You want some eggs?” asked Steve, the owner of the farm where my daughter worked last summer. He knocked on my car window with an H-E-B carton holding 18 eggs.
“Sure,” I said.
Although Steve handed me a store-bought carton, these were farm-raised eggs.
“You might want to break ‘em separately — don’t just throw ‘em in with your cookie dough,” he said. “We may have gotten the fertilized ones and the unfertilized ones a little mixed up, but I don’t think so.”
“OK,” I said. But it wasn’t OK at all.
What did Steve mean? What would happen if I broke open a fertilized egg into my cookie dough or my muffin batter? Would there be a whole baby chicken inside? A chicken in progress?
I am a city girl. My mother was a city girl. My father grew up on a farm and collected eggs from the henhouse, but since we never owned chickens, he never schooled me in egg gathering. I gather my eggs from the grocery store.
So I decided to ask a friend who works at the same farm. I told him about Steve’s egg warning and asked what I should do.
He said, “Yeah, you might want to candle them.”
“Candle them?” I asked.
“Hold a flashlight underneath them and, you know, check,” he said.
I did not want to check. What would I do if I found one that had been fertilized? Would I scream? Would I get sick to my stomach? What if I dropped the egg on the kitchen floor and it exploded? Or what if I found a fertilized egg and somehow managed to keep calm — should I throw it away? Would that be cruel? Should I buy some sort of incubator off Amazon and wait till the egg hatches and name the baby chicky and love it and raise it as a pet? But wait. I live inside the city limits. Is there an ordinance about raising chickens?
Completely overwhelmed by my own questions, I did what city girls do — I shoved the 18 eggs into the back of the refrigerator and ignored them.
“You want some eggs?” Steve asked the following week.
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ve still got some from last time.”
Steve shook his head and said, “We’ve gotta work on getting your cholesterol up.”
I do eat eggs, and so does my husband, but not every day. One carton lasts us awhile.
There is currently an egg shortage. Thousands of chickens in the Midwest died this spring of avian flu or had to be put down because of it. Whataburger changed its breakfast hours to cope with eggs prices double or triple what they were earlier in 2015. Egg business insiders say it may take a year or more for poultry farmers to recover. Meanwhile, on this Texas farm there were free-range eggs aplenty.
“You want some eggs?” Steve, my official poultry pusher, asked a week later.
“Nope,” I said. “Still good.” I felt I owed him an explanation. What kind of woman wouldn’t want farm-fresh eggs? “I haven’t been baking much lately. I don’t want to fire up my oven.”
He nodded, “Yeah, it’s hot.”
In the meantime I was slowly running out of the store-bought eggs I’d purchased at the beginning of the summer. It was still too hot to bake, but I was craving hard-boiled eggs. Should I dive into my potentially fertilized stash? Should I check first, do that candle thing? Or was it too late? Had the near-freezing environment inside my fridge killed any chickens yet to be? Maybe I was worrying for nothing. Maybe I ought to trust Steve’s statement that they were probably unfertilized and go ahead and heartlessly hard-boil them.
Of course not. What kind of person would do such a thing?
I heartlessly hard-boiled them. They were the best eggs I’d ever tasted.
As the summer weeks stretched on, and the temperatures outside rose into the triple digits, I watched the prices on hippie eggs (organic, cage-free, happy hens guaranteed) rise past $5 per dozen, and the store limited purchases to three cartons at a time.
Steve never asked if I wanted more eggs. My daughter’s summer job ended, and she went back to school. A week later the yellow school buses started their routes. Even though the temperatures were still in the mid-90s, I fired up the oven to bake my standard back-to-school treat: pumpkin muffins. But I had run out of eggs.
I did what city girls do — drove my car half a mile to the gas station convenience store and bought super-duper overpriced eggs. They looked fine when I cracked them into my muffin batter. I hard-boiled the rest. They didn’t taste the same.