A few weeks later I was walking to the White Horse, which had just re-opened (prior to closing again during the pandemic), and found that at the end of the super row of late 19th Century terraced houses, Rowley Place, there was a wheelbarrow full of eggs in pre-used boxes. It is an honesty system and lots of people in cars pull up alongside to pop the required coins in the lock box and take away their fresh eggs. Since the beginning of the pandemic I had fallen out of the habit of using cash, so the first time I bought my eggs there I had to rifle through various jacket pockets and the eternal chaos at the bottom of my handbag to find the right amount of coinage (£1.30 per half dozen or £2.50 for a dozen, at time of writing). There’s a separate tub on the side for unwanted egg-boxes that are used for boxing up the new eggs. The sign says that they are mixed sizes, but they have all been of a good, usable size to date, the smallest of them on the larger size of medium and the bigger ones large.
A couple of months ago my neighbour told me that she and her other neighbour had found hen eggs buried in their gardens. Both her research and mine suggested that they were deposited by foxes. I have never found any buried eggs, but twice this spring I have found broken hen eggs in the middle of my lawn. It does beg the question why the fox might steal the egg and not the chicken. It turns out that I know remarkably little about chickens. Another scoot around the web delivered me to the American Chicken-Keeping Secrets website, which informs me that free-range chickens roost overnight in the hen-house but can lay their eggs wherever they feel comfortable at the time, so even though the hens themselves may be resting safely behind fox/coyote-proof barriers at night, the eggs may not be:
“For a long time we kept our chickens in a run due to coyotes in the area. At some point we decided to let them out to roam the property. The longer they were out, the fewer eggs we found in their nesting boxes. Each day we’d all have to go out searching for eggs. We found them in the dog house, under the children’s slide, way down at the bottom where the slide and the ground meet, inside a cabinet in the woodshop where a cabinet door had been left open . . . our chickens were creative.”
To celebrate these splendid local eggs, here are two examples of how I have used them.
First, a picture of Thursday’s Middle Eastern lamb, slow-cooked with baharat spices supplemented on this occasion with fresh red chilli, spinach, wild garlic (ramsons), tiny preserved lemons and the eggs, which are hard-boiled and have gorgeous deeply- yellow centres (and I promise that no Photoshop tweaking was employed). Hard boiled eggs are traditional in some Indian curries and essential in the fabulous traditional Doro Wat and Sega Wat (Ethiopian curry, chicken and beef respectively). The edible flowers on top of the dish, as well as some of the green leaves, are ramsons from a pot in my garden, and the puddle of sauce next to the plain white basmati rice is Greek yogurt with a good squeeze of lime together with chopped garden mint and chives. I’ve had the Churton eggs soft-boiled, poached and as a French fennel and cheese omelette, but this dish showcases my first hard-boiled ones, which flaunt the deep yellow yolks, a much richer colour than any I have ever bought in supermarkets, and they have a fabulous flavour.
The second is a mayonnaise made of a single Churton egg yolk (I saved the egg white for another dish), a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, lovage, sea salt, lime juice and mild-flavoured olive oil. Unlike the ivory-coloured Hellman’s this was a beautiful primrose yellow before I added the herbs and lime, which turned it green. I like Hellmans and always have a bottle of it in the fridge, using it splurged on sandwiches or on the side of a quick salad as a guilty kitchen essential like HP sauce and Heinz ketchup, but it has precious little relationship with either the appearance or flavour of real mayonnaise. The process of emulsifying egg with oil lightens the colour, but it is still unmistakeably yellow. How can mayonnaise possibly be ivory-white, when based on egg yolks? Nowadays, the relevant shelf in a supermarket is full of copycat bottles of white emulsion. Unilever (the producer of Hellman’s) must be grinning from ear to ear, but it somewhat reminds me of the futuristic film Demolition Man, in which our hero from a previous century, having been invited in hushed tones to dine in the restaurant Taco Bell in gratitude for a life-saving act, is informed that “Taco Bell was the only restaurant to survive the franchise wars. Now all restaurants are Taco Bell.”
The green bits in my mayo are lovage, which I grow in a big pot on the patio. Growing lovage yourself is the only way to source it, and a little goes a long way as an aromatic flavouring in sauces, as a divine leaf in salad and a distinctive contributor to soups, and chicken, pork or seafood dishes.