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An Easter Chicken

21 Apr
Easter chookie chook

Easter chookie chook


I’ve always rather liked Easter. I’m not religious, although I flirted with some happy clappy Christianity in my teens. I think I was more interested in the group of people who were mostly stranger than me than I was in the actual theology. But somehow, I’ve always liked the Easter break. I suspect it’s Spring that I like. And an unexpected long weekend. With Easter zipping about the year, depending what the moon is up to, it always seems to catch me unawares, so suddenly I’m faced with a long weekend. And the prospect of going to Galloway to see my parents. And sunshine. And lambs, and bright lime green leaves shining in the sun, proving that nature rocks.

Last year my chickens laid lots of eggs for Easter. Good chickens. This year the haul wasn’t so good. First of all one of my chickens died a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully it was while I was away so I didn’t have to deal with her wee dead body myself – I’m not very good with dead things. And then two of my reliable wee broon hens started moulting so they aren’t doing much in the way of laying. And then Mabel, big blousy Mabel, got broody again. So all she does is sit fatly in her stall, thinking (presumably) that if she stays there for a long enough an egg will miraculously appear, closely followed by a scritch and a scratch and the arrival out of said egg of a cute wee chicken. This seems highly unlikely given Mabel’s form (and more importantly the fact we have no cockerel).

So, the eggs we have are big and yolky and delicious, but there aren’t so many of them these days.

Never mind. When you give eggs to your father at Easter time it seems appropriate that they come with their own hand-knitted egg cosy. You know, just in case they get cold on the journey. So, I knitted Dad a chicken. I rather like her and may make some more. I also might tell you all how if you’re really interested (so do leave a message if you want to know how easy peasy this is to do… or even if you want me to make one for you one day… but you don’t get to choose which day, it would have to be a surprise, when the chookie muse takes me).


Scotch Eggs

18 May
Not all eggs are equal. Mabel can lay an occasional Frankenegg, while Betty's are always small and white

Not all eggs are equal. Mabel can lay an occasional Frankenegg, while Betty’s are always small and white

I keep hens. So I have a plentiful supply of fresh eggs.

I am Scottish and live in Scotland.

So the only surprise is that it’s taken this long to write about Scotch Eggs.

Chooks having an afternoon nap

Chooks having an afternoon nap

Firstly a word or two about fresh eggs. The very freshest of fresh eggs are not the eggs you want to hard boil. When eggs are straight out of the hen, the membrane between the egg white and the shell is tight up next to the shell, making them difficult to peel. As the days go by, air will permeate through the egg shell, creating a teeny tiny space between shell and membrane and the bubble space you will sometimes find when you have hard boiled an egg.

Do yourself a favour, poach or fry those extra fresh eggs, they’ll be much nicer.

But back to the Scotch Eggs. I haven’t identified precise quantities here. Eggs are different sizes and some will need more sausage to cover them than others. Oh, and you might want a really thick coating of sausage. Or not.

  • eggs
  • some flour
  • some getting on for stale bread (or use up those posh japanese panko breadcrumbs you were persuaded to buy and still have hanging around in your cupboard)
  • sausage meat (about 1 1/2 sausages per egg)
  • black pudding (about a quarter of a slice per egg)
  • herbs, spices, salt and pepper
  1. Hard boil your eggs – ideally so they have a slightly squishy bit in the middle of the yolk. You may have your own fool proof method, but if not, try my method at the bottom of this blog.
  2. While the eggs are boiling, make your crunchy breadcrumbs. Cut some bread into wee cubes, about 1cm across. Place the cubes onto a baking tray and put them in a low oven to dry out and crisp up a bit. Once they are dried, smash them up – I do this by putting them in a high sided bowl and bashing them with the end of a rolling pin. You might prefer to put them in a plastic bag and pretend they are a disliked work colleague.
  3. Break an extra egg into a soup bowl and lightly beat it with a fork. Leave the beaten egg in this bowl
  4. Pour some flour into another soup bowl
  5. Place the breadcrumbs into a soup bowl too. you don’t have to use soup bowls of course, but I find a wide based bowl is easier than anything else.
  6. If you are using sausages, unpeel them into a bowl and add whatever herbs and spices you want to use (I added some smoked paprika and ground black pepper). Then chop up the black pudding nice and fine and using your hands, smoosh the black pudding and the sausage meat together
  7. Take big chunks of the sausagey mixture and pat it out till it forms a sausage meat blanket, about 1/2cm thick
  8. Now peel your eggs, then one by one make your scotch eggs
  9. Dip the egg in the beaten egg
  10. Roll the egg in flour
  11. Place the egg on a sausage blanket and wrap it up in, squooshing it together so there are no gaps
  12. Dip the sausage eggy ball in more beaten egg
  13. Roll the egg in breadcrumbs
  14. Place the breadcrumb coated sausagey eggy ball on a baking tray
  15. Repeat till you’ve run out eggs or sausage or the will to live
  16. Bake in a medium – hot oven (about GM5 or 6) for about 20 – 30 mins, or until they look and sound cooked
  17. Serve warm, or cold, with salad. Yes, salad. Don’t be a salad dodger!
You need hard boiled eggs

You need hard boiled eggs

Make your own scrunchy breadcrumbs

Make your own scrunchy breadcrumbs

Beaten up eggy for dipping to make the flour and breadcrumbs stick

Beaten up eggy for dipping to make the flour and breadcrumbs stick

Make blankets of sausage meat mixture to wrap your eggs

Make blankets of sausage meat mixture to wrap your eggs

Scotch eggs, ready for the oven

I'm so proud of my ladies, laying me such tasty treats!

