go to the same place, usually, for eggs. It’s an amazing all freely pastured farm. Chickens hatch and raise their chicks, and everywhere there are chickens milling about.   It’s quaint.   The honor box that I stop at is simple, and you stuff your money down a little wooden slot.  egg honor boxThe eggs are fresh, the cartons are recycled (and I bring back my used cartons).   It’s pleasant.

I used to raise chickens, and have chickens, and nightly close them into their coop. Every morning let them out, and routinely clean out the coop. Uggh.  I have one of my original 25 left.  (I call her “survivor”.)

After years of struggling to protect chickens from neighborhood dogs, and marauding raccoons, foxes, eagles, coyotes, and whatever else, I’m tired of it.  But, there is no way I could go back to the big corporate egg farmed eggs.   (They have no taste! They have been in cold storage for half-a-year, or more.   Yuck.)

I also, use a lot of eggs — and try several egg recipes each week (for my “someday” book Too Many Eggs, it’s at 400 pages, now, and still growing).  I like to help support a guy who is, clearly, crazy about chickens.

egg farm

the egg farmer walking down his driveway

Dessert Deviled Eggs

Everyone knows variations on deviled eggs, but what about dessert deviled eggs?

These two recipes are fantastic (and not just for the shock {wow} factor) Perfect for a potluck:

Chocolate Deviled Eggs

12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened

¼ cup cream cheese

¼ cup superfine sugar

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

several drops vanilla extract

¼ cup whipping cream

cocoa powder for garnish

Remove yolks from eggs, and set whites aside. With fork mash yolks and put into bowl. Add room-temperature butter and cream into yolks. Add room-temperature cream cheese, and blend into butter mixture. Add sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract, and blend in well. Put spoonfuls of yolk mixture back into egg whites, and reassemble both egg halves. Refrigerate to firm. To serve, whip up whipping cream with small amount of sugar, place dollop of whipped cream on plate, and place egg on top. Sprinkle with cocoa powder.

Italian Sweet Hard-Boiled Eggs

8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

½ cup butter, softened

¼ cup sugar

several drops vanilla extract

¼ cup flour

½ cup cornstarch

Cut eggs in half, and separate yolks from whites. Set whites aside. Mash yolks with fork. Cream butter and yolks, and add sugar and vanilla extract. Stir together flour and cornstarch, sprinkle a little at a time onto yolk mixture, and blend in. Fold until flour is incorporated. Make firm ball with dough. Refrigerate 2 hours. Remove, and make 16 small balls of dough. Place a dough ball in cavity of each egg white. Flatten dough slightly. Place on cookie sheet. Bake in 350-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden-brown. Serve warm, or chilled.

The Science of Cooking an Egg

The egg white coagulates (turns from liquid and solidifies) at a temperature between 144 and 149 degrees Fahrenheit (62 and 65 Celsius). Egg yolk coagulates between 149 and 158 degrees Fahrenheit (65 and 70 Celsius). This difference in coagulation is why you can fry an egg and have the white fully solidify while the yolk remains runny or, for the sake of this chapter, how you can cook a soft-boiled egg so that the white is fully opaque while the yolk is still runny.

The coagulation is referred to as curdling in older recipes. It does describe the chemical reaction within the egg. When eggs are heated, the long chains of amino acids unfold and straighten out, and then as the temperature increases (to the ideal coagulation point), the proteins create stronger, firmer new bonds. The biological terminology for this is denaturing the protein. Denaturing is what happens when you cook an egg: in frying, when it forms a solid mass, and in scrambling, when it turns into soft lumps, or curds.

However, the current scientific definition of curdling is syneresis. (Syneresis is the separation of liquid from a coagulated mass, such as what happens in cheese-making when whey separates from the cheese curds.) In the case of eggs, their protein becomes overcoagulated and “breaks.” When this happens, liquid is forced out of the lumps of protein. Without liquid, the protein binds together more tightly. The result is a lumpy, almost granular texture.

Too high a heat or an overly long cooking time can cause this. When it happens, the cooking term (when one is talking about a sauce, for instance) is that it breaks. A break is considered to be a total and utter failure of the sauce, the custard, the emulsion.

