Easter Lessons

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So, facing an overabundance of eggs, and having hard boiled a dozed out of desperation and having espied a charming post on naturally dyed Easter eggs, I decided to have a go at dyeing eggs on Saturday night.  The eggs our ladies deliver are all shades of beige to brown, so I worried that they’d not take dye as well as white eggs, but the post promised good results with brown eggs, and the dyes were deep and earthy enough that it seemed it would not matter.

The technique was simple–a one to one ratio of organic matter to water, boiled 15 minutes or more, cooled, and then spiked with vinegar. The eggs soak in this mix for as long as you like, perhaps overnight, refrigerated. I tried out onion skin (russet dye), red cabbage (bluish dye) and hibiscus flowers(purplish). All looked well. I went to bed imagining the rich, solid colors I’d find the next day, the arty pictures from the original post dancing in my head.

This morning I pulled my eggs from the fridge, all excited, only to find something had gone wrong. The onion skin eggs looked all right at first, a nice rusty shade, but when I touched them the color came off, a thin layer of colored slime peeling aside to reveal a much paler egg below–an egg perhaps still of its natural color. Same for the cabbage. The hibiscus was a total nightmare–for some reason its slime was thick and bubbly and black and utterly disgusting. I mean, like Black Plague-level disgusting. Easter buboes! Zombie eggs!

Here’s my theory: chickens coat their eggs with a protective coating before the eggs leave the “factory.” Just like auto manufacturers! This protective coating is called the bloom. The bloom is washed off in industrial egg production facilities because the eggs have to be washed and sometimes bleached to get the filth off them before they go to market. So bloom is never an issue when dyeing store-bought eggs. I’ve never tried dyeing our own eggs before, and I believe the bloom was interfering with the dye’s adhesion. If I try this again, I will give the eggs a thorough washing first.

What do you think of this theory? Any similar experiences?

Anyway, all was not lost. When I washed all the slime off the eggs, I found that some color did get through, and it came through it truly random and marvelous ways. My eggs don’t look so much like Easter eggs, but more like rocks, or dinosaur eggs. I didn’t get what I was expecting at all, but instead I got something kind of wonderful. That’s DIY in a nutshell for you.

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Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook Giveaway

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You probably know Terry Golson from her addictive website hencam.com. We were lucky to meet Terry when she was on a book tour here in Los Angeles a few years ago. She’s got a new cookbook out, The Farmstead Egg Guide & CookbookThe book begins with a purchasing guide to eggs followed by a brief introduction to what’s involved in keeping chickens. Recipes–everything from omelettes to deserts–make up the majority of the book.

Terry is on a blog tour, and has dropped by Root Simple to share a recipe and give away a copy of The Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook. To win the book, all you have to do is leave a comment an this post. Tells us something about your own chickens, or tells us whether you’d ever consider keeping chickens. We’ll draw a winner at random.

Here’s one of the recipes from the book:

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Zucchini and Mint Frittata
Mint is not just for iced tea and garnishes on plates! Used in a frittata, it adds just the right savory and herbal note to the vegetables. A frittata can be finished in the oven, or it can be flipped over in the pan and finished on the stove. This recipe gives directions for the stovetop version, but you can also finish it in a hot oven as in the previous frittata recipes.

Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup sliced onion
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 pound zucchini, sliced
8 large eggs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet. Sauté the onion and bell pepper until soft and golden. Take your time on this step to fully develop the sweet flavors of these vegetables. Stir in the zucchini and continue to cook over low heat until the edges begin to brown. Set aside in a bowl.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, 3 tablespoons of the Parmesan, the mint, salt, and pepper.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the skillet. Pour in the eggs and then distribute the vegetables on top. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, until the eggs are set but not yet firm on top. Several times while the eggs are cooking, take a flexible spatula and run it along the edge and under the frittata to make sure the eggs are not sticking to the pan.

4. Take the skillet off the heat. Put a dinner plate over it and flip the frittata onto the plate. Then slip the frittata back into the pan, now with the bottom side up. Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan.

Cook for a few minutes more, until the eggs are fully cooked.

Picture Sunday: Chicken Coop Art Cars

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Artist Benedetto Bufalino re-purposed a vintage police car for his piece, “la voiture de police poulailler.”

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Back in 1999 Atelier van Lieshout reused an Alfa Romeo for an installation called “Alfa Alfa.”

I should note that the art school damaged Mrs. Homegrown gets queasy when livestock end up in art projects. I’ll just ask if these two examples mean we’re witnessing an entire new genre of chicken art?

Help us With a Fodder System for our Hens

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A big commercial fodder system. We need something much smaller!

I feel somewhat guilty about having our five hens in a confined coop/run. Ideally they’d be grazing on green pasture all day. But our abundant urban predators, lack of space and dry climate make the vision of hens clucking on verdant fields a challenge.

I’m thinking of building a DIY fodder system but I’m a bit confused by the instructions I’ve seen floating about the interwebs. Which is where you come in. Have you built a fodder system? Do you know any good instructions? How big should it be for five hens? Or do you know of a reasonable off-the-shelf option? In our climate I think I can keep it outside.

Leave some ideas, notions and links in the comments:

Alektyomancy: Divination by Rooster

We’ve blogged before about the Roman practice of using chickens to tell fortunes. It turns out the Greeks had their own chicken oracle method:

The Pythagoreans inquired about the posthumous fate of their recently dead by using an uncommon method of divination called alektyomancy. On a table were traced squares containing the letters of the alphabet, and in each square seeds were placed. After proper incantations, a white rooster was released, and the letters were read in the order in which the rooster pecked the seeds. The interpretation of the oracle is unknown.(1)

Thankfully you don’t need to own a chicken to practice alektyomancy. There’s an online version.

1) From I.P. Couliano’s book Out of this World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein. Couliano was, incidentally, a gifted scholar whose life was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet. His book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance completely changed my view of Western history.

Hens in the Orchard for Pest Control

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Photo: hencam.com

Author Terry Golson, who blogs at HenCam.com, sent along a great pest control tip in response to our thrip post–chickens, of course!

Chickens and orchards go together like gin and tonic. The hens take care of pests, clean up rotten fruit, add nitrogen to the soil and the canopy of the orchard protects the hens from hawks and heat. Plus you get eggs and meat. Permaculture in action.

The 1920s era photo you see above comes from one of Terry’s posts, Chickens in Orchards.

Looking for Chicken Coop Plans

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Our chicken run–designed by John Zapf.

I got a note from Tricia Cornell, who is putting together a chicken coop plan book. There is a real need for this, so if you have a coop, consider sharing your design:

Hi!

I’m a chicken owner in Minneapolis. I was wondering if you could help me spread the word. I’m looking for smart, good-looking chicken coops to feature in an upcoming book.

If you’re proud of your coop, send pictures to [email protected]. Please indicate whether you would be able to provide building plans. (I have a budget to compensate builders for their plans.) I do *not* need plans to go with all the pictures, so send your pics even without them.

Then I’ll be in touch if your coop meets our needs. Please feel free to share this message with any chicken-owners you know.

A little bit about me: I’m a writer and chicken owner living in Minnesota. I’m the author of Eat More Vegetables: A Guide to Making the Most of Your Seasonal Produce, The Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook, and the Moon guides to Minnesota and the Twin Cities. This is my first chicken-related book.

Thanks!
Tricia Cornell