Signe Langford is a Toronto-based cook, food writer, photographer and gardener with a passion for chickens. Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden, with 100 Recipes is her first book, but I’m sure it won’t be her last.
Even if you have no particular interest in chickens as house guests, Langford draws the reader in with her quirky sense of humour when she describes their charms. She refers to them as “gateway livestock” and is honest about the downside as well as the joys of keeping hens. Be warned, there are also vivid descriptions of some of the health issues birds can face as well as a very graphic depiction of the life of a factory farmed chicken. This is not for the faint of heart or the queasy stomached.
Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs is a beginner’s guide to keeping chickens and reaping the benefits of having fresh, organic, free-range eggs available for any meal. Langford shows us what garden plants are good for hens and then gives us advice on how to keep them from destroying every last one of those plants. Photographer Donna Griffith contributes beautiful photographs that compliment the author’s own pictures of her hens and her garden home. The book is peppered with anecdotes, advice and adorable illustrations by Sophia Saunders.
There are some recipe contributions from esteemed Canadian chefs such as Christine Cushing and Roger Mooking but most of them are Langford’s own. They may be as simple as a perfect poached egg that lets the quality of the ingredients shine through. Some are the author’s upgrades to family recipes but others are just surprising. There are some truly weird things you can make with eggs. I had never heard of curing egg yolks in salt. I’m not sure I’ll ever make these but the recipe is just too odd not to share.
A slightly more modern dish, Breakfast Stromboli is a brilliant idea. It’s breakfast wrapped in pizza dough and I dare you to read the recipe without thinking of a dozen different combinations of ingredients you want to try next. The author does warn us to let the sandwich rest a few minutes before biting into it as the filling will be approximately the temperature of molten lava. That really can’t be emphasized enough. It’s worth the wait.
Happy Hens and Fresh Eggs isn’t exactly a cookbook; it’s part manual for small scale chicken keeping, part memoir and part motivational story for urban homesteaders. It also happens to have a lot of great egg recipes that give you the perfect excuse for keeping tiny dinosaurs in your backyard. Whichever side of the backyard chicken debate you fall on, this book will give you a lot of interesting information about these birds. It may inspire you to gather your own flock or maybe just to source out some local free-range options for your pantry. Either way, it’s an enjoyable read that will give you a new appreciation for the humble hen.
Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden, with 100 Recipes;
Signe Langford, © 2015 is published by Douglas & McIntyre. All rights reserved.
Recipes and photographs are courtesy of Douglas & McIntyre.
Ancient Salt-cured Yolks
Sounds weird, I know, but I think there’s a certain romance to some of these old-time recipes that were born purely of necessity. If refrigeration had always been available, we might not have cured and smoked foods, and what a shame that would be.
Preserving yolks in a deep bed of salt renders them very firm (reminiscent of a hard cheese such as parmesan), preserves their bright orange colour and transforms them into a rich condiment for grating over pastas, salads or potato dishes. This adds richness and much interest when brought out to the table with a Microplane grater on the side.
Kosher or coarse sea salt
Granulated sugar (optional)
As many free-run egg yolks as you want to preserve
1 Take a non-reactive container—a glass casserole dish is good for this—and cover the bottom of the dish with a deep layer (about 3 inches/7.5 cm) of your preferred salt mixture. You can use only salt, or a 60:40 sugar to salt blend. Get a little creative and use a bit of truffle salt, chili- or herb-infused salt, or even a smoked salt. Or how about vanilla sugar? Use the back of a teaspoon to make little depressions for the yolks to sit in. Separate as many eggs as you want to cure, placing each yolk in its own dish, then very gingerly tip the yolks out of their dishes and into the indents in the salt.
2 Cover with another deep layer of your salt mixture and place them in the fridge, uncovered, for about 7 days.
3 For each yolk, prepare a double-layered 6-inch (15-cm) square of cheesecloth and a 12-inch (30-cm) length of kitchen twine. You’ll also need to figure out a method for suspending the yolks in the fridge—I use a wire egg basket, natch!
4 After 7 days, you’ll need to dig the yolks out, and here you’ll want to be as careful as an archeologist digging up dino bones; the yolks are still fragile. Gently brush off the excess salt using a pastry brush, then set each yolk into the centre of a cheesecloth square. Pull the corners of the cheesecloth up around each yolk like a little coin purse, and cinch shut with a length of kitchen twine. Suspend the bundles in the fridge and there they will stay for about 3 more weeks, until they are almost rock-hard. Wrapped in cheesecloth and suspended for air circulation, the preserved yolks will keep for several months in the fridge.
I’m not a fussbudget about pizza dough; if you want to make it from scratch, be my guest. If not, do what I often do: grab a ball of ready-made from the bakery. It’s the stuff inside that makes or breaks this dish, and breakfast shouldn’t be too hard on a sleepyhead. Likewise, unless you insist on making your own pesto, use your favourite store-bought brand.
7 free-run eggs, divided
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup (250 ml) coarsely chopped slab
bacon or ham flour for dusting
dough for 1 pizza, at room temperature
¼ cup (60 ml) basil pesto, or to taste
4 oz (110 g) brie, sliced or coarsely chopped, or to taste
1 cup (250 ml) coarsely chopped and drained tomato (about 1 large)
1 tsp (5 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 375F (190C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
Break 6 of the eggs into a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, and whisk until fully blended; set aside.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, fry bacon until crisp. Drain off some of the fat if there’s a lot, turn heat down to low and return skillet to heat. Add the eggs from the bowl, mix with the bacon and cook for about 3 minutes, or until set but not dry; remove from heat and set aside.
Lightly dust the counter and rolling pin with flour and roll out pizza dough into a rectangle of about 10 × 14 inches (25 × 36 cm).
Spread the pesto over one half of the pizza, right up to about 2 inches (5 cm) from the edges.
Evenly distribute the slices of brie on top of the pesto, then evenly distribute the eggs and bacon on top of the brie. Sprinkle the chopped tomato evenly over the eggs.
In a small bowl or cup, use a fork to beat the remaining egg with the olive oil. Using a pas- try brush, brush the edges of the empty side of the pizza dough and fold over the filling; press down and pinch to make a nice, tight seal. At this point, you can either leave the dough in a half-moon shape and transfer directly to the baking sheet, or roll into a log and place on the baking sheet with the seam side down.
Brush the rest of the egg-and-oil wash over the top and sides of the stromboli. Use a sharp- tipped knife to slash a few steam vents. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden and bubbly with deliciousness oozing from the vents, which is how I think the dish got its name. It must have reminded the cook who invented it of the famous Stromboli volcano!
If you can stand it, allow the stromboli to rest for a few minutes before cutting into slices for serving; the interior is lava-hot!