Martha`s Vineyard Magazine Laying Hens Article

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Martha`s Vineyard Magazine Laying Hens Article
Food
The coop scoop
One family’s take on raising chickens at home and eating fresh eggs
by elizabeth bomze
photographs by randi baird
T
he stretch of New Lane just north of Pond View Farm
Road in West Tisbury has its very own ornithological
sound track. Songbirds warble as they dip and dive
between feeders, crows squawk from their tall-branch
perches, and every now and then the dense shrubs rustle as a
procession of wild turkey hens emerges, the portly gals clucking
and purring as they shake their tail feathers. It’s an avian symphony of free improvisation. But as you round the bend where
the Small family mailbox is staked at the edge of the rough-cut
grass, the tune becomes distinctly barnyard-like: a faint cooing and fluttery murmur, which, as anyone who ventures up
their driveway can see, comes from Alix deSeife Small’s flock of
chickens, chattering away.
It’s a fairly common occurrence these days to happen upon
a few chickens – or, at Alix’s house, forty-three as of last count
– pecking and scratching in the yard. More and more people are
latching onto the idea of eating ultra-fresh, Island-sourced food,
and an egg (which by nature appeals to a locavore’s purist sensibilities) isn’t going to come from anywhere closer than your own
backyard. And word is getting out that poultry rearing is a very
doable home-grown project that requires little to no agricultural
training.
That’s what Alix figured back in the late nineties when she
and her husband, Dan, bought their West Tisbury vacation
home and at the same time moved from Miami to a rented
house in Newton that happened to be outfitted with an “incredible” chicken coop. The couple’s professional careers couldn’t
have kept them any further from farm life. Alix is a former
Democratic political consultant and press secretary for John
Kerry’s senatorial campaign who’s turned into a textile designer
and recently converted her family’s guest house into a yarn
shop called Vineyard Knitworks; Dan is a Boston-based attorney. But Alix says they “always wanted to get back to the land”
68 martha’ s vineyard • not summer 2010–2011
Forty-three chickens lay a lot of eggs, as Alix deSeife Small can attest;
this fall she’s expecting forty more hens at Vineyard Eggworks.
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From left: An Araucana chicken with luxuriant golden feathers warily eyes a visitor; a Rhode Island Red pecks at the ground scattered with grain.
Alix displays the multicolored eggs she’s gathered one chilly autumn afternoon; a Barred Rock rooster lets out a holler outside the henhouse.
and thought these two new venues offered
them the perfect opportunity to give it a try.
“We went to an agricultural auction in
Cape May, New Jersey, and bought guinea
hens,” she recalls of their first venture.
“One escaped, and then we bought more of
them through the mail. Then, as an evolution of that, we got chickens.”
December 19, 2008, and there was a
knock on the door from the mailman. He
handed me twenty-four chicks in a box,
which my husband and kids had apparently
ordered.”
Four of them didn’t make it, but the
others – a mixture that included tufted
Araucanas and Barred Rocks – were happily cohabiting, not to mention producing
more eggs than Alix knew what to do with.
“I was getting thirty-six to forty eggs a
day, so I had to store them in two refrigerators. I was giving eggs to the senior center,
to the House at New Lane bed and breakfast, to friends – anyone who would take
them,” she says. “I never sold the eggs.”
Heavenly henhouses
That initial flock of birds, which spent their
first winter under lights in the Newton
coop, turned out to be very stable travelers; as Alix, Dan, and their now-teenaged
children, Bailey, Gabrielle, and Schuyler,
shuttled between homes, the chickens
came too.
“We just packed them right up into the
car,” Alix says, laughing.
Naturally, birds have come and gone
over the years. An entire flock of twentyfour, quite tragically, went to a hungry
raccoon back in 2000, and one particularly
vociferous rooster’s late-night crowing
in Miami irritated Dan so much that he
charged out of bed at 1:30 a.m., drove the
bird (and a supply of food) to a nearby
70 martha’ s vineyard • not summer 2010–2011
marina, and sped away back to bed. But
over time the Smalls have brought more
and more birds home to roost and have set
up runs at all three of their houses to accommodate them. The family currently has
other residences in Manchester-by-the-Sea
and Miami.
“My chickens have second and third
homes,” Alix admits sheepishly. “When
we moved into the Manchester house, the
chickens lived in the pool house for a while.
One day, I found out that a men’s club was
getting rid of an old tool shed, so I paid a
friend to convert the shed into a coop. It
turned out really nice. Now we have the Taj
Mahal of chicken coops [in Manchester].”
