As a pastry chef, I spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating eggs—how they work in recipes, how delicious they are, and how I can get my mitts on the most delicious ones possible. Prior to specializing in pastry, I never really gave eggs too much thought, but when recipes changed for me from being guidelines to strict formulas, I began to develop a nearly religious fanaticism with them. Custards get their creamy and yielding texture from eggs. Eggs give soufflés and meringues their legendary fluff. Egg yolks are at the heart of rich and silky aïoli. But what is the difference between an ordinary egg and one that makes a chef’s heart skip a beat (besides the obvious price difference)?
If you want to feel a life-altering-heart-palpitation-inducing egg epiphany, get yourself to the Saturday morning farmer’s market and pay a visit to Alexis Koefed, co-proprietor and chicken guru extraordinaire of Soul Food Farm (her partner in crime is her husband Eric), and buy a dozen farm eggs. Their appearance alone might stop your heart. Every dozen of their eggs is a rainbow of hues: creams, light browns, and a dream-like sea foam green/blue. Alexis and Eric raise more than seven breeds of chickens, 1100 hens in total, on their beautiful farm in Vacaville just a short drive away from Lake Solano. If you think your life is good, you should see the life of a chicken at Soul Food Farm. Alexis and Eric firmly believe that, “You are what you eat…and what you eat eats,” a mantra that dictates the loving way in which they care for their “girls.” The hens live outdoors, bathed in sunlight, eating grasses and insects, taking dust baths, and laying precious, perfect (and certified organic, of course) eggs.
I was helping a friend teach a pasta making class the first time I visited Soul Food Farm. I went into the herb garden to pick some tarragon, mint, and marjoram that were growing in large aluminum wash tubs. As I leaned into a planter to snip some herbs, a perturbed hen came squawking and leaping out of its hiding place in the bush, revealing to me a lovely peach colored egg. These eggs are a labor of love for the farmers, nature, and the chickens. Each egg is collected like a treasure, usually by a member of the Koefed clan, some from laying boxes, and many are gathered Easter-egg-hunt-style in the tall grass and other hidden caches of their property. Each egg was formed by a chicken consuming only the most natural and nutritious aliments, yielding an egg with a glowing golden-orange yolk, rich with Omega-3 fatty acids. Crack one of these eggs open on a flat surface, and it will form a dome, the yolk nearly retaining its spherical shape. Pasta fresca noodles take on an almost saffron tint when made with Soul Food eggs. They make the most perfect, firm yet yielding custards. I love them over easy with chunky sea salt on toast. These eggs are delicious—the most delicious, and worth every last penny and more.
Every breed of hen produces a unique color of egg, and it’s the Araucana breed that lays the light greenish-blue ones, my favorite. The Araucana hens are as unusual-looking as their eggs—white, adorable, awkward, and chubby with no tail (due to a missing last vertebra), and they have these feather tufts on either side of their cheeks that look like they belong on the face of a civil war hero. The Araucana’s namesake is the Araucanía Indian people of Chile who were supposedly the first to breed the Collonca (no tail, blue eggs, clean shaven face) with the Quetro (yes tail, brown eggs, biker chops). An article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2007 raised the question of whether or not this was their true providence, and the debate extends to the origins of chickens in the Americas entirely. Anthropologists asserted that these chickens pre-dated Columbus in the Americas, and therefore have their origins in Southeast Asia via the Polynesian islands. However, more recent research published in 2010 used DNA and carbon dating to determine that chickens in South America were actually introduced in the 1500’s by Spanish and Portuguese settlers.
So the next time you eat an egg, its rich flavor and nutrients nourishing your body and soul, think about these things—the long historical journey of hens and breeders to the love of farmers like the Koefeds, and you’ll know why I feel the way I do about eggs.
Davis Farmers’ Market – Saturdays, 8am-1pm on 4th and C Street
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