I’m so proud of my ladies, laying me such tasty treats!

How to boil an egg

  1. Keep your eggs at room temperature (I don’t think they need to be kept in a fridge, unless you have an outrageously warm kitchen)
  2. Put enough water in a pan so that the eggs you want to boil will be covered with water (and about 1cm more). The water should be about room temperature too.
  3. Place the eggs into the pan of water
  4. Put the water and eggs onto a hotplate, and bring to the boil
  5. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down slightly so that it continues to boil, but doesn’t splutter everywhere
  6. Set the timer to 4 minutes
  7. Use your 4 minutes wisely – put ice and water into a bowl, big enough that your eggs will fit in it
  8. When the timer goes off, lift each egg out and pop it into the cold icy water
Eggs in icy water

Eggs in icy water


My girls

9 Mar

So, we now have five hens: Achilles, Hector and Wee Tommy are hybrids (Lohmann Browns) who have been with us since the Autumn. They give us an egg each pretty much every day. We also now have Betty and Mabel, a white and a blue Wyandotte. They came to live with our girls a few weeks ago and have stubbornly refused to lay. Until now. This week we had FOUR eggs one day. I suspect it’s Big Mabel who is laying, not wee Betty. I can’t imagine that Betty can produce a full sized egg, and all four eggs were bigger than your average, with lovely deep yellow yolks.

Anyway, as you can imagine, we’re eating a lot of eggy dishes these days, and this afternoon will see the production of a souffle for the first time, probably a cheese souffle.

But for now, it’s time for pics of my girls, so here you go, a selection from the last few weeks.

2013-03-02 15.11.15


Moby has her eye on the girls

Moby has her eye on the girls

2013-03-02 15.10.38

Mabel isn’t sure about Moby

The girls huddling by the door

The girls huddling by the door

2013-03-02 13.00.37

2013-03-02 13.00.14






Introducing ….Mabel and Betty

17 Feb

Last weekend we went to pick up two new chickens. Hens. Chooks. Girls. Whatever you want to call them.

And for the last week they have just been known as the new girls or the blue one and the white one. Or the new two.

But this morning they got names, over breakfast, as I was eating really delicious scrambled eggs on toast, watching them outside doing their chooky thing.

Mabel making herself at home in a nesting box

Mabel making herself at home in a nesting box


Moby tries to play Wacky Races with Betty

Moby tries to play Wacky Races with Betty

Mabel is being bullied by the three original girls. Whenever she gets close to them, especially when there’s food about, one of them will peck at her to chase her away. She runs pretty fast though so she’s not being harmed. And Betty, who is very petite and possibly a bantam, just hides behind Mabel so she’s ok.

Mabel and Betty haven’t started laying again yet after their winter break, but as the days get longer and spring starts to show, I’m sure they’ll be laying soon. At the moment we’re very happy with three eggs a day from Achilles, Hector and Tommy – and the eggs have got much bigger than when they first started laying, with rich dark yellow yolks – perfect for poached eggs, which is a regular quick supper these days.

Both Mabel and Betty are Wyandottes – a white and a blue – but they are so different from one another to look at. Personality wise, they are both much shyer and less talkative than the hybrids, with Mabel being protective of wee Betty. They are canny wee girls though – they’ve nabbed the nesting box for themselves, and they’ve worked out when to nip in and grab a treat without being pecked by the bullies.



I hate bullies

10 Feb

Hector and Achilles are bullies. I should have known. Give the girls names which make them think they will be immortalised for their battles and of course they were going to pick on the new beautiful girl.

I may have to call my bumptious big white girl Helen if those Greek/Trojan heroes are going to fight over her.

This afternoon I went to give them all a wee treat of some bread (cut up into dinky wee cubes so they all get some) and Achilles, Hector and Tommy were outside doing their chookie thing, while the two new girls were  indoors and keeping out of the way. That’s ok, the new girls might be feeling a little lost and want to get their bearings before they venture out too much.

But of course when there was no food left outside, the old girls started to wander in to see what I might be offering indoors. And then they went for the white chicken to try to prevent her from getting any treats. It was Hector, he was the ring leader. Achilles kinda joined in, and Tommy was too busy scrabbling around for food to really get involved.