As coops go, the Vineyard digs are hardly Spartan. A squat henhouse for nighttime
dwelling has recently been joined by what
Alix calls a palace, which can accommodate
forty more chickens (arriving this fall);
there’s also a tall fence and sweeping, panoramic views of the six-acre property. And
the chickens aren’t cooped up all the time,
though Alix doesn’t let them free-range far
from the pen because a family of red-tailed
hawks lives in the lower field. But visitors
to the adjacent yarn shop are likely to be
met by at least one hen meandering around
the yard. On my visit, a plump, plumy bird
with soft, charcoal-gray feathers and a dazzling coral-red coxcomb waddled over to
me and affectionately grazed my leg as if it
were a dog hankering for a behind-the-ears
scratch.
“Our chickens are like house pets,”
Alix says, confirming my anecdote. “We
name them: There’s Stella, from A Streetcar
Named Desire. Then there’s Duchess, Cecily, and Marigold. They come when they’re
called, and they run to greet you.”
Alix likes to mix chicken breeds. After
she recovered from the raccoon incident
(the trauma of which discouraged her
from raising chickens for a few years), she
replenished the flock gradually. Four chicks
came home from a birthday party with
Dan and their daughters, followed by eight
Rhode Island Reds – auburn-feathered fowl
with spiky, bright red combs and matching
wattles – that Alix bought from a hatchery
in Ipswich, and then another surprise from
her husband and children.
“I remember the day,” she says. “It was
Hatching a new venture
The beauty of her motley crew – with their
varied personalities and polychromatic
feathers – extends to the many shades of
eggs they produce. On any given day, Alix
will collect tan-colored eggs tinged with
pink from her Barred Rocks, pale greenblue specimens from the Araucanas, and
classic New England brown eggs from the
Rhode Island Reds. The production became
so regular and reliable a few years ago, she
thought she’d try selling some.
“I brought a few cartons into the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club, where I work as the
office manager in the summer. I couldn’t
keep them there for more than half an
hour.”
Since then, she’s started selling to
the Tisbury Farm Market under the label
Vineyard Eggworks (to match the yarn shop
brand). Demand has been high enough that
she usually replenishes the stock twice a
week. Plus, she wants people to experience
her eggs – always organic – at their best.
“With a fresh egg,” she explains, “the
yolk sits up; with an older egg, it spreads
out.”
What’s more, Alix won’t sell eggs from
her own shop refrigerator that are more
than two weeks out of the nest. (Though
they never remain that long anyway, she
notes.) She also doesn’t believe in pricegouging fellow egg enthusiasts.
“I sell them for $3 per dozen,” she says,
noting her prices rival those of non-organic
commercial eggs in some markets, both
on- and off-Island. “Whether you have
money or not, you have the right to high
quality, fresh food.”
With any luck, Alix’s next step will be
breeding her own chicks. Her first coop
may become a brooding coop (where
mother hens will roost on the eggs until they hatch). She also began another
grass-roots initiative last winter to ramp up
her own vegetable patch, thanks to some
organic farming guidance she’s received
from Mitch Posin at Allen Farm in Chilmark. She probably won’t be selling much
of the produce, but, just as with the eggs,
she’s enjoying the quality and unparalleled
convenience of walking out her back door
to pick vegetables like mini Japanese eggplants and baby Brussels sprouts.
“You do it because you love it,” she
says, “and because you want to know where
your food comes from. I think we’re getting
back to a point in civilization where people
will have to have backyard gardens and
three to four chickens. The quality of the
food is so unbelievably superior to what’s
in the supermarket. And there’s something
incredibly satisfying about doing it from
scratch.”
not summer 2010–2011 • martha’ s vineyard 71
Cutty’s egg salad sandwiches
Lavender crème brûlée from the
Sweet Life Café
Charles Kelsey, his wife, Rachel, and their son,
3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees (use convecAs with the rest of the menu at the Sweet
Bluffs in the summer. This egg salad is a lunch
tion oven if possible). Place the ramekins in a
Life Café in Oak Bluffs, the dessert offerings
staple for them, and one that they serve at
large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough
change from time to time, but this rich,
Cutty’s, their recently opened sandwich café in
hot water into the pan to come halfway up the
lavender-scented custard with a bronzed,
Brookline. Note: This recipe can easily be cut in
outside of the ramekins. Bake until the custard
crackly top is a mainstay.
is just set but still trembling in the center
slightly older eggs will be easier to peel after
and the temperature reads 170 to 175 on an
Serves 6
hard-boiling.
Serves 6
• 1 dozen eggs
ArtCliff crêpes with prosciutto,
Parmigiano Reggiano, and poached
eggs
• 1 cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano to 40 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the
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• 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
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hours and up to 3 days.
