This short piece originally appeared in the “Notable Edibles” section of Edible Green Mountains magazine in the spring of 2009.
Hen houses are full of busybody girls, feathery dames with endless to-do lists that never fully get checked off. Peck, inspect, fluff, wander, flutter, point, preen, hop, scratch, then do it all over again amidst sparks of chicken chatter, dust and hay. From this visual din comes a trove of smooth, calmly shaped gifts: eggs, pristine and seemingly out of place in their cluttered hay cradles.
The egg has been a sign of spring across cultures for millennia, symbolic of spiritual rebirth, new life and fresh beginnings. Folklore has led more than one of us to try balancing a raw egg on its end during the spring equinox. While the phenomenon can be achieved any day of the year (with a perfectly symmetrical egg and some patience), there is some merit to the special attention eggs receive on this first day of spring.
Equinox literally means “equal night,” the date when day and night are equal in length and about to shift the balance in favor of the light (March 20 this year). As the days get longer, those fussy hens sit down to lay more eggs. It’s their hormonal response to the increased daylight, and a bountiful time for folks who raise chickens. April’s full moon is aptly nicknamed the “egg moon” in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, a fitting moniker for a luminous white orb that appears as egg baskets overflow with collections of the same.
Not surprisingly, these plentiful beauties find their way to the springtime table in festive and egg-laden dishes. Brilliantly decorated or beautifully bare, hardboiled eggs become a portable snack or an iconic hors d’oeuvre, deviled with tart pickle and a signature pinch of paprika. Rich blankets of golden hollandaise warm the first shoots of tender asparagus and smother stacks of poached egg, ham and English muffin for eggs Benedict at brunch. Dense brioche, decadent custards and crisp-crowned crème brulée show off the lusciously sweet side of eggs’ versatility.
Maybe there is some method behind the muted madness of a springtime hen house. That scratching and pecking around the yard unearths grubs and seeds to nourish tangerine-colored, glistening yolks and harden their casings of white, brown, blue and everything in between. We might be hopping and fluttering, too, if we laid up to an egg a day all spring. The fluffing and preening? Well, a lady has to look good, especially when the farmer will be making frequent visits to her nest.