In my newsletter this week, I told of the joy of having a pullet egg, it was really well received but resulted in lots of questions. Even though I have had chickens around me pretty much all my life there were lots of questions I couldn’t answer, so decided to do a little research. The following is the result and hopefully it answers everyone’s questions.
Those of you, who shop regularly at the Farmers’ market, will know that one of the benefits is occasionally finding unusual ingredients. One of these is the pullet egg, which you will find this week on Tynycaia Eggs’ stall. They have just had a new flock of hens in, from 16 weeks old, young pullet hens start to lay eggs but they’re much smaller for the first month. There is no market for these little eggs, as the supermarkets will not take them and as many as 1.5 million small eggs laid by young birds are being wasted each year. Fresh from tackling wonky vegetables, Jamie Oliver is now sinking his teeth into the scandal of millions of small eggs discarded every year because of our fussy eating habits. People don’t want these eggs because they’re small but actually pullets’ eggs have a really big yolk and less white, and are brilliant at holding together when cooked. The white is less rubbery, and the yolk far creamier, in my opinion no subsequent eggs will ever taste as good. Everybody believes large eggs are what you need because a recipe says so, but you can use any eggs; all you have to do is weigh your eggs as you go. /crack the eggs before you weigh them and allow 2oz for each egg in the recipe. I cook up to 40 cakes a week, so trust me I know about eggs and baking!
Another treat of a pullet egg is the increased probability of finding double yokers. Double or triple yolk eggs are usually found in young pullets around 20 to 28 weeks old. The probability of finding a multi-yolk egg is estimated at 1 in 100 for young pullets. As the hen matures, she will normally only lay single yolk eggs. Double yolk eggs are in fact a fault that occurs when two or more yolks are released inside the ovary at the same time, causing them to be wrapped in albumen (white) and then an outer shell. Poultry genetics says there should only be one yolk per egg. There would be insufficient space for two chicks to develop inside a shell and the breed would effectively die out.
It takes a chicken upto 24 hours to produce and egg, and she will ovulate again 30 minutes after laying. It takes different times for the egg to pass through the different areas of the oviduct (egg tube), the addition of the shell taking the longest time (up to 20 hours) However hybrid hens have been selected for a slightly shorter time to produce an egg, hence they lay on consecutive days for longer.
You've probably noticed the different colour yolks from gorgeous orange to pale yellow. Does that orange yolk mean it was a free-range egg or that there's something special about it? Does it make it more nutritious than regular eggs? The egg yolk colour is really just an indicator of the hen's diet! If they eat more yellow-orange carotenoids, or natural pigments, it affects and changes the yolk's colour. Hens that are able to graze and eat lots of vegetation naturally consume greater amounts of carotenoids, thus having darker yolks. As for the nutritional value of the yolks, darker, more colourful yolks have the same amount of protein and fat than lighter yolks. Some studies have shown that eggs from pasture-raised hens can have more omega-3s and vitamins but less cholesterol due to healthier, more natural feed.
As the hens age, you may find that they lay more soft shelled eggs, and also the albumen does not hold its shape as well when cracked into the pan. The shell is porous and so it wise not to wash eggs, however for true free range poultry it is not always possible to keep their feet and nestboxes clean during the wet winter months. So if you must wash the eggs, it is important that water warmer than the eggs is used so that the shell membrane expands and blocks the pores. If water colder than the eggs is used, the shell membrane will shrink and draw in any bacteria on the shell.
The humble egg has impressive health credentials. Both the white and yolk of an egg are rich in nutrients - proteins, vitamins and minerals with the yolk also containing cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. Eggs are an important and versatile ingredient for cooking, as their particular chemical make up is literally the glue of many important baking reactions. Eggs are regarded a 'complete' source of protein as they contain all eight essential amino acids; the ones we cannot synthesise in our bodies and must obtain from our diet.
Enjoy your eggs, and make the most of Tynycaia’s lovely pullet eggs while they are still around.