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Lobster eggs

July 13, 2010

We fed the hens lobster bodies – loads of them. One afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, we gave the happy layers 18 cooked lobsters for a snack, and I’ve been hearing about it ever since. I’m not sure if it was the roe from inside the female lobsters, or maybe even the  shells that the chickens pecked away at for days after the feast, but something made the yolks in the hens’ eggs bright orangey-red, like a sunset over Cape Cod Bay. After the eggs were cooked, the color deepened to an even redder tone. Not all the yolks were the same – some were lighter orange, some even ‘normal’ yellow, but most of the eggs were affected by this feed.

Not all the responses were the same, either. An adventurous and enthusiastic aficionado of all things farmed, foraged and fished for asked, “Are you feeding them lobsters – maybe crabs?” Learning it was lobsters simply thrilled her. On the other hand, I fielded an early-morning call from another friend who wondered about the yolks. While she seemed mildly appeased to know it was, in fact, lobsters making the eggs look different, I didn’t detect a happy dance over the phone. When she called looking for a few eggs today I had to assure her that the eggs were no longer orange. She went on to describe the experience of cooking bright-colored eggs, calling them “unappetizing” and “disgusting” and telling me she had to close her eyes when eating them. She said she had to throw the very orange eggs away. I was somewhat surprised, as this friend is an avowed locavore who even writes for a local publication about her locavore pursuits. I tenderly offered that this is the ultimate local food – fresh farm eggs fed lobster, on Cape Cod? How can you beat that for local food? She was not convinced or amused.

The experience made me chuckle, at least. If sourcing and eating food gathered and produced locally means settling for nothing less than a fresher, more nutritious and more expensive replica of the foods normally offered at American supermarkets is anyone’s idea of locavorism or a great farm to fork experience, I suspect they’re missing the boat. Variety being the spice of life, after all, foods from farmers, or from the backyard or woods or clam flats or marshes, offer the opportunity to expand and surprise the palate. Then again, not everyone who veers away from bland, predictable factory food does so for the same reasons. Some aren’t in it for the variety, but might want to simply support their local farmers without sacrificing what they are used to.

I’ll never forget talking eggs with a friend from Syria. He was eager to get his hands on some free-range, hours-fresh eggs, but his excitement dissipated when he cracked them in the pan. He sort of furrowed his brow and looked at the slowly sizzling eggs. It seemed the yolks from our hens were just like those from the eggs he bought at the stores on Cape Cod – yellow. “Where I am from, the chickens wander in the meadows and eat this plant – I don’t know what it is called in English – but it makes the yolk so, so orange, like, bright orange.Those are the best eggs.” He had hoped for a different egg, something more like what he knew from the Fertile Crescent. We could not deliver, but he made up a giant pan of eggs with mint and onion and crushed red pepper swimming in olive oil and we set the cast iron skillet on a trivet in the middle of the table. We ate the eggs with torn pieces of impossibly thin pita bread – all to the weird soundtrack of Milhelm Barakat on the stereo crying, “Keef?!” (“How?!”) over and over.

I guess what you see really does depend on where you stand. While there is a culture around that favors mildly flavored foods like white bread, white meat chicken, white milk and cooked-to-their-death vegetables, I seem to be standing somewhere out in the Cape Cod woods, surrounded by fiery wild onions, weird earthy mushrooms, gamey meat, holey second-hand greens already enjoyed by insects, and fish that stands up on the plate and demands you remember where it came from. And lobster-red egg yolks.

The novelty of special eggs worn thin, I am happy to report that the eggs are back to boring. I was surprised that it took two weeks to get those 18 lobsters out of the hens’ systems, which makes me think the color may have been coming not from roe, but from shell. And while I don’t want to upset anyone, I can’t promise consistency. I have 20 chickens, not 2,000, and they are free to enjoy a great variety of forages and hand-outs. When we have extra eggs, which is almost always, we share them with our community, and, in turn, they share in our land and our lifestyle with every yellow, orange or red forkful.

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