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Chickens and More Chickens
We started with just a few chickens, gifted to us when somebody moved. We converted a little doghouse, dragged over from the neighbor’s. Soon we were building a much larger chicken coop. Then we added a fenced run off to one side. And then we doubled the coop to the size of a studio apartment, and added a fenced in “front porch” area to house rabbits and baby chicks. Then we rebuilt the roof to better withstand the 4 feet of snow we sometimes get. Somewhere in there, we built enough roosting space for about a million chickens, a double-decker nesting area, and a coop-within-a-coop to house a mama hen with her babies, or an injured chicken during recovery. (Talk about getting out of control!)
We have raised many different types of chickens, mainly for eggs. I LOVE getting a basketful of colors when I go out collecting. It just makes me happy. We have also raised turkeys and chickens to feed the family. At one time I think we had nearly 100 birds on our little homestead.
Now, meat birds usually do not live long enough to produce eggs (although we had a turkey once who did – someday I’ll blog about that little adventure!). But the assorted laying hens we’ve had average about 1 egg each, almost every day, during peak production.
Right now, it’s springtime and the chickens have been let out to free range. They get to eat all the new grass and weeds they want, and if they can scratch up a few early insects and larvae, so much the better.
Allowing the chickens to roam, and hunt and peck to their hearts’ content is not just good entertainment (have you ever seen a chicken run?), but it creates MUCH better eggs. The yolks are darker yellow and they stand up better. The shells are stronger. They taste better. It also gives my budget a breather 😉
Happy chickens lay happy eggs. LOTS of them, this time of year! Right now, I think we have about a dozen chickens, all mature laying hens. If they all lay an egg a day, taking a day off every so often, that’s 10 or so eggs EVERY DAY!
They won’t keep up this pace all year of course, but spring and summer are heavy laying seasons. We have seven people at home. Five growing pre/teens, and only one who won’t eat eggs. So yes, we can put away a fair number of eggs! But we can’t use this many.
We could reduce our flock of chickens. But I prefer to have more than enough, in case we lose a few to predators, or something just goes awry and they aren’t laying well. So what do I do with all those eggs?
Before I get into sharing recipes, let’s talk about the sheer excess we usually have about midsummer. If we get an average of 10 eggs every day, that’s 70 eggs in a week. Every week. It’s time to freeze them.
Yes, you can freeze eggs. Not in-shell. The liquid would expand and crack the shell (I’ve seen it in the nest box during winter), and that’s no good. So here’s what I do:
- Crack eggs into a freezer friendly container. Be sure to leave plenty of headroom for expansion. (I freeze 12 at a time for my large family, but you can do what suits you.)
- Lightly scramble them.
- Pop on a lid, stick on a label, and put it in your freezer. That’s it.
(Some instructions call for adding a pinch of salt or sugar, depending on how you’ll use the eggs later, but I never bother with that.) I’ve had containers of a dozen eggs in my freezer for several months before I get around to using them, and they’re lovely.
How do I use them? Well, obviously hard-boiled eggs are out of the question. But I have used them in baking (about 3 tbsp = one egg), and of course scrambled is the obvious choice. For breakfast, in my Freezer Breakfast Burritos and Egg Sandwiches, mixed into fried rice… Delicious.
Speaking of Hard-Boiled Eggs
Here’s something interesting for you. The fresher the eggs are, the harder they are to peel once you hard-boil them. Cooking the egg inside the shell, either in water or in the oven, works just fine. It’s getting the shell off that’s the problem. Why?
Because – and here’s the rub – they’re too fresh. The eggs you buy at the grocery store are weeks old. Yes, even organic and cage-free ones. Egg shells are porous, so over time, some of the liquid evaporates and leaves air space inside. This is what allows the peels to come off easily once boiled.
Your brand-new, just-brought-in-from-the-nestbox egg is amazing and fabulous, but is not weeks old. It has not lost any of its liquid volume, and has very little airspace. So the egg will boil, but the shell will be hard to remove, without taking chunks of that precious egg with it.
I have tried several methods, and have not yet found a magic solution. Have you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Meanwhile, here are some ideas I’ve tried:
- Add salt to water
- Add baking soda to water
- Add vinegar to water
- Plunge boiled eggs into ice water immediately after cooking, until cooled
- Peel under cool running water
- Crack egg shell all around, let sit in water for a while, then peel
- Bake eggs in muffin tin in oven; let cool, then peel
OK, so how do I actually use up all those eggs, short of freezing them?
I do a lot of baking from scratch – banana muffins, zucchini bread, yeast rolls, homemade bread and cinnamon rolls, cookies, cakes, brownies. Some of us eat eggs for breakfast almost every day, and we eat breakfast for dinner often. Fried eggs, scrambled eggs, boiled and deviled eggs (if you want to fight with the shell). Mixed into meatloaf and fried rice. Scrambled with potatoes and sausage. Used to coat bread for french toast. Under that delicious crunchy goodness on fried chicken.
Remember, I’m feeding a crowd. A crowd of hollow-legged pre/teens. Who all have to eat breakfast before school, and pack a lunch. So another way I use up a lot of eggs is in my homemade frozen convenience meals. Almost every Sunday, I can be found in the kitchen whipping up these and other handy goodies in massive quantities:
Breakfast Burritos for the Freezer
I like to use minimally processed, uncooked tortillas, but that requires an extra step. I find that an assembly-line approach works well. In my Breakfast Burritos, I always include eggs, but the other ingredients depend on what I have on hand – veggies, sausage, bacon, ham, cheese. Great way to use up bits of leftovers from the fridge.
So I cook the tortilla, place the filling and roll it up. I lay them on a baking sheet, and slide that into the freezer. Once they’re frozen solid, I put the burritos in a large lidded plastic container and label it. When we want one, we just take it out and microwave it. I don’t wrap them individually – we eat them up way too fast for that to be necessary.
Breakfast Sandwiches for the Freezer
Similar idea here. I usually use English muffins, but have been known to use whatever needs using up 🙂 I scramble the eggs, trying to keep them intact in sandwich-sized portions (little bits of scrambled eggs are hard to keep inside the sandwich), toast the muffins and put it together with a slice of cheese. I wish my kids were more interested in vegetable-enhanced foods, but those would sit in the freezer for a long time, I’m afraid. I do package these individually, usually in ziplok bags. Again, easy to warm in the microwave when needed.
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