Newer cookbooks and recipes on the Web try to slap on scientific names (used in other cooking science such as cheese-making) that are not a good fit. The point is that the modern definition that associates egg curds with syneresis (instead of denaturing) is confusing. Borrowed descriptive terms are not a good fit for cooked eggs.

Egg Proteins Altered

There are three ways to change the proteins in eggs: heat, beating, and chemical reaction.

1.) Heat causes the proteins to unfold and reconnect. Moderate heat (medium or medium-low) is better than high heat, which causes the bonds to connect too strongly, resulting in a rubbery, tough cooked egg. If you boil an egg on too high a heat, you may see a greenish tinge on the cooked egg yolk if the iron sulfide in the yolk reacts with the hydrogen sulfide in the white (This does not change the quality or the flavor of the egg, but it looks unattractive.)

2.) Beating or whisking egg whites causes the protein bonds to break and reconnect. The new bonds are stronger and cross-linked. Once an egg yolk is whipped into a foam, it will not return to a liquid.

3.) Chemicals that can denature, or break, the protein bonds in eggs include vinegar, lemon juice, cream of tartar, and alcohol. Numerous recipes call for the addition of an acid to egg whites for meringues, soufflés, sponge cakes, and the like, because it lengthens the protein strands and allows for stiffer egg white foam.

Egg whites are easier to alter than egg yolks, because the proteins in egg yolks are more resistant to change.

Urban Chicken Wrangler

I go into the feed stores, and hear the peeping. It is so hard to resist the chicks. So cute running around pecking. Its hard for me to resist.

I think everyone should have a chicken or two, in their lives. When I lived in an urban center, I  decided that I just HAD to have some chickens. (We already had a duck that my daughter had talked me into, and, of course, you can’t just have one duck, so we had three.)

As I discovered…a lot of people have chickens. My UPS guy, the mailman,the clerk at the grocery store…a few teachers at my daughters school. I even joined an “urban chicken” club. I found people who showed chickens.  (I found this weird.) There is a lot more poultry around in cities that would seem “normal”. I had no idea until I had chickens. It was like being pregnant, you don’t notice anyone is pregnant until you are, then you see pregnant women EVERYWHERE.  In this case, I didn’t now that there was a very active underground poultry society until I had my own.

smaller chicken and laundry

White Crested Black Polish chicken under my clothesline.,

I learned by trial-and-error, and from other people. But, compared to a lot of pets, chickens are the least demanding of any pet I’ve ever owned. In the beginning, I had two full-sized birds, and two bantam “Silkies” (very odd little birds). Bantams are half-sized chickens…so chicken lite, and they lay these cute little eggs. (Great for a diet.) The challenge was in keeping them safe. So, we trained them to go into portable dog kennels (the airline type) every night, and then haul them in the house. (I say “train” this consisted of seeking them from wherever they had decided to roost in the yard, and snagging them, putting them INTO the kennel every night…until they figured out that the kennels were the safe spot to go. However, if you don’t put the kennels in the exact same spot every day, they get confused.  Then they’ll go back to plucking them from bushes and trees every night. (Which sucks.)  I started leaving the kennels where they were, from when I left them out.  The chickens got the clue, and sometimes would lay their eggs IN the kennels, which made me happy. But, sometimes I’d forget, or one of the kids would move the kennels, and that night, I was again, out after dark, with a flashlight searching for where the chickens were hiding. When you snatch a chicken in the dark, it makes a terrible, terrified noise. Poor things sound pitiful.  It did anchor me around their schedule, until I built a hen-house and yard with a covered top and sides. It was a constant worry and race to get home “before it was too dark” to put them inside.

On second thought, maybe they trained me.
In the day they’d go out in the yard and run around. Eat bugs, and we’d give them a little grain and leftovers in the morning, and a small amount of grain at night, about an hour before sunset. (I didn’t like to keep food out because I didn’t want rodents.)  Grain is chicken crack, by the way, they’ll eat that before they eat anything else.

