|From the secret cache.|
She'd been gone a little while when I heard her knock on the door. She was grinning ear to ear. "Look what I found, mom!" There, in the fold of her jacket, were eight brown eggs. Eight. I was puzzled. I'd checked the nesting boxes several times during the day, finding only two eggs.
Lately, it seems like there have been fewer eggs than there should be. They're young hens, I reasoned. They aren't going to be up to full speed yet.
But it just seemed like someone was holding out on me. I had looked under some bushes, checked Marigold's nest behind the fading morning glories, peered behind the ornamental grass at Paprika's favored spot, and around the back of the peonies where they'd hollowed out a nest. No eggs.
As I beat the bushes, I knew they were watching me. If they could have walked around whistling innocently they would have.
It appears, however, that the game is up. The chickens have come home to roost. The writing is on the wall. The ladies' secret has been revealed.
"Where did you find those?" I asked her.
"On the ground, next to the compost bin." She was proud of her find.
I couldn't think of one time I'd seen a hen over in that area. I regarded the eggs. Did they all come from the same hen? That would mean some of them were probably two weeks old. But they were slightly different shades...which I reasoned might mean that they came from several hens, and could just be a few days old.
L and I laughed softly together. Sneaky little biddies I thought with affection. I looked back at the eggs, not sure I was up for a game of Poulet Roulette. I decided to put them in a bowl in the fridge until morning, when I'd have more time to check their freshness with the "will-they-sink-or-will-they-float" test.
Eggs have a thin, impermeable coating (called the "bloom") that keeps them fresh--it keeps bacteria out, and prevents the contents inside from evaporating. But how long is too long? Online I read that commercial eggs, sold in the grocery store, generally will keep for three to four weeks after the sell-by date. But I was pretty sure grocery store eggs were washed with some fairly harsh detergents, then resealed with mineral oil.
This morning, after filling a bowl with water, I carefully placed them in one by one. None of them floated (if they lay horizontal, they're fresh), though one or two tipped slightly upward, telling me those were probably a week or so old. Some people argue that yard eggs that aren't soiled or cracked can remain fresh without refrigeration for two to three weeks. Even so...we always place our eggs in the refrigerator the day they are laid.
Except for these covertly-laid eggs, that is.
Since they fell within the "still good" range, I decided to hard-boil them, since we already had about 18 eggs in the fridge, and boiled eggs make a quick high-protein snack or meal. I cleaned them off with a rough sponge, rinsed them with warm water (safer than using cold water to rinse eggs), and let them boil away on the stove.
Then I went outside to let the chickens out for the day. I wondered if they'd notice their cache had been raided? But chickens are determined creatures. I know that I may have won this small battle, but realized that they were probably out there scouting for a new nest as I was putting eight cooled, boiled eggs in the refrigerator.