Eggs traditionally symbolize spring and rebirth. There’s a reason for that: As the days get longer, hens tend to produce more eggs. Annemarie Gero, a farmer with Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park, said that each hen can produce as much as one egg a day during peak season.
Gero cares for nearly 250 hens at the historic farm, which has been around since 1697. The seven different breeds she oversees includes Rhode Island Reds, which are the farm’s most productive egg layers, and Araucanas, which lay blue-green hued eggs.
The colorful eggs are a novelty, but Gero said the color doesn’t affect the taste of the egg at all. “What changes the taste is more what they’re eating,” she explained. “So the chickens that get first to the greens or get first to... the healthy stuff, you’ll have the most nutritious eggs from them.” Gero also notes that while the hens eat garden scraps, as well as munch on grasses and bugs, the hens are not fed strong-tasting greens, like garlic or onion grass, because that can affect the taste of the egg.
Since the hens do scavenge, though, it’s wise to test the area where they roam for lead, which can be a particular problem for backyard hens in New York City. “You don’t want the chance of that transferring to your eggs,” said Gero.
Certain breeds are tamer and more suited for backyards “because they’re not as frisky,” she said. ”One thing is to look for a less adventurous bird. For example, we have blue Andalusians on the farm, which are the first ones to jump the fence. They’re real mischievous.”
Buff Orpingtons are her favorite because they are calm and happy to just walk around.
(Photo: Annemarie Gero/Sarah Meyer)
Just as each breed has a different personality, Gero added, chickens also vary from individual to individual.
“They talk all the time,” she said. “If you go into a chicken coop, you’re hearing probably about 20 conversations going on.... I don’t know how to speak chicken that well, but some people, I think, they say they do.”
As for the eggs themselves, fresh eggs don’t need to be refrigerated because they possess a protective membrane. “Once you wash the egg and remove a type of membrane that’s around it, you do want to refrigerate it,” Gero explained. “Hopefully, the eggs you get in the store are washed.” That’s because the “some of the stuff on the eggs, you wouldn’t want to buy,” she added.
The eggs sold by the museum at the farmers market are washed. Washed eggs will stay good in the refrigerator for as long as two months.
“Oftentimes, the ones you buy in the grocery store are already a few weeks old,” Gero noted. “One test is to drop them into a glass of water and, if it floats, the egg is bad.”
Gero shared an egg recipe for one of her favorite comfort foods: her grandmother’s rakott krumpli, which is a Hungarian casserole of eggs and potatoes.
Rakott Krumpli (Hungarian Layered Potatoes & Eggs)
By Margaret Magyar Meisels
- 1kg (2.2 lb.) potatoes, boiled unpeeled
- 6 hard-boiled eggs; sliced
- 8 tablespoons butter (100g, 3 oz.)
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
Butter a casserole dish using half of the butter (approximately 4 tablespoons).
Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly to medium. Peel and slice the hard-boiled eggs.
Put a layer of sliced potatoes in the dish and sprinkle a little salt over it. Add a layer of sliced eggs, followed by a layer of sour cream. Then cover the sour cream with another layer of sliced potatoes, followed by a layer of eggs and a layer of sour cream.
Continue alternating layers of potatoes, eggs and sour cream until you run out of potatoes and eggs. Pour whatever sour cream is left over the last layer of eggs and then spread the remaining butter over the top.
Put the dish in a moderate 180°C (350°F) oven and bake until golden brown (approximately 1 hour).
Butter can definitely be substituted with margarine.
The sour cream can also be replaced by leben (Israeli buttermilk with 3% fat) and/or eshel (Israeli buttermilk, unsour, with 4% fat).
The original non-kosher Hungarian dish also has sausages. Those of you in the U.S. who have access to (and can digest) pareve smoked "meats" can try adding them.