TAMPA — Eight-year-old Woody Machado has the answer to an ages-old question. He says chickens came first and then came the eggs!
It only takes a few minutes of watching Woody and his brother Dustin, 5, their arms full of red, black and tan hens, to see that they hold deep regard for the small flock they tend, gathering eggs and selling them to neighbors. In fact, the eggs are so popular, the boys keep a waiting list of neighbors wanting to purchase the fresh eggs from their chickens that roam free around the Machado home off W Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa.
Woody tucks Chickadee, the oldest hen, under his arm and strokes her lovingly. A sweep of nostalgia takes me back to my childhood in the 1950s on my grandma's farm in Macon County, N.C., where I carried around a fluffy red hen named Crossbill. She'd hatched with a deformed beak — thus the name — making it tough for her to pick up bugs and insects. Crossbill got bowls of powdered "mash" to help her produce large brown eggs. I enjoyed her companionship, convinced that her red feathers were close enough in color to my red hair to make us "kin." At 4 years old, my main focus was enjoying the farm animals, with good food coming close behind.
Then as now, favorite tastes often included eggs. Easter, which is Sunday, is certainly the biggest egg holiday of the year, with pastel-colored eggs tucked in hiding places for the morning hunt and certainly more eggs featured in Easter brunch offerings. Egg salad is often the result of the multitude of dyed eggs, though most health experts suggest they shouldn't do double duty anymore.
At Grandma's, the chickens roamed freely and frequently hid their nests. A good chore for an active preschooler was hunting the nests, carefully loading the eggs into a basket and carrying them to the kitchen. I learned early that the chore had two drawbacks. Not all hens were happy with a child's hands digging underneath them for eggs; thus a sound pecking was often endured. I also learned to check thoroughly nests not occupied by hens. Black snakes also liked eggs, would sometimes raid a nest and, stuffed, stay right there. Those two things aside, the chore was pleasant and came with thoughts of wonderful egg-rich foods sure to follow.
I grew up knowing that eggs weren't solely for breakfast. They'd often suffice when a "hurry up" meal was needed. I held on to that thought and, during my teaching years, wonderful cheesy, rich egg cakes from a recipe in a 1970s edition of my hometown paper, the Franklin (N.C.) Press, made a quick and tasty dinner.
During my years at Berea College in Kentucky, if the single main entree served in the college cafeteria wasn't preferred, there was the alternate choice of cereal, cheese or boiled eggs. Many of us became experts at making egg salad that we'd pile on slices of thick bread from the college bakery and then go back to dorms or off to the library feeling sufficiently fed.
As a child, my favorite dessert was egg custard bread pudding, and excitement prevailed when I saw my mother crumbling slightly stale biscuits into a big oval pan on the stove, bubbling with a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. After the crumbled bread was stirred in and butter dotted on top, the pan was popped in the oven.
Long after I'd graduated from college and had a family of my own, I still recalled the favorite treat. I'd claimed the oval pan from my childhood home and, after years of searching, found a recipe that turned out, after several tweakings, to be even better than what I recalled.
For several years, eggs got a bad rap with reports of them causing increased cholesterol levels. Like most, I heeded the concerns. News finally came that further research revealed that eggs actually offer great health benefits. Eggs are protein rich and exceptional in supplying choline, a nutrient in the B vitamin family that's important for brain function. Eggs are also supportive of a healthy cardiovascular system and have great strengths in promoting healthy eyes, all while being delicious in a variety of ways.
Eggs go well at any meal and can range from simple wraps and omelets to fancier touches with quiches and frittatas.
When the Machado boys offered me a dozen of their finest eggs, I eagerly grabbed my wallet to pay them. They're young with their egg business, and while I was eager to encourage their moneymaking venture, I knew I'd reap the better end of things with those eggs back in my kitchen. My biggest problem was deciding what to make first, but the egg custard pudding is right at the top of the list.
Gail Diederich can be reached at [email protected]