A Season for Eggs
by Sandra Brandt
Those who shop in natural food stores or who source their eggs from natural producers will probably be familiar with the fact that eggs are a seasonal food. Just like fruits and vegetables and other growing things, eggs are naturally plentiful in the warmer season, while production slows down dramatically in the winter months.
Why is this? Just like most forms of plant and animal life, chickens go into a sort of hibernation mode in the wintertime while the energy of the organism is directed more toward survival than outward production. Egg producers can, of course, circumvent this natural cycle by keeping laying hens in artificial light and feeding them hormonal drugs to fool their bodies into behaving as if it’s always summer time. That is why supermarkets always have a well-stocked case of eggs year round. However, one can easily imagine how hens kept in these conditions get worn out very quickly; indeed, their lifespan is only a fraction of what it would normally be, which of course is also due to the inhumane conditions they are often kept in on factory farms.
There is much folklore around eggs as a symbol of new life and fertility, especially around the time of the vernal equinox. The English name for the Christian feast, Easter, is believed to have originated from the name of the Germanic pagan goddess Oestre, or Eostre, whose feast was celebrated at spring equinox, and in whose name the egg symbolized the re-birth of the land in the springtime. Hardboiled eggs were traditionally eaten to celebrate Easter. Abstaining from eggs is a common practice from during the season of Lent, the six-week period of fasting preceding Easter.
Eggs from various creatures have formed a vital part of traditional human diets, including various birds, as well as sea creatures such as turtles and fish. Fish eggs have been considered a sacred food in various traditional cultures, and were especially highly valued as a food for child-bearing women, a time of life when excellence of nutrition is most important.
Eggs, like other “seed” foods, incorporate a whole spectrum of highly bio-available nutrients, thus qualifying as a quintessential “whole food.” Besides a good measure of high quality protein, eggs contain various vitamins and minerals, as well as good quality fats. Included in the mix are also protective substances in the form of fat-soluble antioxidants such as luteine and zeaxanthine, and also choline, which is vital to the functioning of every cell in the body, especially the brain, and which also helps to break up harmful arterial deposits.
Of course, the nutritional value of eggs is highly dependent on the source. Naturally-raised chickens derive nutrients from their diet by scrounging for food in the form of insects, worms, grasses, and herbs, and are also great energy converters of just about any kind of kitchen scraps. Sunlight is important in an optimal chicken diet, which also translates into higher quality eggs. Conventional factory-farm eggs, generally available in supermarkets, are from chickens who are raised without sunlight or grass, and therefore the taste and nutritional value of these eggs will be decreased. We are blessed to have an increasing number of small local egg producers who are willing and eager to provide access to their products through direct contact or through small health food stores at a reasonable price.
Personally, I am trying to incorporate the cyclical nature of eggs into a more seasonally conscious way of eating by adapting food preparation methods to use more of them in season, and do with less when not in season. For some people, particularly if eggs are a regular taken-for-granted breakfast food, this may be a surprising concept. For others, it may be more a case of adapting baking recipes. Eggs can also be frozen for storage to help compensate for winter shortages, according to nutritionist Jen Albritton. Simply break them into a dish, stir gently with a bit of sugar and salt (she suggests about 1/8 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. sugar for every 2 eggs) to help prevent drying out in storage, and freeze the liquid egg mixture in labelled containers or ice cube trays.
A word of caution: do avoid using powdered egg substitutes—one negative result of processing eggs in this way is that it oxidizes cholesterol, which is a truly harmful processed form of cholesterol, an otherwise life-sustaining food substance.
At this particular time of year, encompassing late spring/early summer, when naturally produced eggs are once again easily accessible, but garden produce will not come to fruition for awhile yet, eggs are an especially wonderful seasonal food gift, that can be relied on liberally to meet our nutritional needs. In consuming them, we can also orient ourselves toward the concepts of new life, breaking out of the shell, etc. or whatever the symbolism suggests to us personally.
Sometimes when I am not very hungry but need to fit a meal or a snack into my schedule, a couple of boiled eggs can be just the right choice to fill that basic nutritional need. They also transport easily for on-the-go nourishment. And what could be more economical than a simple meal based on eggs. Even higher priced naturally-raised eggs are still easily within the range of a fixed budget when the exceptional nutritional value is factored in.
The uses of eggs in cooking, baking, and meal planning are limitless and generally well recognized. For something a bit more special, here is a light, fairly easy egg-based dessert that can help us appreciate the variety of uses eggs can lend themselves to.
Orange Chiffon Pie
Combine in saucepan:
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp lemon juice (combine cornstarch and lemon juice until smooth)
¼ cup honey
3 egg yolks
1 cup orange juice
pinch or two of salt
Heat mixture until it bubbles and becomes very thick. Remove from heat.
1 Tbsp butter
½ tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp plain yogurt
Cool mixture. Beat 3 egg whites until stiff. Gently fold into first mixture until uniform. Pour into a baking dish or a baked pie shell. Bake at 400ºF for 10 minutes to set. Let cool before serving.
Sandra Brandt has had a lifelong interest in whole natural foods. She is located in Regina, where she gives cooking classes, presentations, and dietary consultations. She can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (306) 359-1732. Also see her colour display ad page 13 of the 16.1 May/June
issue of the WHOLifE Journal.