Carol Ann Sayle
It's spring in Central Texas. The hens are cackling with renewed importance. Perhaps they want chicks? No, not really. Through breeding, many have lost that instinct, but bits of it burble from their open beaks as they sing the ancient tune, the song celebrating the laying of the egg.
You'd think, with all the predators about, that a hen would lay the egg and be quiet about it, so as not to alert any "egg suckers" and other sorts of egg aficionados. But in fact, when an errant hen lays an egg somewhere on the farm—in her secret spot far removed from the Hen House communal nests—her cackle alerts me to search for it. I'm not one to leave an egg to any suckers. If I'm quick, I find it before her song stops. She, however, cares not that I steal the egg from the leaf mulch beneath the giant fig tree. She merely cocks her head to one side, looking at me with one eye as if trying to ascertain why I'm so interested in that egg.
Of course, my interest is in eating it. Lately I've tired of eating eggs in their various cooked guises. But an egg is one of nature's "perfect foods," and so I should eat one now and then. My mind wanders back seven or eight years ago, as our friend Chef Jean Luc Salles and I stood in front of the Hen House and the conversation turned culinary. The hens were singing about their egg business and Jean Luc asked if he could select one hot and fresh from the nest. I suggested that maybe we could find a hen in the moment of the lay, and due to her Zen state, it would be easy to catch the egg as it exited.
A hen spends roughly 25 hours making the egg, and finally she climbs the wooden ramp to the bank of nest boxes, hoping that her favorite nest will be free. If it's not, she paces back and forth on the rail, grumbling at the brazen occupant, who ignores her completely, preferring instead to pick up tiny pieces of straw and insouciantly throw them over her shoulder in an archaic maneuver to make the nest fluffy and welcoming for the chick that will never hatch. This irritating-to-the-waiting-hen non-action lasts for about 30 minutes, as the egg apparently isn't sure it wants to be laid.
But nature intervenes, and finally the hen stands up and leans forward. Glistening with antiseptic moisture, the egg pops out and falls a couple of inches to the straw. Right before the egg drops, you can place your open hand between the hen's legs to receive it. Let me tell you, that is a strange but magical experience. Like a doctor catching a baby, you know you have nothing to do with the miracle; you just caught it.
As the moisture changed to chalk-dry "bloom" (the bloom protects the insides of the egg from bacteria), Jean Luc cracked open the egg, opened his mouth, and tossed in the yolk and white. He proclaimed it fabulous. Said he ate eggs this way all his life in Bordeaux, but only eggs like these: totally organic and fresh, from nourished hens. The hen, not missing the egg, left the nest box, cackling somewhat irrationally.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to try a raw egg. I already make my own mayonnaise, with my hens' raw eggs, using Sally Fallon's recipe in Nourishing Traditions, and I like egg nog. So, confident from my mayonnaise experience that I likely wouldn't die, and taking the egg nog cue, I gently stirred a fresh warm egg in a glass, poured in a few inches of raw goat milk, and blended it all together. I swallowed it quickly, so that anything potentially disgusting would go by so fast that maybe I wouldn't notice.
Even slugged down, it was delicious. Rich. The next day I tried putting a single drop of our farm's Yaupon honey in the mixture. Even better. I imagine that additions of vanilla, or maybe some egg-noggy spices, would be good for a Sunday breakfast, or a special occasion. But most mornings, I just mix the egg and milk together and drink it down. Slowly, as it truly is satisfying.
Now, these aren't just any old eggs. If you attempt this at home, the egg MUST be organic and fresh, and you MUST know its origin. Ideally, it comes from your backyard hen house. Alternately, you procure it from a farmer you trust. Salmonella is a serious illness, but it is rarely found in the organic eggs of well-fed, free-range happy hens. Final warning: do not eat commercially-produced, grocery store eggs raw. Ever.