In this month’s edition of The English Garden magazine I have been writing about how easy it is to make delicious recipes with your own eggs. Keeping egg-laying chickens is becoming increasingly popular in both town and country. The quiet cluckings, louder crowings and clutches of lovely fresh eggs bring a certain amount of pleasure and routine satisfaction. While the rewards of owning chickens are great, keeping any animal requires total commitment and proper equipment. Before you rush out to buy chickens, take a moment to consider what it involves. You need to provide appropriately sized lodgings for your hens as well as facilities for feeding, drinking and egg laying. You also need enough space for scratching. Security from predators, largely foxes, is also something that should be taken into account.
Then there is the question of which breed of hen and how many? This really depends on how much space you have in your garden and whether you’re after good-looking birds, attractive eggs or simply the most plentiful supply: you may be able to combine all three. There are many popular, friendly varieties, including Marans, with delicious, deep chocolate-brown coloured eggs; Cotswold Legbars, which are prolific layers (more than 200 eggs in their first year) and famed for their beautiful large-yolked eggs with pastel-blue shells; and Silkies, which have floppy, fur-like plumage and lay small tasty eggs.
Don’t choose hens on looks alone. It is a good idea to buy your hens locally, perhaps selecting a breed local to your area, and take advice on care requirements from the breeder or supplier. Whatever the breed, if it is eggs that you are after, then you want young hens at point of lay, meaning they are about 16-20 weeks old and ready to start laying. You don’t need a cockerel to produce eggs, although they are pretty good at protecting your clutch. Hens naturally lay eggs from spring until autumn, some say waxing and waning with the cycle of the moon, with a more limited winter production.
Omlet, an online company that specialises in everything to do with keeping chickens, stocks funky hen houses in a variety of colours. It also has details of chicken-keeping courses around the country, which is a good idea if you are a novice. You could also buy ex-battery hens – a nice idea, but be aware that their best laying days will be over.
Feed chickens with a mix of proprietary chicken feed as well as recycling any household leftovers: vegetables, pasta, bread, polenta and salad. They also need grit, to help with digestion, and a source of calcium, such as ground sea shells, in order to make strong egg shells.
During the day, your hens will happily roam the garden. They may dig and eat a few things you prefer that they didn’t, so fence off any areas that you wish to protect. Generally, they’re pretty garden friendly, spending much time scratching in the dirt, perhaps uncovering the odd worm. They give back to the garden, too- what better manure than fresh chicken droppings? Unfortunately, this is usually deposited from roosting perches, mostly at night, so you will need to accumulate it during your regular clean of the chicken house.
For all your efforts, your friendly garden residents will reward you with freshly laid eggs, one of the most versatile kitchen ingredients.
Pasta with sage, crème fraîche, Parmesan and lemon by Skye Gyngell
For the pasta
1 whole egg
250g Type ‘00’ flour
6 egg yolks (might need more depending on consistency)
Large pinch of salt
For the sauce
Knob of butter for frying
12 fresh sage leaves
4 tbsp crème fraîche
Zest of 3 lemons
Juice of 2 lemons
2 handfuls grated Parmesan
Sea salt and black pepper
Extra lemon zest and Parmesan for sprinkling
You will need a pasta machine for this recipe.
Put whole egg, flour and salt
in food mixer on slow and add egg yolks, one by one, until dough comes together.
Remove and knead dough for five minutes.
Roll out through pasta machine, starting on largest setting. Feed and refold through machine, reducing settings each time, until pasta sheets are silky smooth and the required thickness.
Attach pasta cutter and feed the dough through to get required cut such as linguine or tagliatelle.
Dust with polentato prevent sticking and cut into 30cm lengths.
To cook the pasta, drop into boiling water for about one minute, depending on thickness.
To make the sauce, put the knob of butter in a pan, heat
and add the sage leaves.
While the pasta is cooking, add the crème fraîche, lemon zest and juice, and Parmesan to the sage and butter sauce . Season with salt and pepper.
Drain pasta, add it to the sauce and mix gently. To serve, sprinkle on the extra Parmesan and lemon zest.
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