Egg Lovers, Unite!


While chatting with a friend the other day, she mentioned a vegan chef she knew who was responsible for family meals. Meaning he, the wife, and the kids all ate vegan by default. And I think that, definitely, if someone in the family is going to go vegan or Paleo or gluten-free or what-have-you, it had better be the family chef. The family chef can impose his or her food agenda on everyone with the least pain involved. Ask my kids, who groan whenever I mention some new nutritional tidbit I've learned, which might adversely impact their favorite foods. If anyone in my family is in danger of going vegan, it's my youngest. Not only is she an animal lover, but she naturally dislikes cheese and eggs served on their own. I'm banking on her unflagging love for bacon and club sandwiches to keep her in the omnivore column, lest mealtimes get more complicated around here. Because the rest of us love not only meat, but cheese and milk and eggs.

But let me be clear. By "eggs" I mean real eggs. I don't raise chickens (the volumes of poop scared me off when I was considering it), but I do fork out extra money for better eggs. When the Market is going, I buy from our various farmers. And when it's not...

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When it's not, I fork out for the most farmers-market-like eggs I can buy at the grocery store. Just check out the difference in those yolks! As Deborah Madison says in my well-thumbed Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,

The color of the yolks reflects what chickens have been eating. Chickens I've known that peck at this kernel of corn and that fresh green plant, bug or blossom as they wander over the yard have eggs with bright yellow yolks...While organically raised food is always preferable to use, it's especially important with eggs. Those that come from chickens that aren't crammed into small cages and given boosters of hormones to encourage laying and antibiotics to compensate for the disease crowding fosters are simply better all around. They look lively and healthy, the yolks are bright yellow, and the chickens who laid them are healthier, too.

To this I would add that the best eggs have thicker egg whites. When you crack one in a frying pan, the egg white doesn't immediately flow all over, as if it were water. Now, in the picture above, I bought Stiebrs eggs from Whole Foods, which receive a good score on the humane side of the things, but those chickens are clearly not enjoying the varied diet of the one who laid the orange-yolked egg. And when I boiled up the Stiebrs eggs to serve in a Chinese Beef Stew dish, my son demanded, "What's wrong with the eggs? They're all pale and they don't taste as good."

All of which is to say, in the Market off-season I've been buying these puppies:

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Yes, I know a chunk of my money is going to the beautiful packaging and the wee "newspaper" they enclose, but the eggs really are quite good. The egg whites may not be as cohesive as Market eggs, but the yolks are beautiful and flavorful, and I haven't found a better alternative on the store shelves. Some time ago I posted on the benefits of pastured eggs, which you may want to read about here. Better looking, better tasting, and better for you.

As you know, good ingredients make for good food. Check out this challah I made for my book club, a traditional Jewish egg bread in honor of Judy Blume's In the Unlikely Event (another book club member brought bananas, since one of the characters ends up in a mental hospital).

You'll want good eggs for this one

Eggs do good service in our baked goods, adding structure, color, and flavor, and helping with emulsification and the attractive browning. But even just served as themselves, eggs are great sources of "solid nourishment at modest cost in a form that can be used simply and quickly" (more Deborah Madison). Egg-lovers need no encouragement, but for my youngest I find that she'll eat scrambled eggs if they're accompanied by salsa, and occasionally I can get her to have a "Chinese fried egg," which is just a fried egg sprinkled with soy sauce and about 1/8 tsp sugar while it's being cooked.

I'm pretty sure I could be a weekday vegetarian, if necessary, but my dozen eggs might have to be pried out of my cold, lifeless hands before I gave them up.

Which Organics Eggs are Worth It?

For those of you who missed the link I posted earlier in the week, I think this one is worth another mention. Recently the Cornucopia Institute, whose motto is "Promoting Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming," published a ranking of nationwide organic eggs. Some of their criteria you may or may not care about. For example, when you're at the store, you might be more motivated by price than whether or not the eggs came from a family farm (100 points) or an investor-owned, public corporation (70 points), but you still might want the chickens to have plenty of outdoor access and untrimmed beaks.

Three Washington farms qualified for the highest, five-egg rating, meaning "Exemplary--beyond organic." One was our very own Skagit River Ranch. As Cornucopia puts it, "Producers in this top tier manage diverse, small- to medium-scale family farms. They raise their hens in mobile housing on well-managed and ample pasture or in fixed housing with intensively managed rotated pasture. They sell eggs locally or regionally under their farm’s brand name, mostly through farmer’s markets, food cooperatives and/or independently owned natural and grocery stores and sometimes through larger chains like Whole Foods." Having visited Skagit's farm, I can vouch for the chickens running all over the place in the outdoors and sunlight, with plenty of access to pasture and their favorite all-natural food: bugs. Of the other two top-rated farms, Misty Meadows serves the Bellingham area, and Trout Lake Abbey can be found in...Trout Lake.

If, like me, you occasionally miss the Thursday market, or get there too late to get Skagit's hot-commodity eggs, you might be interested in the other organic egg ratings. Namely, the brands you can get at the store. According to the ranking, your best bets would be Wilcox Farms and Stiebrs, both of which received three-egg ratings for their commitment to organic standards and "meaningful outdoor space." Organic Valley also grabbed the three-egg mark, with some asterisks for lack of transparency in study participation and a black mark for some eggs coming from a particular industrial farm in Northern California.

The organic brands to avoid? The following brands which I've seen in local stores garnered a 1-egg rating because they are industrial operations that lack access to the outdoors or transparency in production: 

  • Eggland's Best
  • Chino Valley Ranchers
  • Horizon Organic

What the Cornucopia study does not take into account is nutritional value or taste. That ground was covered by a Mother Jones article claiming pastured eggs may contain (and I quote): 

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat 
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids 
• 3 times more vitamin E 
• 7 times more beta carotene

And one of the farms covered in their research? Our very own Skagit River Ranch! See for yourself: crack a Skagit egg in a bowl next to a storebought egg. The very best storebought egg literally pales in comparison. The yolk lacks the rich color of a farm egg, and the white runs all over the place, while the farm egg white holds together.
So if the sweet, flavorful strawberries don't get you to the Market this Thursday--if you can't be tempted by the sugar snap peas or the Veraci pizza or the wonderful cheeses--come by for the eggs. But remember to come early!