First came the eggs – dozens upon dozens of pullet eggs, the noticeably smaller first eggs laid by the young hens on Mark Anderson’s farm south of Portland. On pasture-based poultry farms like Anderson’s, pullet eggs or Pee Wees show up in the coops every spring when the chickens mature just as the Northwest days get long. Which leaves him with lots of delicious eggs that are too small to sell to the markets.
It’s possible to avoid this conundrum, he says. “Industrial chicken houses use black-out screens and control the light.” At his place, called Champoeg Farm, birds roam freely on pasture and live and forage with other animals. So Pee Wees come with the territory, for a week or two every late May or June.
Typically he gets about 30 dozen before the hens settle in to laying normal-sized eggs. This year, he had 300 dozen. And though these first-lay pullet eggs have mythical status in some food and folklore circles, they’re mostly a tough sell.
Mostly. When Anderson called Grand Central Bakery, where bright-yolked, delicious Champoeg Farms’ eggs star in all the breakfast sandwiches, Laura Ohm didn’t hesitate. “I told him, we’ll take ‘em,” says Ohm, Grand Central’s cuisine manager, though she had no idea what she would do with them.
Which is really the magic of running your kitchen – or your farm – as a sustainable system. Any number of well-raised, delicious ingredients might come into Grand Central’s kitchen, though it’s not always what you expect. It’s left to the chef to come up with a clever use for what the farmer delivers.
Which leads us to Deviled Pee Wees, new on our specials menu: fresh spring eggs classically deviled with mayo & mustard and sprinkled with a dash of sweet Spanish paprika. Adorable. Delicious. And they’re just the thing to eat with a salad or a sandwich or enjoy as a snack.
The message here?
Food production doesn’t fit into neat little boxes. There is no bacon factory, no bird made up of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. When you work closely with family farmers, as Grand Central’s kitchen crew does, you learn to use whole animals, adjust to different seasons, work with cycles of plenty and few, and manage occasional shortages and surpluses.
We do it, happily, for the privilege of having delicious, well-raised ingredients at our fingertips – and for serving you food that may not be what you expected, but is delightful nonetheless.