• 2 eggs, plus 6 egg yolks
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(Dab custard gently with paper towel if any
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• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and more to taste
moisture beads formed during chilling.) Evenly
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• 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper,
1. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan,
sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar atop
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and more to taste
heat the cream and lavender until boiling.
• Pinch cayenne pepper, and more to taste
Remove from heat.
• Hot water (approximately 2 quarts)
• 1/2 cup mayonnaise
the 6 custards. Use a kitchen blowtorch to
caramelize the sugar to form a deep-brown
crisp crust on top. If you don’t have a blow-
• 12 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread
2. In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk the va-
torch handy, preheat oven to broil with a
• 8 medium radishes, trimmed and thinly
nilla, eggs, yolks, and 2/3 cup sugar. Slowly add
rack positioned just below the broiler. Place
sliced
the cream and lavender to the sugar mixture
ramekins on a baking sheet under broiler until
• 1/3 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and to temper, so that it warms it up gently (if the
sugar melts, about 2 minutes. Keep oven door
coarsely chopped
hot liquid is added all at once, the eggs will
open to avoid overheating the custard, and
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
start to cook too much). Let steep for at least
watch carefully so as not to burn. Allow the
an hour at room temperature to absorb the
crème brûlée to sit for a few minutes before
lavender flavor. Strain to remove the laven-
serving. u
1. In a large saucepan, combine the eggs and 3
Gina Stanley serves at the ArtCliff Diner in
homogenous. Let the batter rest.
Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water. Drain
high heat and brush with melted butter. Pour
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tor at least 30 minutes before serving time.
12 minutes, depending on the size of your eggs.
West Tisbury.
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topping
in the eggs, milk, and cream until the batter is
3. Heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium-
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with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2
• 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
This is one of many egg specials that chef/owner
restaurant, usually from Blackwater Farm in
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the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 10 to
ingredients, Gina always has Island eggs at her
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roasting pan, cool to room temperature, cover
• 2/3 cup sugar, plus 1/2 cup for the brûlée
1. Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Beat
2. Toss arugula with olive oil and black pepper.
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• 2 1/2 tablespoons dried or fresh lavender
quarts water. Bring the water to a boil, cover
Vineyard Haven. A strong advocate of using local
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• 1 quart heavy cream
• 1 small shallot, finely grated
cheese
• 3–4 tomatoes, sliced
instant-read thermometer, approximately 30
Index to advertisers
4. Remove the ramekins from the refrigera-
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Egg recipes
ramekins.
Henry, spend time at their family home in Oak
half. Super-fresh eggs always taste great, but
This scrumptious egg-and-crêpes dish from the ArtCliff Diner includes all the major food groups.
der and pour the custard into six 6-ounce
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the eggs, transfer to the ice water, and let sit for
............................................inside back cover
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about 10 minutes, until cool. Peel the eggs and
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chop coarsely.
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roughly 1/4 cup batter into pan and cook until
2. While the eggs cook, in a small bowl whisk
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underside is spotty golden brown, just a minute
the shallot, vinegar, mustard, salt, black pepper,
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or two; flip and cook another minute or so. Slide
and cayenne pepper together and let sit for 15
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• 1 cup all-purpose flour
finished crêpe onto a serving plate, top with 2
minutes.
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• 1 tablespoon sugar
or 3 pieces of prosciutto, and fold in half. Repeat
• Pinch salt
with remaining batter and prosciutto.
Makes 12–16 crêpes to serve 6–8
• 2 eggs
• 1 1/4 cups milk
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
• 5 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• Cracked black pepper
• Melted butter for cooking
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3. In a large bowl, gently fold the eggs, shallot
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4. Meanwhile, fill a wide pan about four inches
combined. Season with salt, black pepper, and
deep with water. Add the white wine vinegar
cayenne pepper to taste.
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4. To assemble the sandwiches, lay out six slices
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of bread and spread the radish slices over them.
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Divide the egg salad evenly in six portions and
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spoon it over the radish slices. Sprinkle the
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and bring to a simmer. Carefully break eggs into
the water and poach for about 1 1/2 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, lift out one egg and check
if it is cooked to your liking.
• 24–30 pieces prosciutto di Parma
5. For each serving, top 2 folded crêpes with Par-
olives and cilantro atop the egg salad on each
• 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
migiano Reggiano cheese, 2 poached eggs, sliced
sandwich, then place the second piece of bread
• 12–16 eggs (2 eggs per person)
tomato, and arugula, and serve immediately.
on top.
72 martha’ s vineyard • not summer 2010–2011
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mixture, and mayonnaise together until just
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Lavender crème brûlée, prepared by Setzu Zeender, pastry chef at the Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs.
not summer 2010–2011 • martha’ s vineyard 73

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