Field Notes

Coming to Terms with Eggs

What could be more basic and simple than hen eggs? In the world of factory farming, there is nothing simple or basic about the production and marketing of nature’s most perfect protein. Rather, it’s a swirl of verbal obfuscation. Which is why a glossary is so very handy.

Our list of egg-related words comes both from the great work done by Petaluma artist and activist Douglas Gayeton and his Lexicon of Sustainability project (from which we borrowed the featured image) and the guidelines set out by the sustainable food system and farmers’ market folks at San Francisco’s Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA).

But really, even with all of the complicated marketing terms that have been applied to eggs, it’s simple to find fresh healthy eggs from free healthy hens if you buy from a farmer.

When you can’t do that, we suggest you look for the words “organic” and “pasture-raised” on the grocery store product.

Here’s what to look for — and look out for! — when buying eggs.

  • Cage-free: Hens live without cages in indoor facilities and do not necessarily have access to the outdoors. The amount of space per hen varies by producer. The term “barn-roaming” more accurately describes this principle.
  • Fertile: These eggs come from hens that live with roosters. Most are cage free.
  • Free-range (free-roaming): The term simply means the hens “have been allowed access to the outside,” but for an undetermined period of time. These hens may be, but generally are not, raised outdoors. These regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time the animal must be allowed access to this space.From a sustainability perspective, indoor free range egg facilities are a far cry from pasture-based operations, but the eggs have been shown to be safer for consumers than eggs from caged hens. In fact, 16 different studies have shown that eggs from caged chickens are much more likely to be carriers of salmonella.
  • Hormone-free: The use of hormones in laying hens was banned in the 1960s, but that meaningless designation is still used.
  • Naturally Raised: Livestock which was raised without the use of growth promotants, antibiotics, under these certified animals are allowed to have parasitic medicine, but not given food with animal byproducts to eat.
  • Organic: Hens are given only certified organic vegetarian feed without pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers or antibiotics. Hens have access to the outdoors. Organic chicken operations must be certified by designated agencies.
  • Pastured: Hens are raised outdoors on pasture, usually using movable enclosures (hens also have access to a coop for shelter and egg laying). This enables hens to eat a variety of natural foods, such as different grasses, seeds and insects. Some scientific evidence indicates that, because of this diet, eggs from pasture-raised hens have less cholesterol and fat, higher omega-3 fatty acids, and higher amounts of lutein, beta-carotene, and vitamins A & E.The term “pasture-raised” is not regulated; it is up to the producer to provide eaters with a certain level of transparency around their operation and up to the eater to ask questions. The term is sometimes used by farmers who wish to distinguish themselves from the industrialized “free-range” term.
  • Vegetarian: Eggs are produced by hens whose feed is free of animal by-products. Remember: happy chickens that are pastured eat their share of worms and other yummy things that live where their beaks roam!

Try our recipe for perfectly coddled eggs and learn to make vases out of the shells!

Eat Good Food

Millet History

A healthful grain that can grow with little water and is a nutritious substitute for rice or quinoa, millet has a long history.

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Cooking, Eat Good Food, Foodshed

Farro, An Old World Grain

Farro is an old world grain with a complex, nutty flavor. From protein-packed grain salads to hearty winter stews and savory brunch staples, its possibilities are endless.

While we often think of farro as just one grain, the term actually refers to three ancient wheat varieties grouped by size. In Italian, the three varieties of farro are known as farro piccolo (small), medio (medium), and grande (large). Of those three, medium-sized emmer is the most widely available domestically.

History and Harvest

Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent, located in what is now Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Farro is still an important crop grown and consumed today in Italy, as well as in Ethiopia, which was once briefly under Italian rule.

When the Romans invaded Egypt in 47 B.C., they brought farro back home with them, where Caesar dubbed it “Pharaoh’s Wheat.” It played a key role in feeding the Roman army until it was replaced by higher-yielding grains. In the 20th century, the Germans chose to call farro piccolo by the name “einkorn.” This term refers to the bristle’s tendency to break down into single spikes. Hence, ein korn, or “one kernel.”

The defining characteristic of farro its strong hull, or husk, which makes farro less efficient for mass production, but also very nutritious.
Although relatively low-yielding compared to other types of wheat, farro performs well on poor soil. It also grows well on steep mountain fields. Farro verde is harvested wet and fire-threshed quickly over an open fire to extract the grain while keeping its moisture intact.

Whole grain farro contains nearly two times the amount of protein as found in conventional wheat. It is also high in fiber, vitamin E, and minerals including zinc, magnesium, and iron. As with other whole grains, farro takes longer to break down in the body, which helps maintain blood sugar levels. Farro is not gluten-free, but people with mild wheat sensitivities often find it easier to digest.

Cooking with Farro

Farro comes in a variety of forms.

  • Whole/unpearled: Keeping the grain whole retains all the grain’s nutrients, but it can take up to an hour to cook. Some producers scratch whole grain farro to help release starches and reduce cooking time.
  • Semipearled: In this variety, part of the bran has been removed, but the end product still contains some fiber.
  • Pearled: Takes the least time to cook, but has no bran at all.

Whether you choose whole/unpearled, semipearled, or pearled farro will affect your cooking time. If your package says it will cook in less than 15 minutes, it’s probably pearled; if it takes around 30 minutes, it’s probably semipearled. And if it takes 60 to 80 minutes, it is whole or unpearled. As with other grains, store in an airtight container, away from light and moisture.

With a chewier texture than barley, farro holds its shape in stews for a perfectly al dente bite. It can also be used to makefarrotto</i — in which the grain is cooked slowly in the style of risotto. We also love it as a hot breakfast cereal layered with roasted fruits and topped with heavy cream or yogurt.

This farro salad from Heidi Swanson’s newest book Near and Far is anything but boring — chopped green olives, chives, toasted walnuts, and honey highlight the whole grain’s caramel notes. Sicilian Castelvetrano olives are preferable, but Cerignola, Lucques, or Sevillano will do. If possible, prepare the olive mixture a day or two ahead of time and bring to room temperature before serving.

Farro Salad
Serves 6

1 ¼ cups whole or semi-pearled farro
3 cups water
Fine-grain sea salt
1 pound fancy green olives (preferably Castelvetrano), rinsed then pitted
4 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped toasted walnut halves
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and chopped roughly
1 bunch chives
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 jalapeño, minced (seeds included or discarded, as you wish)
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
⅓ cup golden raisins, chopped
Shaved pecorino or Parmesan, for serving
Ricotta, for serving (optional)

In a saucepan, combine the farro, water, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Set over medium-high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat from a boil to a simmer, and simmer gently (still covered) for about 15 minutes if semi-pearled, longer if whole. Cook until tender but not mushy. Drain off any water and set aside.

Coarsely chop the olives and place them in a bowl along with the olive oil, walnuts, green onions, chives, red pepper flakes, jalapeño, honey, lemon juice, raisins, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir well and set aside (or refrigerate) until ready to serve.

If you’ve refrigerated the olive mixture, bring it back to room temperature before the final toss.

Combine the farro and olive mixture in a bowl and mix to combine. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice as needed.

Serve and top with thin strips of shaved cheese and dollops of ricotta, as desired.

Cooking, Eat Good Food

Olives and Olive Oil

 

Olives and olive oil are such stalwarts of the kitchen that we often forget to reflect on the goodness that they bring and indeed, their role in helping to support human civilization. (more…)