Spring is in full swing in central Pennsylvania with all the familiar signs. The gradual greening of the local fields is in progress, getting brighter every sunny day. ClearWater Conservancy’s annual vernal springs tour to celebrate the migration of the spotted salamander keeps us all in touch with our slithery roots. Who knew that the salamanders were so determined to place their eggs into the same pools from which they themselves sprang?
A damp spring makes it easier for them, as does the relative lack of development in the Haugh tract and adjoining Scotia Barrens. The night hike’s soundtrack is provided by the spring peepers, whose cacophonous mating call belies their tiny size. And for all those woodland creatures, as well as the migrating shad now swimming to their natal rivers on the East Coast to spawn, it is all about the eggs, the laying of them and the fertilization of them, to guarantee the species’ survival.
Eggs are as sure a sign of spring as the first snowdrops, the wild chives bristling on lawns and the lengthening daylight. If you want to do some backyard poultry raising on your own, check out Tractor Supply on Benner Pike, where you can purchase baby chickens and ducklings — just be sure you are familiar with the local ordinances that regulate livestock and can provide them with an appropriate home. Around the county, chickens are laying again, providing eggs for Easter celebrations that promise new life and Passover celebrations that view the egg as a sacrificial offering and spring symbol.
Vendor tables at our local farmers markets are piled high with eggs lately, perfect for spring menus.
Lyn Garling, from Over the Moon Farm in Rebersburg, one of the anchors at the State College Friday Indoor Farmers Market, is carrying local duck eggs, produced by her Amish neighbor Levi King, at Peaceful Acres Family Farm.
I was taken aback when Lyn first suggested that I should try the duck eggs, and I don’t know why. I know that a chicken egg from a local producer is far superior to the standard factory farm eggs available in grocery stores. Reading about the plight of those de-beaked birds packed into battery cages so tightly that they can’t even turn around is enough to make you reconsider your breakfast and stick with oatmeal. But a duck egg sounded strange to me — until I tried it. As Lyn said, “We should be more like the French and just eat things because they taste good.”
With three times as much cholesterol and twice as much fat, though proportionately less saturated fat, as a chicken egg, duck eggs may best be classified as a “special occasion” egg. Adding to that distinction is their cost, at $7 a dozen. But this is a special time of year for egg dishes of all sorts — frittatas, soufflés, quiches, stratas and custards come to mind — including the hard-boiled ones that many of us will be preparing for the holiday.
Farmer King’s eggs are from a domestic breed of duck called Khaki Campbell, and they are remarkable for the bulging bright yellow yolk and the ultra-clear albumin. The off-white shell itself is sturdy but porcelain-like in composition.
The eggs are hard to separate because the white clings to the yolk and there is so much more yolk to white. But recipe experiments with the duck eggs proved why the French prefer duck eggs for their baked goods — incredible lift and body, as well as a texture in a custard or flan that can be described as more chewy, though not at all rubbery.
If you want to experiment with a chicken egg alternate that is lower in cholesterol, try the diminutive quail egg, available at Far Corners market in its new location on West College Avenue.
These eggs come from New Jersey and cost about $4.50 for 18. They have brown and tan speckled shells and can lend a sophisticated garnish to your dandelion greens salads this spring.
Local sources for quail eggs may be available — just keep your eyes open at the farmers market and ask around.
Whatever egg route you choose to go this holiday season to celebrate the renewal of the earth and the potential of new life, you are best-suited getting your eggs from a local farmer. A sad state of current kitchen affairs is that you can now buy dyed and even colored eggs at the grocery store. That means more people are losing the knowledge of how to properly cook an egg, which can be a hunger-staving affirmation at any time of the day.