I’ll admit, I was ready to throw in the towel, at first.  I mean, chicks are cute, but the teen chickens are just jerks. They are messy, loud, and smelly.  But, once we had the eggs — that was is IT! We were addicted. With only four layers (two small eggs and two large) we would wait with anticipation of “someone laying”. On average, two eggs a day, was more than a dozen a week. That was great. (Back then I wasn’t all that into eggs.)

Once I moved to a quasi-rural area, I ordered 25 from McMurray (big online/catalog hatchery). I cannot tell you that 25 are as easy as a few. They aren’t. Even with a big, “formal” hen-house, there is a lot more cleaning, more heartache. We’ve had problems with when raccoons discovered the easy pickings, eagles swooping down, large ravens taking a few out, a local dog had a blast one afternoon.  Chickens are prey. They’re not always smart enough to get out of harm’s way. And, then, the chicken breeds, themselves.  I wish I’d paid more attention to when the catalog said “calm bird” or “good foragers” “lively”, etc.   I’ve come to find out “alert” and the “good forager” are polite terms for crazy chickens!  And chickens that are “good mothers” also mean that they’ll go broody, all summer long. (A broody hen is one that stops laying, and starts gathering every egg they can find to put under her ample butt, so that she can hatch them. Often a broody hen will defend the eggs, with a vengeance, and will also go rogue in your yard somewhere – MIA.  The broody hen won’t eat or drink, either.)

The bigger heavier breeds are much easier to deal with. I am a huge fan of the Orpington breed (especially the Buff Orpington).

Two dozen chickens produced up to two dozen eggs a day.  On average, it was, at the very least, a dozen a day (and with the ducks, another half-dozen, and when the geese are laying another four. Eggs, eggs, eggs!) For a while, I tried to supply most of my neighbors with eggs, until they were politely saying “no thanks”.  I baked a pound cake each week. Made angel food cakes (hey! uses a dozen) and custards, and searched for more recipes.  I froze eggs (separated works best).  I even started (recycling?) cooking up the eggs to feed back to the hens . (Cook the eggs before giving them back to the hens so they don’t start eating their own eggs, and cut out the middle-man: YOU.)

Over the years my chicken population has dropped (from the aforementioned predators), to a more manageable number of chickens.  I think that two chickens for each person in the household is the right number of chickens.

Poultry is about the closest you’ll get to having dinosaurs in your yard. Chickens are amusing to watch.  And, can they eat! They are eating machines. The bugs in the yard get gobbled up and, most important: they eat leftovers.  No more guilt over tossing out a stale loaf of bread, or the rice that no one seems to want to eat as a leftover,  or that last bit of breakfast cereal at the bottom of the box…that the kids won’t eat because there isn’t enough for a full bowl. They also gobble up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that come back from a packed school lunch all squished and miserable looking, vegetable trimmings, and wilted vegetables, bruised apples, and whatever else that would usually go into the trash can or garbage disposal.

I would recommend poultry for anyone. It’s hard to be depressed and feeling lonely when you have a flock of poultry that think you are a food god! You can’t be unhappy when all the chickens immediately stop whatever they are doing and  run over to see what you have for them. It adds a nice balance to life. They are always happy to see you.

My Experience With Eggs: Testing for Freshness

If you have chickens you will get used to testing the freshness of eggs. It becomes second nature, after a few “bad eggs” which are gross and disgusting.  I’ve never had any luck with candling.  I do know that if you shake an egg and it makes a noise, throw it out!

floaty egg

this egg is floating. It’s gone bad.

float eggs

white egg is laying at the bottom of the glass of water, the brown egg is tipping up slightly. Both are good to eat.

aged egg photo

this egg is tipping up. It’s older, but still good to use.

To test eggs:

Take a glass of cold water, put the egg in.

  •  If the egg lays flat on the bottom, it’s fresh, too fresh to boil, or fry sunny side up.
  •  If the back (round, not pointy end) tilts up just a bit…it’s ready for sunny side up cooking.
  •   If the round part of the egg tilts up a bit more….then it’s good for hard boiling (before that stage you just cannot PEEL them worth a darn, the shell sticks to the white).
  •   If the egg rises off the bottom of the glass and appears to dance, or floats….toss it. Too old!

