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The Flat Cap on ... Birds Eggs

Recently The Flat Cap has been looking at the world around him and trying to make sense of it all. This has taken him on a journey around his local library and got him thinking about how things came to be as they are today. As you might imagine all this is weighty stuff and one of the questions that had been puzzling The Flat Cap was, "which came first, the chicken or the egg?". After doing some research and asking friends for their opinions The Flat Cap was no nearer answering this age old conundrum. What it did get him thinking about were birds eggs, and particularly the sort you can eat, so he decided to find out a little bit more about this versatile food source.

Go into any supermarket and there are plenty of eggs to buy - organic, free range and the cheaper ones that usually have been laid by hens that don't get to run around much. As well as chickens other birds eggs that you can eat include duck eggs, goose eggs, turkey eggs and quail eggs. The last of these is a lot smaller than an egg from a chicken (because quail have smaller bottoms) and not very good if you're making omelettes for tea or cooking a big cake; say like for a special birthday or someone's wedding. Bantam eggs are also smaller than chicken eggs because a bantam is just another type of hen, only quite a bit smaller. Bantam eggs are a good source of iron.

Another thing that The Flat Cap learned was that the colour of egg yolk depends on the diet the hens enjoy. Feed your hens with a diet full of orange and yellow pigments and the likelihood is they will lay eggs with darker yolks. Marigold petals are a good orangey food source and you can even add paprika to their feed if you don't have any marigolds growing nearby. Too much paprika in a hen's diet would probably give them a sore bottom, as anyone who's had a hot curry (like a spicy madras or a vindaloo) would testify. When free range hens aren't eating curry flavoured feed they like nothing more than to strut about clucking and pecking at things that arouse their curiosity.

Birds eggs are more versatile than you might think. As well as eating them they have a number of other uses. Egg shells needn't go to waste and crushed up and placed round plants they deter slugs and snails that don't fancy getting roughed up - literally. Egg and spoon races wouldn't be able to go ahead without them. Early painters used egg yolk to bind their pigments and early photographers would use the albumen (the white bit surrounding the egg) to make photographic paper. When thrown at someone an egg is a strong way to show your disapproval of them; particularly if it's a rotten egg. in May 2001 then Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was "egged" by a protester in Rhyl, North Wales. The pumped up politician retaliated by punching his egg throwing assailant, and the jab to the jaw from the former amateur boxer led to the incident being referred to as the "Rumble in Rhyl". Boxing promoters are always looking for catchy phrases to advertise their fights. There's been "The Thrilla in Manila", "The Rumble in the Jungle", "The Battle of the Ages" and lots of others.

The Flat Cap has a friend called Constance who keeps a few hens on her small holding near Bacup, Lancashire. As he was passing by on his way home from a trip to the local swimming baths he decided to pay her a visit. Constance was pleased to see him and over a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit she volunteered the following egg related facts:

  • The world's oldest recorded hen was called "Matilda" and lived to the ripe old age of 16, but she was no good for laying eggs

  • Hens are best at laying eggs when they are young. By the time they reach three years of age their egg production has dropped by a third, and by the age of ten it's as little as a fifth of their younger feathered friends

  • In Ukraine and Poland the art of decorating eggs is known as "pysanky"

  • "Witch egg" is the term used to describe those laid without a yolk

  • "A bad egg" is the term given to someone who is at best a disappointment. Probably the most famous bad egg was Veruca Salt who appeared in Roald Dahl's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. After going to the Golden Egg Room and being thoroughly objectionable she sat on the Eggdicator and was promptly sent down the chute to the furnace; having being scientifically proven to be a thoroughly "bad egg". Just for good measure her father fell down the same chute too.

  • In the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk Jack stole from the giant a goose that lays golden eggs. He also stole a bag of gold coins and a harp that played itself. The last item sounds useful but it would not be that good if it started playing when you wanted to get to sleep, or were watching something good on television

  • A Prairie Oyster is the name given to a raw egg mixed with Worcestershire Sauce or Tabasco. It is said to cure hangovers

  • Globally more than one billion eggs are boiled, scrambled or fried each week

  • When Constance went to New York on a shopping trip the waiter at breakfast asked her if she would like her fried eggs sunny side up, over easy, over medium, or over hard. Totally confused she ended up having just a bowl of cornflakes

  • When Constance isn't looking after her chickens she likes to watch quiz programmes. Her favourite is Eggheads, although she does concede Jeremy Vine is nowhere near as funny as his brother Tim

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