I wandered out to the chicken coop yesterday afternoon to make a cursory inspection of the shelter and its environs, and, when I opened up the top, I wasn’t too surprised to see two eggs — one in each of the top two nest boxes. We had put the pretend eggs into the nest boxes to show the chickens where to lay, and I was rotating them around (we have two, and four nest boxes). Both of the eggs I saw were exactly the color of the pretend eggs.
Upon looking more closely, however, I noticed that one of them was a bit smaller than the other. I picked it up, and couldn’t feel anything different about it. It seemed substantial, and solid, like the ceramic eggs we’d purchased at the local hardware store. When I put it beside the other, though, the difference was clear. The one I’d picked up was tiny and more oblong than what I’ve come to expect from an egg.
But if this was a real egg, where was the second pretend one? It turned out it had been pushed behind some straw. It finally sunk in — our first egg!
It’s now been a day (and a second egg showed up this afternoon!) but I still have this weird feeling like someone is tricking me and this couldn’t possibly be a real egg laid by one of our chickens. I mean, they’d never done it before.
But, yes, one of our Barred Rocks (the black and white stripey ones) had been showing all the signs of chicken puberty. Her comb and wattles were bright red, and, when I’d come near her and bend down as if to pet her, she’d submissively squat, ready to accept the attentions of a rooster (I guess I’m the dominant one, so she squats for me). She’s also been incredibly noisy and agitated.
We could be blasé about it. After all, that’s why we got the chickens. That’s what chickens do. But having seen these birds go from this:
To nearly chicken adulthood — henhood — is pretty amazing.
In that picture, they were just one day out of the egg themselves. It’s interesting, when you think about it, to consider the role chickens play in our culture. We have so many sayings that revolve around them. We might tell someone, “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” or we might ask that age-old question, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Meanwhile, putting on my chef’s hat, the egg is incredibly interesting from a culinary point of view. One of the food writers I follow, Michael Ruhlman, has written, and is soon to release, an entire book about the egg — Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. He already dedicated a whole chapter to it in a previous book, in which he waxes rhapsodic:
“The egg is the perfect food — an inexpensive package dense with nutrients and exquisite flavor, a food that’s both easily and simply prepared and is also virtually unmatched in terms of versatility in the kitchen. Finally, the egg is meaningful simply as a beautiful object, the hard but delicate shell protecting the life within, its elliptical curves symbolic of life and fertility. The egg is divine.”
Another food writer I admire, Harold McGee, dedicated Chapter 2 in his classic On Food and Cooking to the egg, its biology, and its many uses:
“Their contents are primal, the unstructured stuff of life. This is why they are protean, why the cook can use them to generate such a variety of structures, from a light insubstantial meringue to a dense, lingeringly rich custard. Eggs reconcile oil and water in a host of smooth sauces; they refine the texture of candies and egg creams; they give flavor, substance and nutritiousness to soups, drinks, breads, pastas and cakes; they put a shine on pastries; they clarify meat stocks and wines. On their own, they’re amenable to being boiled, fried, deep-fried, baked, roasted, pickled, and fermented.”
Such a common, everyday object — hopefully soon to be found every day around here — and, at the same time, such a miracle. May we develop a stronger reverence for everyday miracles through the product of our chicken-keeping.