HIGH HOPES FOR AN EGGY FUTURE
Saturday May 21st 2011, 2:03 pm

free range eggs of all sizes

There is much excitement close to home, as me and next door are about to collaborate on our first chicken keeping venture. We have placed our order for 5 orpingtons; 2 lavenders, 2 buffs and a lavender cockerel, and will be taking delivery in a couple of weeks time. We can’t expect any eggs from them until around November time but most importantly - the names have been chosen. As I’ve never kept chickens before I’ve begun to swat up on them. I do know people who keep chickens, so suspect it isn’t too difficult and can already see which way this new interest is likely to go as even at this early stage we have started to discuss other breeds we might like and what colours of eggs they will hopefully produce.
In the meantime, I bought my first book on the subject; Hens in the Garden Eggs in the Kitchen by Charlotte Popescu. I’ve collected several other books of hers and can really recommend them. As well as chicken keeping, she writes about other subjects close to my heart, from wild fruits and apples to vegetable gardening and bee keeping. They are all small paperback books packed with useful information and recipes presented in a very simple and modest way.
In my new hen book she gives this really useful guidance about the freshness of eggs, particularly relevant to those people who know exactly when their eggs are laid. If you are buying shop bought you’ll just have to guess I’m afraid.

Your eggs need to be as fresh as possible if you want fried or poached eggs. For boiled eggs that you wish to peel, it is best to use eggs that are about a week old as the shell and skin are really difficult to peel off on fresh eggs. ….
If you are scrambling your eggs or making an omelette, eggs can be up to a week old. For baked dishes, eggs can be older than a week. If you want to separate the yolks and the whites to make meringues, eggs are best a few days old as the whites whisk up better if not too fresh.

Pickled eggs have never interested me until I came across a recipe for Pickled Huevos Haminados in another lucky find, The Mediterrannean Pantry by Aglaia Kremezi, published 1994. As soon as I read the recipe I knew I had to make it, though haven’t done so yet. I’m actually growing the red onions at the moment, which is, I suppose, beyond the call of duty. I have found the recipe online here if you fancy having a go and beating me too it. I’ll be tempted to serve a pickled egg with some asparagus spears pickled earlier.

This week I’ve been trying to make some room in the freezer before the berry season kicks off. I’m not a big fan of freezing as mine works on an ‘out of sight out of mind’ principle. I tend to forget what’s in there, all the while those ingredients are racking up additional running costs! (This year I’ll be canning fruit in jars as much as I possible.) I used a tub of blackberry puree, picked and prepared last August, and rustled up 4 pots of blackberry curd, which is a delicious way of using up eggs. A spoonful or two of fruit curd swirled through some Greek yoghurt is fabulous, or you can use it as the filling in a simple sponge cake or dollop on meringues (making use of even more eggs).
Oh yes, I’ve got eggs on the brain and this is only the beginning.

a stoneware bowl of free range eggs



PICKLING ASPARAGUS
Monday May 09th 2011, 9:18 am

jars of pickled asparagus

The asparagus season is in full swing. 14 of the 15 crowns planted in my newly prepared asparagus bed have started to appear, sending up very fine spears that then become frothy graceful ferns. They must be left alone for the time being to build up energy and form good sound crowns for the years ahead and I must be patient. I’m hoping the 15th crown is OK and wonder if I could have planted it upside down, and if I did, will it find its way right way up in time?
The other day I came across some bargain priced asparagus at the supermarket that had reached its sell by date, so was going cheap, half price in fact. Recognising a bargain when I see one, I bought up the lot so I could do some pickling. Since the Canjam last year, when other canners participating produced pickled asparagus, I’ve been wanting to experience this preserve first hand, but with this prized vegetable never exactly in abundant supply and always required for immediate scoffing, I couldn’t envisage when the opportunity to pickle some would arise. So watch what you wish for, here was my golden opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands.
I am now the proud owner of 5 x 500ml (1 pint) jars of pickled asparagus. I canned 3 to start with then had the idea to add the last of some wild garlic flowers, picked that day, so canned a couple more jars. I have no intention of sampling these pickles until the memory of the fresh English stuff is a distant memory, as this is not intended as a replacement for what is available in season right this minute. Some pickled spears, served with hard-boiled eggs, a handful of salad leaves and a wedge of homemade bread and butter will be a simple lunch to look forward too in 6 months time.

a basket of asparagus spears

Fitting the spears into the jars is a wasteful business as they do need to be trimmed especially short to fit. I made asparagus soup with the stem cut-offs, so none went to waste, but shorter dumpier spears to start with makes the task less painful. There is no way I would have wanted to do this if I’d paid top wack for my ingredients.

PICKLING ASPARAGUS

I used 2 x 200g bundles of fresh asparagus spears to fill each 500ml (1 pint) jar, but it will depend how long the stems are and how much stem you’ll need to chop off so they fit into the jars. Allow a few more spears so they can be packed tightly into the jars and cut them so they fit snuggly and sit below the level of vinegar headspace when packed upright in the jars.

For each 500ml (1 pint) jar allow:

400g (1/2 lb) asparagus spears
120ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar
120ml (1/2 cup) water
1 tsp dill seed
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp sea salt
1 small shallot, finely sliced
1/2 clove garlic, sliced
6 fresh wild garlic flowers (optional)

*Prepare the canning bath and keep your empty jars submerged in there until they are needed. Prepare lids in another pan of simmering water. Blanch the asparagus spears fleetingly in boiling water for 60 seconds, then drain them and cool immediately with cold water, so they don’t cook any further. Mix the vinegar and water in a pan and bring to a simmer.
Place the salt and spices in each jar, then pack the asparagus spears upright (or you can do them pointing down if you like!) in the jars, adding the shreds of shallot and garlic, and the wild garlic flowerheads in amongst them as you go. Pour in the vinegar/water to cover the asparagus, leaving the headroom necessary for your type of jar. De-bubble, to release any trapped air pockets surrounding the spears, using a chop stick or thin spatula. Wipe the jar rims clean and seal. Process for 10 minutes, then remove from the canner and leave until cold before testing the seals.

*Once canned like this your pickled asparagus will keep for a year or even longer. Pickling can be done successfully without hot water processing so long as the acidity of the vinegar / water used is high enough. Canning removes the guesswork!

jars of pickled asparagus on pantry shelf