Week 31, 2014
Consider the egg. All magic, it is. Forged from grass, worms, insects and grain in the mysterious depths of the hen, it appears like a gem in the nest box each day, cased in a flawless shell that is at once fragile and strong. You have to put a hen-warm egg against your lips to fully appreciate its particular texture. And inside that perfect packaging lurks its slightly creepy embryonic truth. It is an animal nut, not life but the rich seed of life. It holds the instructions for feather and nail, beak and brain, scratch and cluck, lacking only a little more magic to make it so – the heat of maternal love.
In the kitchen, the egg is a nearly instant and entirely scalable protein that can serve one person or a pack of famished farmers. This time of year, I love eggs most at lunch or dinner, soft boiled on toast with a green salad, or poached on top of a mess of sautéed rainbow chard, or hard boiled in a curry. Then there is mayonnaise, which is the base of our family’s favorite buttermilk ranch dressing. If you don’t yet make your own mayonnaise, or if you’ve done it by hand in the past with a whisk, you might be surprised at how easy it is with an immersion blender.
Immersion Blender Mayonnaise
Put an egg yolk in the bottom of a pint jar, being careful not to break it. Add a hefty pinch of salt, a tablespoon of cider vinegar, and about ¾ of a cup of oil for a small egg yolk, a cup for a large egg yolk. (My local favorite is Reber Rock’s sunflower oil, but you can use any fairly neutral vegetable oil.) Put the immersion blender over the egg at the bottom of the jar and hit it for about fifteen seconds without lifting or moving the blender. When you see the mayonnaise forming in the bottom of the jar you can slowly lift the blender to incorporate the rest of the oil. You can also blend in garlic or herbs or mustard or whatever else you like in mayonnaise. Adjust salt and seasonings, and that’s all there is to it.
That’s what I’m calling this kid-friendly version of Ranch, since, thanks to the farmers at Reber Rock, all the ingredients except the salt, pepper and vinegar come from the neighborhood.
Using the same pint jar with your freshly made mayonnaise in it, add buttermilk to roughly equal the volume of mayonnaise, plus a tablespoon or two of sour cream (more for thicker dressing or dip, less for a thinner version), a splash of maple syrup, a small clove of garlic, and a very generous handful of whatever fresh herbs you have in the kitchen. Basil is good, and so is cilantro, or a mix of several. Chives are always a good addition. Buzz it all together with the immersion blender and then adjust salt, pepper, and acid by adding a little more vinegar or a squeeze of lemon or lime if you have it. It keeps for a week or so in the fridge. You can use it on green salads, as a dip for crudités, or any other way you’d use Ranch dressing.
Peeling hard boiled eggs used to be one of the small frustrations of my life. As our members know, fresh eggs are impossible to peel. The shell sticks to the egg and comes off, if at all, in microscopic chips that leave you with a bad temper and a mangled egg. I used to try to sequester a dozen or two in the back of the fridge to let them age for a couple of weeks, but they would inevitable get mixed up with the freshies, resulting in more frustration. All that is over now, and it can be for you too. The secret to easy-to-peel farm fresh eggs is to steam them, not boil them. Add refrigerator-cold eggs to a pot containing half an inch of rapidly boiling water. Cover the pot, and let them steam. For soft boiled eggs, steam them for 6 ½ minutes, then run cold water over them for 30 seconds. For hard boiled, steam them for 12 minutes, then cool them in cold water. Roll the hard boiled eggs over a hard surface to crack the shell all over, then peel with a spoon. This is all to say that the pullets are not pullets anymore, but hens. They have tripled their daily feed consumption and are laying like mad.
We are deep in summer bounty in the vegetable world, too. We are living on ripe tomatoes, lots of cucumbers, herbs, green beans, lettuce and zucchini, plus the sweetest sweet onions ever. The new red potatoes are just around the corner. Corn is still a week away, but this rain should hustle it along. Deer have been taking more than their fair share of the fall beets and next year’s strawberries, but otherwise, we don’t have much to complain about. We are still struggling with fly strike in the newborn beef calves. Matt, Shona, Corey, Isabel and Mike have spent a lot of hours with calves and maggots again this week. Thanks, gang! I wish there were a little more space between that last sentence and this next one, but so it goes. Our next picnic will be on August 15th, catered by Griddles. We will extend hours a little later this time, and serve until 7:30. It is open to the public, $6/plate for members, $12/plate for guests. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this summery 31st week of 2014. -Kristin & Mark Kimball