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@example.com.
Cheese Rich Egg Cakes
4 large eggs
½ cup all purpose flour (see note)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoon chopped onion
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
2-4 tablespoon butter
Slightly beat eggs. Add flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Beat well. Stir in onion and shredded cheese. Melt butter in skillet on medium high heat. Spoon mixture into skillet and brown on both sides, turning once. Add additional butter if needed. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 medium-size cakes or two servings.
Note: May use self-rising flour, omitting the baking powder and salt.
Source: Recipe in the Franklin (N.C.) Press, early 1970s.
Egg Custard Bread Pudding
6 large eggs
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 ½ cups 2-percent milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups stale biscuits (3 Pillsbury Grands Whole Wheat biscuits work well, or the Buttermilk Biscuit, recipe right), torn or cut into small pieces
½ cup raisins tossed with
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
Beat eggs, sugar and salt until mixture is lemon colored. Add milk and vanilla. Place bread and raisins in a well greased dish about 13- by 9- by 2-inch or equivalent. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Pour milk mixture over the bread, dot with butter and bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes, until set with little to no jiggle.
Makes about 12 servings; keeps well and is excellent either warm or when chilled. Serves 6-8.
Adapted from For Love of Cooking by Lena Sturges.
Make sure to save some for Egg Custard Bread Pudding.
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
⅓ cup softened unsalted butter
2 tablespoons solid shortening
1 cup buttermilk
Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add butter and cut in thoroughly. Add shortening and continue to cut in. Stir in buttermilk just until moist. Turn out on floured board, pat down and gently roll to about ¾ inch thick. Cut with 2-inch biscuit cutter and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes. If desired, brush tops with melted butter. Makes 6 biscuits.
Hints for great biscuits: Handle dough as little as possible; cut thick and when placing on baking sheet "huddle" the biscuits with sides touching. This will allow them to rise up instead of spread out; there will be fluffy, tender biscuits.
Source: Adapted from For Love of Cooking by Lena Sturges.
Spinach Bacon Mushroom Quiche
1 (16-ounce) bag of frozen leaf spinach (steamed and pressed dry)
½ pound crispy bacon (Oscar Mayer low-sodium turkey bacon is excellent for this)
8 ounces sliced baby portabella mushrooms
6 ounces grated Swiss cheese
1 small onion, chopped
1 large size, deep dish pie shell
5 eggs (or 2 eggs and 1 carton egg substitutes)
½ can low sodium cream of mushroom soup (see note)
½ cup 2-percent milk (see note)
In a bowl, toss the spinach, bacon, mushrooms, Swiss cheese and onion. Fill pie shell with this mixture. Beat eggs; add the soup and milk and mix well. Pour over the filling and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until middle is set.
Note: The soup and milk mixture can be replaced with a mushroom white sauce made from 1 tablespoon butter melted and into which 1 tablespoon flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper are stirred; add 1 cup milk and ½ cup diced mushrooms and heat until thickened.
Source: Compiled from many sources by Gail Diederich
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅓ cup minced shallots or sweet onion
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and spears cut diagonally into 1-inch lengths
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded Gruyere, Swiss or Asiago
Preheat oven broiler. Heat butter in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. Add shallots or onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add asparagus, reduce heat to medium low and cook covered for 3 minutes.
Pour eggs over asparagus and onions and cook (do not stir) until almost set, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle cheese over eggs and put under broiler until cheese is melted and lightly browned.
Remove from oven, slide onto a serving plate. Cut in wedges.
Curried Egg Salad With Mango Chutney
6 hard-boiled eggs
½ cup mango chutney
1 ½ teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped chives or green onions
¼ cup minced celery (optional)
Dash of cayenne
Sprinkle of fresh ground pepper
For the mango chutney:
½ cup sugar
½ cup distilled white vinegar
1 ½ cup of diced mango
½ small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, chopped
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds
¼ clove garlic minced
Small sprinkle of red pepper flakes
To make the salad, finely chop the hard boiled eggs; add the other ingredients and mix well.
Serve on lettuce leaves or toast wedges, or if used for appetizers cut small rounds of bread with small round cutter and toast lightly. It can also be served on pita wedges or crackers.
To make the mango chutney, Combine sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add other ingredients and simmer about an hour until thickened, stirring occasionally. Pour into a sterilized jar, cool, and refrigerate. If not refrigerated, it would need to be processed in a water bath for 15 minutes.
Serves 4 salads.