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July 7, 2011

Fresh Eggs, Anyone?

by Anne Paddock

While driving through the back roads of the Adirondack State Park, there was a sign advertising farm fresh eggs.  Real farm fresh eggs; not the smooth clean eggs carefully packed in cartons and perfectly lined up in the refrigerated section of most American grocery stores.  

The sign was enough to catch my eye and after a double take, I cracked up laughing.  If the eggs are as good as the farmer’s sense of humor, I was in for a treat. Whenever I see a sign advertising fresh eggs, I hit the brakes because fresh eggs taste so much better than the commercial brands sold in supermarkets.  Of course the quality of the egg matters and is greatly determined by the farmer and how he/she takes care of the flock. So, I size up the eggs, ask if they have been washed (and hope they haven’t), look at the hens, if close by and survey the surroundings. Satisfied, I buy the fresh eggs and bring them home for a treat.

The first time I went shopping for eggs in Spain, I couldn’t find them in the grocery store.  I searched all the refrigerator compartments and finally in frustration asked “Donde estan los huevos?” – “Where are the eggs?” and I was guided to a normal grocery aisle. Staring in disbelief at dozens and dozens of egg cartons stacked on shelves, I remember being alarmed because the eggs were not refrigerated.  I picked up a carton, looked at the eggs, noticed a few feathers and some dirt sticking to the eggs and quickly put the carton back on the shelf convinced the eggs were unsanitary.  I had never seen eggs sold this way and assumed it was due to ignorance – the Spanish didn’t know better – but the truth turned out to be quite different.

I went to the customer service desk and asked “Porque no son los huevos en el refridgerador?” – “why aren’t the eggs stored in the refrigerator?”  The clerk looked at me as if I were from Mars and I didn’t know if it was because of my accent,  mutilation of the Spanish language or if I just asked the stupidest question in the world.  Probably, all of the above.

Spaniards (and most Europeans) buy and store their eggs at room temperature because the eggs have not been commercially cleaned – a process that cleans the eggs of dirt and feathers but also takes a protective coating called bloom off the eggshell. The bloom protects the egg from disease and deteriorationand once removed, the egg needs to be refrigerated if not used.  Essentially, the refrigeration takes the place of the bloom.  So although a good wash makes the eggs look more attractive, it also removes the film that protects the egg and ultimately the consumer of the egg.

canstockphoto4241177-1Spain wasn’t the only country selling unwashed eggs at room temperature – so was France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Hungary, Italy, England, Jordan, and Israel.  I wondered if all these countries knew something the Americans didn’t and when I asked, I was always told that fresh eggs do indeed taste better than commercially cleaned and refrigerated eggs just like fresh fruit and vegetables almost always taste better than the fruits and vegetables that have been picked the week before.

Whenever I think about a farm egg, I remember a scene from the movie “The English Patient.” A group is gathered in the garden and an egg is dropped by mistake on to the ground, where it cracks – the yolk and white flowing onto the dirt.  Nurse Hana bends down and gently scoops the egg up in her hands and carries the treasured mess to the kitchen where she cooks it.  The first time I saw that scene, I felt the disappointment the characters must have felt when the egg dropped but then felt shock that the egg was scooped up from the dirt and carried inside to be cooked. Weren’t they afraid of getting sick?  No, they were more concerned with nourishment and enjoying an egg that they have been long denied by the war. Fresh eggs, anyone?

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