There’s nothing I love better on a Sunday than sitting down to a proper breakfast, and pre-preggo days that usually always consisted of eggs. They’re definitely one of my favourite breakfast ingredients and I’m constantly looking for new ways to re-invent them for interesting breakfast (and brunch) fodder. I’m still eating them of course, but not nearly as frequently and without my favourite – the runny yolk – so this recipe’s for all of you, a little something to enjoy on my behalf until I can rejoin you in the land of tasty egg dishes (forget goats cheese, the minute I’ve birthed this baba, I’ll be sitting down to a big plate of egg and soldiers).
But let me ask you this; how well do you really know the eggs you cook with? I’ll admit up until a few months ago I hadn’t given it much thought either. I always chose free range of course (who doesn’t these days?) but then my decision on which batch of eggs to take home from the supermarket mostly came down to price, size and general value for money. I, perhaps naively, assumed that all free range eggs were farmed in much the same circumstances.
That was until I was invited by The Happy Egg Company to take a trip to their egg farm in Herfordshire and experience the life of an egg farmer, finding out exactly how their hens are treated and watching the journey those eggs go through to get from hen to plate.
Despite it being an experience I never thought I’d find myself on, and quite different from my usual content on the blog, I was intrigued. As a bit of a foodie and someone who is becoming more and more fascinated by where our food comes from, I felt I owed it to myself to find out just how happy the eggs I was eating regularly really were. And I’m glad I did, as it was honestly one of the best blogger days out I’ve had to date. Not only were we blessed with gorgeous sunshine as we toured around the picturesque farm, but we got to meet some very lovely hens along the way and eat some scrumptious egg themed food to finish the day off.
Turns out, the life of an egg farmer begins pretty darn early and a 5am start was in order to make sure we were at the farm in plenty of time to see the hens wake up for the day. After a quick caffeine fulled brekkie, and a change into our farmer attire (don’t we look fetching in our blue boiler suits and wellies?) we set off into the countryside as the sun rose with farmer JP and his loyal Collie as our guides. We stopped off at the first hen house, ready to open up the doors and wake the hens up from their slumber. The Happy Egg Company pride themselves on having truly happy hens, which in turn of course lead to happy (and delicious) eggs. It’s been proven that hens who are in distress or unhappy won’t produce eggs as regularly and the ones they do lay will be smaller, more fragile and often not even make it through the production process due to their lesser quality, so it’s in every egg farmers interest to keep their hens as happy as possible.
What struck me immediately at this farm, was the sheer amount of space the hens had to roam. As soon as JP opened the doors of the hen house at the crack of dawn, nearly the whole flock were out and grazing. There are no fences around them, they are able to roam across acres of lush greenery freely all day long and keep themselves occupied with activity kits, trees and dustbins. The hens are typically let out around 6.30/7am each morning and only herded back into the hen house when it begins to get dark and they start to get tired, which during the summer months can be as late as 11pm, so they’ve got a full day of freedom all day every day.
I know what you might be thinking though, how can you really tell if the hens are happy in their surroundings? Well one indicator is the fact that they weren’t at all stressed or phased by our interruption of their day. In fact they sought us out, happily flocked over to our group, nibbled at our feet and even let us pick them up (after a lesson in how to do this correctly from JP). Our tour also took us inside one of the hen houses, and again the difference compared to what we so often see on TV regarding the treatment of hens and chickens, was vast. Each hen house is limited to a certain number of hens to ensure they don’t get overcrowded and have plenty of space to eat, sleep and lay in peace. I’d braced myself for a terrible smell ahead of entering, imagining that I’d be faced with the stench that a space housing hundreds of hens might have, but I needn’t have bothered as the smell wasn’t at all bad. Another sign that the hens are pretty at home there, as the bad smells are excreted most when they’re in distress.
The Hertfordshire Happy Egg Farm is an organic one, which means that the hens are all fed organic grains and the food and water is automatically dispensed and available to the hens all day long for them to graze when they feel like it. In fact nothing about their days (other than when they’re woken up and herded back into bed) is structured. In the few hours we were there, we saw hens please themselves, some flying about outside, some nibbling at worms in the ground, some inside the house eating and drinking, some sleeping, some inside the cosy dens that allow them to lay their eggs in peace.
We then got to see how the eggs are sorted and classed, and had a go at packing them (which is a super skill let me tell you). If you ever want to know where your eggs have been laid and farmed, you can check the barcode on the egg, as this relates to the farm they heralded from. The Happy Egg Company actually have a farm checker on their website, so you can type in your barcode and see which farm they came from. The Happy Egg Company are actually very strict about which farms are selected to be part of the Happy family, with each farm having to stick to stringent rules of how the hens are treated, the environment they live in, and even down to how passionate the farmers are. This guarantees that all Happy Eggs are matching in quality, thanks to the relaxed environments in which they were laid. Having seen it first hand for myself, I can certainly attest to a farm of happy eggs, and I’m now picking my batch in the supermarket with a lot more assurance.
We finished off our morning with a slap up egg themed lunch created by Jackson and Rye. From poached egg and avocado to start, with a delicious Mexican inspired taco feast of egg, salsa, guacamole, refried beans and chorizo, to a final pecan pie and ice cream to finish – it was delicious and exactly what we needed after an exhausting morning on the farm.
Wooden Serving Board – c/o House of Fraser
Inspired by my outing (and Jackson and Rye’s delicious cooking) and with a fresh batch of Happy Eggs, hand picked myself, coming home with me, I decided to try my hand at a new eggy breakfast dish. Around the same time, I’d been commissioned by Monarch to create a Spanish inspired breakfast and so this seemed like a good starting point. Having loved the combination of egg with chorizo and beans from Jackson and Rye, I decided to try a traditional Spanish recipe – baked eggs with chorizo.
This was the first time I’d tried this dish myself and I loved it, the chorizo alongside the spicy tomato sauce packs a real punch, and you can easily tailor it to make it suit your tastes. A bit more chilli to make it spicier, maybe some avocado on top for a British twist, or add some fried potato into the mix. Baking the eggs is a little tricky and I found it hard to get the timings right and cook the white while the yolk stayed runny so any tips on that would be awesome.
You will need… (makes 4 small ramekins)
1 mid sized chorizo sausage
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 can of cannellini beans (or chilli/butter beans if you prefer)
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of chilli
A squeeze of barbeque sauce
Salt and pepper
How it’s done…
Preheat your oven to around 200C.
Heat a little olive oil in a pan, finely chop the shallot, crush the garlic and fry gently.
Chop the chorizo into slices and add to the pan along with the chopped tomatoes, beans, spices and barbeque sauce. Cook for around 8 minutes.
Remove from the heat, add salt and pepper to taste along with some parsley and transfer into small ramekin dishes, leaving space in the middle.
Crack an egg into the middle of each ramekin (it’s best if they are room temperature) and place in the oven for around 8-12 minutes depending on how soft you want the egg yolk.
Remove from the oven, garnish with parsley and serve.
I’ll certainly be more mindful when choosing my eggs from now on. Happy Eggs are now an easy choice, being affordable and of course having seen them being produced. How do you choose your eggs? And do you have any tasty egg themed breakfast recipes to share?
Big thanks to The Happy Egg Company for inviting me along to their farm for the day.