We'd never intended to overrun the neighborhood, but with two acres of open land and a handful of broody hens eager to nest, it was hard to keep the chicken population under control.
One bantam-size but dedicated nester had taken to secretly stashing eggs in a box on the unused side of the garage – where she successfully hid and hatched them for many months before I discovered her sneaking in through an open wall vent (left unscreened for the cats) and found the source of her many chicks.
Another hen sat in the chicken house on more than a dozen eggs at a time, willingly taking in the abandoned eggs of less-broody neighbors and even of wild ducks who left eggs behind in the grass when they continued their migrations.
It was cute at the time to see her sitting with tiny heads of all stripes and colors peering out from beneath her fluffy white feathers.
But letting all those hens hatch chicks just meant more hens, and it exacerbated the larger issue of what to do with all those eggs.
All this chicken and egg history came to mind a few months ago when a fellow beekeeper put out a request for egg cartons and started distributing fresh eggs at our regional bee club meetings.
She hasjust a few hens butis kept stocked with more eggs than she can eat throughout the spring and summer. Coming home from a meeting where I'd swapped a sack of cartons for a couple dozen eggs, I thought, "Oh, we can make quiche!" And that's when the flashback occurred.
Quiche, you see, is one of those recipes that must have been created by and for people with an overabundance of eggs. It's not something I frequently make otherwise, because it seems excessive to go out and buy a dozen or more eggs to make a single dish.
I hadn't made it in years (since I'd last kept chickens). But there I was, flashing back to the time when we'd ended up with more than a hundred free-range chickens and enough eggs to make several dozen-egged quiches for every dinner party, not to mention more left over periodically for us to stock the local food co-op.
When life gives you chickens, you learn to make quiche.
Now I'm into another food "glut" if you will (although I'm not sure anyone ever feels completely overwhelmed by one's own harvests – except for zucchini perhaps).
This time it's honey. Last fall I'd learned how to preserve empty combs over the winter and that apparently, as hoped, saved the bees a lot of construction time. Our two backyard hives were six stories tall and rapidly filling with nectar by late spring.
To keep them to a height I could reach, I started pulling off "supers" (boxes in which honey is collected) and extracting capped combs of honey in June.
But the wet spring had caused a long bloom of flowers, and despite my efforts, one hive grew into a six-foot-high, seven-story "beescraper."
Today we harvested another two supers for about four gallons of honey, and next week we'll probably find as much in the remaining two supers. That will give us more than enough to supply ourselves, our neighbors, and all the honey lovers at the office, while still leaving plenty for the bees in their three-story base hives.
As with the eggs and chickens, when life gives you bees, you learn to use honey. So I stir it into cakes by the cupful without worry of running out – at least for quite awhile.
Perhaps that's the message of the harvest season and a life lesson, too: Take what you're given gratefully, use it bountifully, and share it joyfully. And bon appétit!
Here are some tips for adapting recipes from sugar to honey:
• Use the same amount of honey as sugar called for in the recipe, but reduce the other liquid (e.g., water, milk, juice) by about 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used.
• When making baked goods, add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda when substituting honey for sugar.
• You should also reduce the baking temperature by about 25 degrees F. to avoid overbrowning when using honey instead of sugar.
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup honey
2 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Dash of salt
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Frosting (see below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and honey, using an electric mixer, and then blend in egg yolks until fluffy. Blend in baking powder, spices, and salt. Stir in the flour and milk alternately. Mix in the vanilla.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until fluffy but not stiff. Fold them into the cake batter.
Spoon batter into two greased 8-inch round cake pans (or make 12 to 24 cupcakes). Bake cake for 25 to 30 minutes (17 to 22 minutes for cupcakes). Cool 10 minutes, and then turn out of pans onto rack. When cake is when room temperature, frost with caramel or cream-cheese icing, or sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.