Old cookbooks caution you to break each egg onto a saucer, and only use the eggs that look fresh.  If you start cracking and dropping eggs into the frying pan, there will eventually be a bad egg which ruins the bunch.  There is nothing more challenging than a rotten egg in a mess of good ones.  The only thing to do is toss it out and start over.

Some things I’ve learned by experience, that I wish someone had told me about:

  1. A fresh egg will smell faintly like the ocean. A newly laid egg will have a nice round yolk, but it will flatten slightly.  An “aged” egg (a few days under refrigeration) will have lost some moisture, so the yolk will be round and firm, tougher, and sit higher than the white.  But, occasionally, there are eggs which have flat yolks, period.  They never firm or round up. (But they are still good, and fresh). In the “egg industry” these are often sold commercially, to bakers, mostly.
  2. If there is a developing chick the egg might actually lay flat in the water. But, if you hold the egg to light, it will have a pinkish caste to it.  It will feel slightly heavy, and won’t spin like a raw egg, but faster, more like a hard boiled one.  You candle it (look at it with a strong light behind it) you might see an embryo. One end will be dark. If you shake it, there will be a thump.  You do NOT want to crack that open. Toss it.  (And, if you’ve already jostled it around, you cannot return it to get hatched because the movement has killed the embryo.)
  3. Weird looking eggs (including small, very large, strange shaped) should be tossed. Occasionally there are eggs, which are called “fart eggs” because they have no yolk, just white.  Occasionally eggs have a tough membrane, but no shell.  (They usually break when they are laid, and the contents are eaten by the chickens.)
  4. If you find an egg that looks very dark and floats right to the top of the water – handle this as if it were a live hand grenade. (If you hold it up to light it looks dark green and ominous.) Handle this with extreme care! Put it in several plastic bags and take it outdoors to the trash.  A rotten egg is something you never want to experience, ever.  I brought one into the house and figured it was old, but not bad.  It exploded with a loud pop. One word: yuck.

 

Rooster Got to the Egg and Other Yolks

One thing you’ll never see from a commercially produced egg is a “rooster spot” (aka meat spot). The scanning, washing, sorting, and weighing of eggs at commercial factories toss them aside for industrial cooking and baking (along with double yolks, and the extra small eggs).   With a fresh chicken egg, and especially young chickens — laying their first year — you will run into it a lot.red spot on egg  The old wives tale version of it was “that’s what the rooster contributed”. It’s not true. It’s just a slight malfunction in the egg creation process.   The little blood spot doesn’t flavor the egg, nor make it unsafe to eat.  Most people just take out the red spot with the tip of a knife.   Some people just cook the egg, and ignore it.  There are others that throw out the egg (an unnecessary reaction).

Most chickens will, eventually, stop throwing an off egg. But there are always mistakes that happen in the process. Some eggs will have double, triple, or more yolks (even if fertilized double chicks don’t develop, or survive). There are eggs with all egg white (often very small) called “wind eggs” or “fart eggs”.  And, depending on the chicken’s diet, egg yolk color will vary.  When chickens eat a great deal of green vegetable matter (they love to eat grass and weeds, and anything in your garden) and that will cause the egg yolks to have a brighter, deeper orange/yellow color.

Commercial eggs, by comparison, are often “colored” by use of annatto in the feed  (it’s not disclosed as the FDA has certified it as “exempt from certification” and considered natural).  Many people have sensitivities to annatto. People with nut and peanut allergies often react to it unfavorably. There has not been a widespread study about it. It’s just added to the chicken feed, colors the eggs, and that’s that.  Buyer beware, I guess.

