A Visit With An Amish Friend's Family
If you have never eaten a fresh egg less than a day old from a free range chicken, you don't know what you are missing. My family and I had the pleasure of trying fresh laid eggs this weekend and we all agreed they are something special. How we happened upon those eggs is just as special.
For Mother's Day, I promised my wife we could replace some 14-year-old Adirondack chairs that were falling apart. We decided to go to the Lancaster, PA area to find a local Amish woodworker who makes Adirondack chairs so I called my friend Mel, an Amish framer who did a lot of work on our house renovation a couple of years ago.
Mel gave me some places to try near his house and said to be sure to come visit him and his family. I thought my wife and daughter would be as excited as I was to be invited into an Amish family's home so of course I said yes.
I'm not sure what I expected to find when we arrived at Mel's house. I think I had the movie Witness in mind and would find an old farmhouse and a family living in the past. When we arrived, we were very surprised. Their house looked no different than many houses you would find in any Philadelphia suburban town, with a trampoline and jungle gym in the back yard, a little Yorkshire Terrier yapping in the front, and a labradoodle puppy napping in the sun. The only telltale sign was the black buggy sitting in the driveway.
We were welcomed by two, then three, then five beautiful blonde headed kids with traditional, homemade clothing. The baby was in the house with Mel's wife Becky. The girls had dresses in a matching style, three in pink and two in blue, while the boys wore traditional white shirts and black pants with suspenders holding them up.
The girls all had their blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun with netting holding it in place. The girls told us they don't cut their hair so it was quite long. The boys had the bowl cuts like their dad and couldn't be cuter.
We didn't expect to stay long, just long enough to say hello and be polite. Three hours later we had to pull ourselves away because our other daughter was home and expecting us for dinner. We were having an incredible time learning about Amish culture and sharing our own stories. I think we would have stayed much longer if we didn't have to be home.
Their girls were fascinated with my daughter Maddie who was walking around with crutches because of her cerebral palsy but were completely nonjudgmental. Actually, I think they were more interested in her iPhone than anything else.
On our way to the car to leave, we stopped to admire Becky's garden that was filled with various plants including strawberries, corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions and much more. Becky started pulling stuff out of the garden that was ready to be picked -- mint for tea, parsley for the fish we were planning for dinner, strawberries -- and handing it to us. Next thing Susie, Mel's oldest, came out of the house with a couple of jars of pickled cucumbers canned last fall. When our arms were too full to hold anything else, we made our way to the car.
While three of Mel's girls were in deep conversation with Maddie by our van and we were saying our goodbyes, Mel's daughter Faith came up to us with four fresh eggs that were still warm, a couple of them light brown and two with a greenish tint. It turns out Mel has 8 free range chickens that wander around the property and come back to roost in the later afternoon.
We said our goodbyes, again, and promised we would be back when Becky's garden was in full bloom to try some of her fresh corn and tomatoes. I can't tell you what a wonderful experience this was for my family and me. Although we come from very different lifestyles and experiences, I don't think I ever felt more welcome into somebody's home. We can't wait to visit with them again.
Keeping It Simple
I knew these eggs were going to be special. I don't think my girls ever had eggs this fresh so I couldn't wait for the opportunity to cook them. I would keep it simple, sunny side up for my wife and me, scrambled for Nell and Maddie.
What you notice when you cook a really fresh egg is the color of the yolk. It is a bright orange color that pops out from the bright egg white. These eggs have so much more flavor than regular supermarket eggs. It's like comparing fresh picked strawberries to the ones you purchase at the market or fresh Jersey tomatoes in August compared to those you buy from Mexico in December.
I asked my wife Meg if my exuberance could be all in my head. She said there is a good chance this could be true but then took a bite into her fried egg and exclaimed it was not. Compared to the bland tasting eggs you get at the supermarket, fresh eggs have a much more "eggy" flavor.
How Old Are Supermarket Eggs
I now wanted to know how old supermarket eggs could be and if there is any way to tell. After a little research on the Internet, I found on the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service a page on USDA Egg Carton Labeling
It turns out the cartons on all USDA grade eggs need to tell you where and when the eggs were packed. This information is stamped onto one end of the egg carton. There is also a "code date" that provides the buyer with "the last date the eggs should be sold at retail, or used by the consumer."
The article above explains these Code Dates in more detail but "expiration dates can be no more than 30 days from the day the eggs were packed into the carton." Further more, "Use by, Use before", "Best before" indicates a period that the eggs should be consumed before overall quality diminishes. Code dated using these terms may not exceed 45 days including the day the eggs were packed into the carton. "
There is also a three-digit Pack Date posted on USDA Egg Cartons representing when the eggs were processed and placed into the carton. "Typically, eggs are packed within 1 to 7 days of being laid." If you see a pack date code that is 219, that means the eggs were packed on the 219 day of the year or August 6. This should give you a good idea when the eggs were laid.
What this means to me is I need to start checking the cartons and see just how old my eggs are. It also sounds like egg manufacturers have a long leeway between when an egg is laid and when it ends up on my table and may be the reason supermarket eggs are so bland tasting.
Think about it, the USDA says that you should consume eggs within three to five weeks after you purchase them. This means that you could be eating eggs that are 7 to 11 weeks old. Are they safe? I'm sure if handled properly by everyone involved including me, they would be, but the better question: is what are they going to taste like?
So if you can find a local resource that offers fresh eggs, give them a try and see if you can tell the difference and if they are worth the extra expense. After this weekend visit to Mel's, I know I'm going to search them out.