Alex Jones, Farmstand Product Manager
As we’ve seen over the past several weeks, spring 2014 has unfurled a little more slowly than most of us would like. On one hand, that gives a little more time for procrastinators like me to plant our gardens with HEIRLOOM SEEDS from Happy Cat Farm – but what’s less fun is that compared to 2013, we’re about 2 weeks “behind” last year’s drop dates for spring crops.
However, I’m pleased to announce that Landisdale Farm has sent us their first harvests of ORGANIC SPRING GARLIC this week! Use bulb, stem, and leaves of this mildly-flavored young garlic to flavor recipes as you would its mature, cured version. It makes a great pesto and a great soup, too. Serve alongside Oasis at Bird-in-Hand’s CHEMICAL-FREE OVATION GREENS salad mix – a zesty blend of baby red mustard greens, tatsoi, kale, mizuna, and arugula.
While seeds will sprout and cold crops will flourish based on daylight hours and soil temperature, animals that reproduce in the spring – like sheep and goats – will pop on time whether it’s snowing orspringlike. And fowl increase their production with the changing seasons, too – so while we’ve been waiting for veggies, we at the Farmstand have turned our excitement to EGGS!
Last Sunday, I took to the country roads of South Jersey to check in with two fowl farms, one a brand new vendor and one a Fair Food tradition: Stow Creek Quail in Bridgeton and Boody Mill Emu Ranch in Sewell, respectively. (Check out photos from the fowl-filled trip on Facebook).
Stow Creek farmer Loriann Gibson and her husband Brandon keep horses, a few goats, and heritage breed pastured chickens on a handful of acres in a part of the state where feral pigs and wild turkeys roam free – but the heart of their business is quail, specifically QUAIL EGGS. When Gibson graduated from University of Delaware’s animal sciences program in 2010, she knew she wanted to work with animals, and quail became the perfect fit.
Gibson raises a small flock of Coturnix (AKA Japanese) quail, a variety bred by Texas A&M University to produce almost an egg a day on average – nearly as often as chickens do. This breed is delicate, and to avoid the use of antibiotics, Gibson keeps her adult birds in a roomy hutch elevated several feet off the ground. That protects them from predators and decreases the chance that diseases from wild birds will make it to her animals.
We’re stocking Stow Creek’s beautifully-patterned quail eggs in dozens this spring – stock up for Easter, or just experiment with a fun, delicious new food. Gibson’s favorite ways to cook quail eggs are scrambled with a good truffle cheese or 4-5 eggs fried all together, like a chicken egg with several small yolks. Or try them fried on a slider, perhaps?
After my quail primer, I headed back north to Sewell, NJ – more suburb than country, but the woods off of NJ-45 conceal a surprise: Boody Mill Emu Ranch, where large animal vet Dinah Flack and her husband Marcus Bass raise a dozen or so of these fascinating, dinosaur-like flightless birds.
Flack and Bass became emu owners sort of by accident: back in the ’90s, investing in emu, ostrich, and other ratites became a sort of fad for the wealthy, and Boody Mill was originally supposed to be where these investments were cared for until payoff – that is, breeding, then processing for meat, skin, and oil (emu oil, refined from their fat, is reputed to have analgesic effects). But the emu bubble burst, and the proprietors of Boody Mill found themselves owning their flock. The pair-bonded birds are kept on the wooded land behind their home in several 100-foot pens, where the 5’-tall birds have plenty of room to stretch their scaly legs.
Lucky for Flack and Bass (and for us), the now-20-something-year-old mob of emus (yes, that’s what you call a group of these birds) make fun, chill pets – and they’re still laying their amazing EMU EGGS each winter.
Emu eggs are laid by female emus during the cold months, when they can be kept warm by brooding males. The males will gather the brilliant blue-green eggs into a pile using their chins, then plop down on them for several weeks without eating, only getting up to drink a little water. In a farm situation, one simply straddles the brooding male, lifts him up around the ribcage, and grabs the eggs -- he doesn’t seem to notice.
Once harvested, the eggs last for several months because their thick shells keep the white and yolk inside fresh – and those shells have to be thick: the female lays them while standing up, so they’ve got to survive a drop of several feet.
There are two ways to open an emu egg: One is to crack it open just as you would a chicken egg (but with a little more force). The other is to drill holes in the top and bottom of the shell, then blow out the egg so that the shell stays intact (and perfect for decorating). The contents of the shell has a slightly higher proportion of yolk to white than a chicken egg, with a mild, pleasant flavor and a fluffy, delicious texture when used in baking, quiches, or scrambles. It’s about the same volume as eight good-sized chicken eggs. Last year, I turned mine into a light, airy spinach and spring garlic frittata. (I can’t recommend hard-boiling them, though – an acquaintance tried it last year and the results were, sadly, not edible.)
Emu eggs (and the dishes made from their contents) make awesome gifts/Easter basket items for the foodie, dinosaur lover, or Game of Thrones fan in your life! We’ll be selling them at the Farmstand while supplies last, and at Reading Terminal Market’s SpringFest from 10am-4pm on April 12, along with quail, duck, goose, turkey, and brown or multicolor chicken eggs.