But, people with a sensitivity to chicken eggs, might want to make sure the allergic reaction isn’t to annatto, instead of eggs.

the difference in egg color is stunning. Which one is the "standard" store-purchased egg, and which is the backyard chicken egg. Can you tell?

variations in egg yolk color

The Yolk

Egg yolks are colored by xanthophylls, a yellow-orange pigment in green plants, yellow corn, and bugs. Yolk color is influenced by feed, exercise, and the lifestyle of the chicken.  Yolk color can be influenced by feed alone. In fact, a chicken running around in a yard, eating whatever it finds, is going to have varying yolk color intensity, depending on what is in season. Alfalfa creates a very light yellow yolk, whereas yellow corn can give a deeper yellow. More-intense-colored yolks are the result of feed with a heavy dosing of annatto or ample greens such as clover or kale; rye pasture; weeds such as mustard, pennycress, and shepherd’s purse; or feed that is high in beta-carotene vegetables such as carrots and beets. A quantity of red fruits can intensify the red-orange color of the yolk.

Exercise, pecking order, and bug eating contribute to the natural deep orange and/or red tones of a naturally colored yolk.

In the “modern world” we mess with mother nature.

Poultry raisers have long discussed influencing yolk color with various feed combinations to please their consumers. In 1919 a popular paper entitled “The influence of specific feeds and certain pigments on the color of the egg yolk and body fat of fowls,” by Leroy S. Palmer and Harry L. Kempster[1], was widely read. What the authors found was that “yellow corn is the best winter food for keeping up the coloring of adipose tissue during fattening” and that it was also what kept the egg yolks a nice sunny yellow color. Not too dark, not too light. People liked to purchase dressed chickens with a deep yellow skin color, and corn filled the bill. Corn, along with annatto (a derivative of the achiote tree, of tropical regions of the Americas, used in food dyes), is used heavily—to this day—in chicken feed to give a faux “healthy” yellow glow that normally could be found only in chickens raised in sunshiny fields.

A side note: Annatto has been linked with many cases of food-related allergies and is the only natural food coloring believed to cause as many allergic-type reactions as artificial food coloring. However, because it is not one of the “Big Eight” allergens (cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat) responsible for more than 90 percent of allergic reactions to food, its use is not regulated nor is a consumer able to avoid it easily (it’s rarely listed in labeling as anything other than “natural coloring”). Many people who consider themselves allergic to chicken eggs may, in fact, be allergic to the annatto feed additives.

Artificial egg coloring is still a very hot topic in poultry farming. Articles appear frequently in trade and scientific journals regarding the use of artificial and natural coloring agents in feed to intensify the yolk color of eggs and the skin color of chickens. One such article, “Formulation of Annatto Feed Concentrate for Layers and the Evaluation of Egg Yolk Color Preference of Consumers,”[1] in the Journal of Food Biochemistry (January 13, 2010), lays out the trickery that is rampant in the poultry industry:

Visual appearance, especially color, is one of the most important characteristics of foods and determines the acceptance or rejection of the product by the consumer. This statement is also true for poultry products, in which the color of skin, meat and egg yolk plays a fundamental role to some ethnic and regional consumers (Chichester, 1981; Hencken, 1992; Williams, 1992; Macdougall, 1994). The preference for well-pigmented poultry products is still evident in some markets, and thus, poultry producers add colorants to broiler and layer diets as a means of improving the attractiveness of these products (Klaui and Bauernfeind 1981; Hencken 1992; Liufa et al., 1997).

The interesting thing about the authors’ analysis is their assertion that the average consumer in the United States prefers a yolk that is a lighter yellow than what European consumers favor. This is presumably because those consumers have never eaten an egg from a chicken that pecks, scratches, chases bugs, and eats greens and weeds in a natural setting. The flavor and quality of eggs from a backyard chicken are vastly superior to what you get with commercially laid eggs.


[1] I. Ofosu, E. Appiah-Nkansah, L. Owusu, F. Apea-Bah, I. Oduro, I., and W. Ellis, “Formulation Of Annatto Feed Concentrate for Layers and the Evaluation of Egg Yolk Color Preference of Consumers,” 2010. Journal of Food Biochemistry, 34: 66–77. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-4514.2009.00264.x


[1] The Dairy Chemistry Laboratory and Department of Poultry Husbandry, University of Missouri, Columbia)