Easter eggs aren't just for decorating

If you're looking for a subtle yet unique spin on this year's Easter egg-dying festivities, consider using brown eggs from free-range chickens.

There's the taste factor: Free-range eggs tend to be very flavorful. But there's also the artistic angle: By starting with off-white or tan eggs, you can achieve more sophisticated pastel tones, even when using those basic, off-the-shelf egg-coloring kits.

"The reason free-range eggs have great flavor," explained Blodgett egg producer Karen Black, "is because of the varied diet the chickens are eating."

Chickens that are allowed to spend their days moving freely over pastures, enjoying a varied diet of grains, grasses and insects, seem to produce more flavorful eggs than those obtained from chickens kept in cages and fed less exotic fare.

"They get a balanced chicken diet from us," Black stressed, "but they really love the grass and the clover and other plants and insects that they find out on the pasture."

So even though Black's chickens come running whenever they see her heading their way with a bucket of grain in tow, it's all those extra vitamins and pigments obtained in their between-meal snacks that produce eggs with deep-yellow yolks and more intense flavor.

Black and her husband, Robert Plamondon, began selling their eggs at mid-Willamette Valley farmers markets in 1997. Becoming sellers of eggs wasn't exactly a part of their master plan, at least not until Plamondon was faced with a deal that was just too good to pass up, Black said.

"We learned that Oregon State University was selling off some of their older research birds. Robert went over there, and he was so excited about the prices — the leghorns were going for 25 cents a piece — that he came home with a lot of leghorns."

Turned out they were still laying ... and laying ... and laying. "They didn't stop laying," chuckled Black, "and we had way more eggs than we needed. So we started going to the farmers market out of self-defense."

Of course, if you're going to stock up on lots of extra eggs this week, that translates into plenty of eggs to contend with the week after Easter Sunday. Hopefully, the following recipes will help.

If you plan to use up the hard-cooked ones, keep in mind that plenty of those eggs will be in no condition to eat and should be promptly tossed. Only work with clean eggs that have been refrigerated except for the short time (no more than 60 minutes) they were in hiding, competition or snuggled in someone's Easter basket.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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