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PHOTO: Ana Hotaling
The unimaginable has happened … again. A couple of years ago, Easter came very early in the year. Too early: Our hens had not yet come out of their winter dormancy, and we had no eggs to color. When I suggested buying a dozen supermarket eggs for our sons to dye, my husband’s horrified expression immediately trashed that idea. Paas did not visit our house that spring.
I could handle a year without Easter eggs. However, as I prepare the menu for the winter holidays, I realize I’ve reached an impasse. Too many recipes require eggs as ingredients. I must buy eggs. I can only imagine Jae’s face when I tell him.
Yes, I understand that I can use egg substitutes such as applesauce and Egg Replacer in my baking. My youngest son, Bryce, spent the first six years of his life allergic to eggs, an irony I appreciated as a poultry farmer. As the holiday hostess, however, I have expectations to meet that involve properly preparing longtime family favorites. Eggs are therefore on my shopping list.
Don’t think for a minute that I’ll simply send one of my sons down the dairy aisle for a dozen. I also won’t send Jae for eggs. He’d just stand there, arms crossed, contemptuously glaring at the tidy rows of cartons. Instead, I’ll follow these four steps to ensure that the eggs served on my holiday table will be as delicious as those laid by our hens—or as close to that as possible.
1. Phone A Friend
Birds of a feather flock together and so do poultry farmers. We see each other at the feed store, at the community fairs and in the online groups. Chances are you know a few folks who keep the coop lights on for eggs year-round. Check with these fellow poultry farmers first. You might luck out and get yourself some homegrown eggs without having to head to the market.
2. Check Other Local Resources
Most agricultural towns offer a setting for farmers can publicly sell their products. While this most frequently is a farmers market, agricultural co-ops and farming supply stores also often feature a section for such locally produced goods as honey, maple syrup, bread, dairy and produce. Our farm regularly stocks our town’s mom-and-pop feed store with chicken, duck and turkey eggs. Contact your poultry-feed supplier or co-op to see if it has eggs in stock, or stop by the egg stall at your community farmers market if it’s still operating.
3. Visit Specialty Markets
Most big towns—and some small ones, too—have boutique markets stocked with non-GMO, organic and locally produced foods. These stores won’t offer just white eggs and brown eggs. They’ll have eggs labeled by the breed of layer, sorted according to eggshell shade and arranged according to geographical area. Many markets even post little information placards with factoids about the poultry farms producing these eggs. Look for eggs from a farm located as close to your home as possible. Its hens will have been exposed to the same pollens and will have foraged amongst the same types of grasses as your girls. The flavor of such a farm’s eggs will therefore come close to yours. Keep in mind, however, that specialty markets tend to charge specialty prices for eggs.
4. Take A Grocery Store Gamble
If your only option is to buy eggs at a supermarket, don’t despair. While store-bought eggs won’t have the depth of flavor as your hens’ eggs, they can still serve as binding agents for your baking and as ingredients in your holiday casseroles. Select your dozen carefully by using these guidelines:
Pack Date. Look for the U.S. Department of Agriculture shield on the egg carton. Egg cartons displaying the USDA shield must show the eggs’ pack date (the day the eggs were washed and packed). This is a three-digit code representing that calendar date; for example, 335 would stand for Dec. 1, the 335th day of 2017.
Sell-By Date. The use of sell-by dates is regulated by each state’s agriculture department and can vary greatly from state to state. Some states even prohibit the use of sell-by dates on egg cartons. Egg cartons bearing the USDA shield, however, must display a sell-by date within 30 days of the listed pack date.