Most of us look on eggs as culinary wallpaper – always there in the background, ready when needed, regardless of season. In fact, hens didn't lay eggs in winter until the 1930s when warm but overcrowded barns came into play. As a result we have become used to year-round availability, but it's worth taking on board that good eggs have seasons just like any other fresh produce, and now is the time to enjoy them. Once sampled, you will appreciate that eggs can be a luxury item with a fabulous fresh flavour, gloriously golden yolks and a dense texture – a direct result of a diet of greenery, grains and edible grubs rather than commercial feed additives.
Eggs are certainly a cook's best friend. They can be boiled, fried, poached, scrambled, baked or made into omelettes. They provide cakes with bounce, soufflés with height and sauces with thickness and gloss. They make pasta silky, pastry shiny and they help breadcrumbs stick to food. Beaten with oil, the yolks emulsify into mayonnaise; whisked with air, the whites transmute to the miraculous foam that gives meringues and mousses their lightness.
I can think of no other food so versatile and so essential, and few sights more reassuring than stress-free hens enjoying a dust bath or freely roaming the fields in search of food.
Particularly sought-after are eggs from special breed hens. Maran eggs have striking brown shells the colour of builders' tea, while those from the Old Cotswold Legbar come in pretty pastel colours. Cornish-based specialist egg producer Clarence Court supply these to good supermarkets and farm shops.
These contain slightly more fat than hen's eggs and consequently have a richer flavour. They make unctuously creamy scrambled eggs and are superb in cakes and pastry. Try using the whites in my show-stopper of a summer dessert Meringue Roulade with Strawberry, Cucumber and Mint Filling.
This is the time of year when you're likely to find goose eggs in delis and farm shops. At least three times the size of a hen's egg, they are rich and intensely eggy with an enormous yolk kept aloft by a viscous white. Their flavour is strong, but they are excellent for enriching cakes.
Another seasonal treat, turkey eggs are hard to come by as most eggs are used for breeding Christmas birds. The best hunting grounds are farm shops. You may also find selected branches of Waitrose that stock Clarence Court turkey eggs. Notably larger then a hens egg, they have beautiful brown speckled shells. I am convinced the yolks taste faintly of turkey meat, but others are not so sure. They make excellent tortilla omelettes and are good scrambled.
Flecked with random splashes of brown, these beautiful child-sized eggs are sold in good supermarkets. Hard-boiled and dipped in celery salt, they make a tasty bite-sized canapé. They also make a pretty addition to a salad tumbled with watercress sprigs or radicchio, pale green frisée, purple radish sprouts and a few chopped toasted hazelnuts. Anoint with the merest splash of hazelnut oil, a drop of wine vinegar, crumbled sea salt flakes and cracked black peppercorns and you have a stunning starter.
Game bird eggs
Guinea fowl, pheasant and partridge eggs are all edible, though only sporadically on sale as they are usually kept for breeding purposes. Guinea fowl eggs are slightly smaller than a hen's egg and have a similar mild flavour. They have beautiful brown-speckled shells that need an extra-firm tap to break them. Walnut-sized pheasant eggs come in a military khaki without any speckling. They have a powerful flavour best tamed by hard-boiling. Dumpy little partridge eggs are the most exquisite with tasteful coffee-coloured speckles on a pale beige shell. You'll find these eggs in good farm shops and from Cornish-based specialist egg producer Clarence Court
For the connoisseur, gull's eggs top the charts. Collection from cliffs is restricted to two or three weeks from the end of April, and this short season makes them a rare treat – and an expensive one too. About 5cm long with sludge-coloured splotched shells, the eggs have an exquisite flavour, though faintly fishy because of the gulls' diet. They are delicious softly boiled and sprinkled with smoked sea salt flakes.
© Christine McFadden, May 2016