The voice on the telephone-answering machine was unmistakably down-east Maine: ``The chickens is layin' somethin' wicked. You folks come ovah and get you some good yaahad eggs.'' The folks didn't waste a New York minute to drive over and purchase several cartons of still warm ``yard'' eggs.
Of course, the eggs were brown. All Maine eggs are brown.
They're laid by descendents of those first brown-egg-laying chickens that came over from China on Yankee sailing ships. The sea captains and their sailors always made room for laying hens, along with the silks, brocades, spices, and porcelains down in the hold.
Is there a difference between brown eggs and white eggs?
The answer is no - not in the taste or in the nutritional value of the egg. True, there's generally a higher percentage of yolk in a brown egg. And the brown eggshell is a mite thicker and less prone to cracking than the white.
What then makes the brown egg brown, and the white egg white?
It depends on the chicken doing the laying. Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red hens lay brown eggs. Leghorn chickens lay white eggs.
One wonders what makes some folks prefer the brown over the white, and vice versa. It seems to be a regional and an ethnic preference. In the United States, folks in California, North Carolina, and New England down to Hartford, Conn., prefer brown eggs.
In the winter, New England hens stop laying, and white eggs appear in the stores - which makes local consumers suspect that these are refrigerated eggs ``from away.'' As a matter of fact, this year the slogan of the New England Brown Egg Council is ``Brown eggs are local eggs, and local eggs are fresh.''
Brown eggs from New England are becoming good export items, thus helping the balance of trade in the United States. In the past several years, they have been wresting the Hong Kong egg market from the West Coast suppliers, even though these suppliers get West Coast white eggs to China faster and cheaper. But because the shell of the brown egg is stronger - and also because to the Chinese white signifies death while brown signifies life - brown eggs are beginning to take over.
So egg drop soup, egg foo yong, and perhaps even hundred-year-old eggs ordered in some of Hong Kong restaurants are getting their start in northern New England.
My favorite egg dish came from our Chinese cook in Shanghai, where I grew up. Because he specialized in Russian food, we called him Ivan, so we have always called this delicious supper dish ``Ivan's Eggs.'' Ivan's Hot Stuffed Eggs 6 eggs 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped fine 7 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper Sprinkling of bread crumbs
Hard-cook eggs very slowly and gently to make sure shells are intact. When cool, cut in half lengthwise with sharp, serrated knife, slicing through egg. Scoop out entire egg.
You should now have 12 perfect half eggshells, cut lengthwise. Mash eggs with 4 tablespoons softened butter, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stuff egg paste back into shells and smooth surface. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top.
Just before serving, melt remaining butter in large frying pan. Turn eggs carefully upside down in pan and saut'e without touching on very low flame (about 10 minutes) until brownish and crisp. Flip over and serve, shell side down.
We eat Ivan's Eggs with small oyster or salad forks, picking egg out of the shell.
Scrambled Eggs Pilau 1 large sliced onion 1 stick butter 2 cups long grain rice 1 quart boiling chicken stock Salt Black pepper 6 large eggs
Saut'e onion in butter until soft. Add rice; stir for about 5 minutes.
Add boiling stock, salt, pepper, and stir; then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Beat eggs well, and stir into rice. Cook longer or until eggs are set.
Serve with chopped parsley.
Eggs in Baked Potatoes 4 potatoes of even size 4 eggs 1 1/2 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon cream Chopped parsley
Bake potatoes in 375-degree F. oven until soft.
Cut a hole in the top of each potato and carefully scoop out some of the flesh. Then break an egg into each potato.
Mash removed potato with butter, salt and pepper to taste, and cream. Put back on top of potato.
Bake in 350-degree F. oven 10 minutes or until eggs are set. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
These next two ingredients go very well together.
Egg and Broccoli Salad 1 head broccoli cut into florets with short stems, steamed but still crunchy 8 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered 1 large red pepper, cut into long, skinny strips 1 bunch watercress, washed, with 1-inch stems 1/2 cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 1/4 cup lemon juice Salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine broccoli, eggs, and peppers. Add watercress.
Combine mayonnaise with mustard, lemon juice, and salt and pepper, and toss with all ingredients. Taste for seasoning, adjust salt and pepper.
Chill for 15 minutes and serve.
Some excellent egg tips
Check whether eggs are fresh by placing them in a pan of water.
Fresh eggs sink to the bottom.
The not-so-fresh ones will float, because as an egg gets older it shrinks inside the shell. The air fills the pocket that's left, creating the float.
If you want to keep eggs fresh and can't refrigerate them for a while, coat the unshelled raw eggs with shortening to help seal out air and preserve them longer.
And never wash eggs before storing them. You will wash away the protective coating that eggs have naturally.
To prevent cracking eggs while hard-boiling them, prick a small hole in one end of eggshell with a needle so air can escape.
And if an egg cracks during the boiling, add a bit of vinegar to the water. It will help seal the crack.