A good egg is hard to find

REMEMBER the days when an egg was an egg? It usually had a few feathers or some barnyard debris stuck to it to prove that it came from a real chicken. And it tasted great -- scrambled, fried, poached, souffl'ed, shirred, Benedicted, or whatever. A few years back -- I'm not exactly sure how many -- my egg consumption began to drop off. I guessed that it was because I'd lost my taste for them -- never imagining that the eggs were the ones that had lost their taste! My morning scrambleds, instead of giving off that rich, eggy aroma, just lay on the plate, a grayish, pale yellow mass, emitting a mildly unpleasant odor.

Of course we all know the gruesome horror stories about innocent chickens being forced to step up their egg production. We envision endless rows of unhappy little hens sitting on conveyor belts under glaring 24-hour lights, pecking disconsolately at their chemical feed, without even a rooster around for a bit of company. No wonder the eggs taste lousy! Whispered rumors have it that these unfortunate eggs don't come from real chickens at all, but artificial ones -- dare we say -- plastic?

For years I had been buying my eggs at the supermarket, like every other city dweller. But as I began to see that these washed-out imitations bore little resemblance to true eggs, I rebelled. I remembered the days when my grandma would stop at a different farm for her butter, vegetables, and eggs. How good everything tasted! When I was living in Mexico and later Brazil, I had had my own rooster and hen -- a winning egg-producing combination if there ever was one. For a while I stayed on a farm, where the free-running ducks and quail gave us eggs of outstanding quality.

Just thinking of those days made my mouth water for an egg whose yolk would stand up, plump and orangey, instead of lying there, pale and yellow and flat -- a good old egg whose flavor didn't need to be cranked up or disguised with cheese, chives, tomatoes, herbs, onions, ham, or anything.

I vowed never to buy nor eat another supermarket egg, if I could help it. I took pride in passing the egg section by, while everybody else was automatically reaching for the dreaded Styrofoam boxes. I was eggless, but happier.

Nevertheless, I missed having an egg or two every now and then. One day I was talking with a friend on the phone, and she said, ``By the way, you should stop by the outdoor market on 14th Street -- they're open Wednesdays and Saturdays, and they bring in fresh produce from the farm.'' I had visions of fresh vegetables and fruits -- maybe some honey or maple syrup -- cider in season -- I couldn't wait to check it out, and I did that very Saturday.

Imagine my delight when I spotted a small disply marked FRESH FARM EGGS. Whoopee! I rushed over, grabbed a couple of boxes, paid the man (who looked a little puzzled at my excessive enthusiasm and gratitude), and hurried home to heat up the frying pan.

Since then, I've also discovered really fine old-fashioned eggs at the health food store. The big claim for these eggs is that they're fertilized. That fact, along with natural feed for the chickens and a chance for them to run around the yard, is what makes all the difference. And how! Now, if I could just find some really good bacon. . . .

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