For someone who grew up eating uniformly bleach-white supermarket eggs, all natural, free range eggs were a revelation. My wife used to run a farm, and it was there that I first encountered them. It was on that farm where I witnessed firsthand the obvious benefits of allowing laying hens the opportunity to range freely. And it was also on that farm where I first tasted the difference.
As far as I’m concerned, an egg has three parts: the shell, the yolk, and the white. A fresh egg, whether free-range or not, has a firm vibrant yellow-orange yolk that will stand tall when set on a flat surface. The white is a transparent (though sometimes cloudy) yellowish fluid, which (much like the yolk) will not completely settle and spread out when sitting on a flat surface. The cloudiness of a fresh egg white is caused by naturally occurring carbon dioxide which hasn’t had time to escape from the egg after hatching.
The differences in taste between a conventional, supermarket egg and an all natural, free range egg, however, are worlds apart. When it comes to the flavor of an egg, it all boils down to the laying hen’s diet. A conventionally bred and raised hen will spend nearly its entire life indoors, and will dine strictly upon a manufactured protein- and calcium-rich mash. This kind of diet will yield a nutritious (albeit flat-tasting) egg. Much like conventionally kept hens, the free-range bird has a diet supplemented with mash (especially during the colder months). However, the free-range hen will feed upon a plethora of other things during its wanderings, including a multitude of insects and fauna–not to mention a minutia of kitchen scraps. It is this variety in the free-range hen’s diet which produces eggs with more complex flavor tones. It’s not just a marketing strategy. There’s a reason people are so excited about free-range eggs. They’re more delicious!
All natural, free-range eggs are so preferred in my house, that my family broke down and purchased three hens this past Easter. While mostly pets, these beautiful ladies will provide us roughly 2 to 3 eggs a day. For my small egg-hungry family, keeping hens seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. Not everybody has the time, or the energy. But that shouldn’t stop you from buying all natural, free-range eggs from Wolff’s. Sold by the dozen, Wolff’s carries locally raised large brown all natural, free-range eggs from Isaac Stoltzfus’s hens. His chickens spend hours a day wandering freely and feeding upon everything the landscape offers up. I personally think they’re delicious, and prefer them over any other egg available to me.
There are few dishes which provide the equivalent level of satisfaction that a fried egg delivers. Whether it is cooked with butter, olive oil, or bacon fat, and garnished with kosher salt or crumbled kale chips, a simply prepared egg is something to behold. But it doesn’t have to end there. The properties of an egg can be manipulated so many ways, it’s difficult not to explore them. For instance, when is the last time you enjoyed a pickled egg? This recipe from Mark Bittman is anything but dated. In his recipe, the classic bar snack is amped up and reintroduced with fresh garlic, bay leaves, and sun dried tomatoes!
Pickled Eggs with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Garlic
6 hard-cooked Eggs, peeled
1 1/2 cups Cider Vinegar
1 head of Garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1/4 cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, sliced thinly
2 Bay Leaves
1 tbsp. Black Pepper
2 tsp. Salt
1 tbsp. Sugar
1 large Onion, halved and thinly sliced
1. Put the eggs in a roomy glass or crockery bowl or jar (preferably one with a tight fitting lid).
2. Put the vinegar, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, pepper, bay leaves, Salt, Sugar, and Onion in a nonreactive pot with 1 1/2 cups water
and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down so the mixture bubbles gently and cook until the onion is soft and the spices are fragrant, about 10 minutes.
3. Carefully pour the hot mixture over the eggs and let sit at room temperature for an hour or so, until cool.
and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating.
The eggs will keep in the fridge for about a week.
- 6 Hard-Cooked Eggs, peeled
- 1½ cups Cider Vinegar
- 1 head of Garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- ¼ cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, sliced
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 tbsp. Black Peppercorns
- 2 tsp. Salt
- 1 tbsp. Sugar
- 1 Large Onion, halved and thinly sliced
- Put the eggs in a roomy glass or crockery bowl or jar (preferably one with a tight-fitting lid).
- Put the vinegar, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, sugar, and onion in a nonreactive pot with 1½ cups water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down so the mixture bubbles gently and cook until the onion is soft and the spices are fragrant, about 10 minutes.
- Carefully pour the hot mixture over the eggs and let sit at room temperature for an hour or so, until cool. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating. The eggs will keep in the fridge for about a week