Like a good old fashioned French family, we have a “jardin potager” (or “kitchen garden”), a few hens, a beehive and some fruit trees so that we can always have the freshest fruits and vegetables, herbs, honey and eggs. We like to grow things that are difficult to find in our local the supermarkets like sweet and delicately flavored French Nantes carrots or the herb chevril. We take full advantage of the luxury of being able to harvest squash blossoms in the summer and artichokes when they are still tiny enough to be eaten whole.
Our favorite simple pleasure from the garden is the fresh eggs. We spoil our chickens with local organic feed, the peels of our garden vegetables and table scraps which include things like duck fat. On special occasions our girls get the treat of eating the fat used to help preserve fois gras. In return, they reward us with delicious eggs. Unfortunately, our hens have made us very picky. We have ridiculously high standards for eggs. Any egg coming from a supermarket is now deemed unsuitable for anything but making baked goods… Any attempt to serve our children a supermarket egg fried or soft boiled spells revolt: the moment the yolk hits their mouth they look at us with an injured expression and eyes that scream “betrayal”. The problem is so bad that even so-called farm-fresh eggs from the farmer’s market rarely match up to what our girls produce.
While in France, I long for our eggs all summer even though the quality of eggs is pretty good there. The French have a very different attitude toward eggs than Americans. In French supermarkets eggs are not refrigerated. To protect American consumers, federal regulations require that American eggs be washed before sale which inadvertently damages the egg’s cuticle (a natural protective coating, kind of like wax, that covers the egg during the laying process) and leaves the egg vulnerable to contamination from bacteria through the shell. If the cuticle is intact, an egg does not need to be refrigerated to prevent bacterial infection. The kind of over-crowded industrial chicken farms that are common in the United States are forbidden in France. As a result, French eggs are less likely to come in contact with feces (which can lead to salmonella poisoning) so it is not imperative to wash them. Another difference is that each individual French egg is actually stamped with a code that tells the consumer four things about it: 1) how the chicken was raised, 2) the country of provenance; 3) the producer and specific building where the egg was laid, and 4) latest consumption date. So, when shopping in France we choose the eggs bearing a number zero which indicates that they were raised using sustainable ecological methods and we’ve been fairly content with their flavor.
Nevertheless, while longing for my chicken’s eggs last summer in France I bought a cookbook devoted exclusively to eggs. I thumbed through the pages countless times fantasizing about what I could do with MY eggs. I was particularly passionate about one of the recipes: Oeufs en coquille a la crème de cepes (Eggs served in their shell with cepe mushroom cream). I drooled over the picture so many times that I even bought the dried cepes mushrooms before leaving France. Now that spring is here our chickens are back in top production and I have enough extra eggs to finally, finally indulge myself!