I’ve read about bullying when new chickens join an established group, about how it takes them some time to establish the new pecking order. But it’s brutal! I told Hector off, but I suspect she doesn’t understand like a dog would, and so she’ll continue to pick on ‘Helen’ pecking feathers out of her neck.

Meanwhile the wee blue girl was hiding in the shadows, keeping out of the way and then darting out to peck at some bread when the others were too busy fighting to notice. I think I like her already.


Poached eggs

9 Feb

Ages ago I promised to tell you how to make the perfect poached egg.

Well, it looks like I’ll be having a few more poached eggs soon, as we have just got another two chickens. I thought they might be called Charles Darwin and Jane Austen (after significant authors in our collections at the National Library of Scotland where I work)… but now that they’re home, I’m not so sure. Pictures will of course follow but it’s such a dreich dull day that I can’t bear to take pics yet. They are both Wyandottes: one white and the other blue. The white girl is big and bumptious, and blue is petite and very shy. And neither can be seduced by food – I gave them a scattering of warm sweetcorn, which my other girls would hoover up in the space of seconds.. and the new girls weren’t really interested.

Anyway, there will no doubt be further news of my family of chooks, but for now, let me tell you how I make the perfect poached egg.

Poached egg

Get the freshest eggs you can get.

You do know how to tell if they are fresh or not? You pop them in water and see if they float or not. If they sink to the bottom then they are oh so fresh; if they float to the top I’m not sure I’d eat them. Somewhere in the middle is probably ok.

And the reason this happens is that there is a membrane inside the egg, and over time the gap between the membrane and the eggshell fills with air to make a wee air pocket, hence the egg floats.

OK, so now you’ve got your eggs, you’re ready to make the poached eggs.

  • Boil a kettle full of water
  • Pour the hot water into a wide pan (possibly a deep sided frying pan type thing)
  • Add a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar (don’t add more, you don’t want your eggs to taste of the vinegar – it’s just added to help the egg whites stay together and not stray all over the pan)
  • Put the pan on a REALLY low heat – you hardly want the water to bubble at all
  • Break your egg into a tea cup
  • Lower the tea cup with the egg in it towards the water, at a 45 degree angle, then slowly and gently tip the tea cup and slip the egg into the water
  • Repeat for as many eggs as you have (but don’t overcrowd the pan)
  • Now, let them just sit there in the almost boiling water for about 3-5 minutes, depending how fresh the eggs were and how soft you like them
  • Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon (which was always called a holey willie when I was a child and I still find it hard to resist calling it that!)

Serve on fresh buttered toast. Of course. Preferably with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

Other things to have with a poached egg on toast

  • Black pudding – classic and delicious, needs nothing else
  • But if you’re being fancy, add some scallops (and perhaps swap the toast for some spinach)
  • Bacon
  • Ham with or without hollandaise sauce
  • Marmite – trust me, it works
  • Smoked salmon



I need to talk about chickens

2 Dec

So, a few things have changed in my life recently.

I left my flat in the city and moved in with my boyfriend, The Captain. We live in the country, a mile or two away from the nearest town and surrounded by fields. The bottom of the garden leads to a lovely wooded hillside, and if you walk down through the trees you reach the River Clyde. It’s a beautiful part of the world.

That was number one change.

Then I got a new job. I had the interview and was offered the job a few days before I moved house, so it was a pretty hectic few days. And for the first time in my life I decided to do the grown up thing and take a week off between jobs. I’m so glad I did it.

I’d sort of thought I might get some unpacking done that week, but it appears that if it’s not essential, it stays in an unmarked box in the cupboard under the stairs, behind many other unmarked boxes. We’re now nearly three months on and I’ve still got a big pile of boxes to deal with – but of course nowhere to put all the things inside the boxes, so perhaps it’s easier if they all just stay where they are. I’d really like to find my circular knitting needles though, and be able to reach my vases again, but these things can probably wait.

So, the week off. Instead of unpacking boxes we built a chicken run. And then got chickens. Three gorgeous wee broon hens. They are Lohmann Browns, a hybrid breed, bred especially to give high egg-laying yield (around 300 eggs a year is possible from one chicken). What I didn’t know when I got the wee girls is that they are the easiest creatures to keep, and that these three ladies would have such friendly personalities.

What I’ve discovered about keeping chickens in the last 6 weeks:

  1. They each have their own unique personalities
  2. I feel a bit squirk when I get an egg straight out of the chicken, still warm and then cook it and eat it
  3. I’m no longer sure that I could eat my chickens once they’ve stopped laying
  4. Chicken will come running to you when they are called
  5. Chickens LOVE sweetcorn
  6. Dogs and cats and chickens can live in harmony after a few days of anxiety
  7. Moby our jack russel wants to be a chicken
  8. The chickens don’t want Moby to be a chicken
  9. A free range chicken is a happy chicken
  10. Eggs from your own happy chickens really do taste better
  11. Poaching a REALLY fresh egg is so much easier than one even a week old (and I suspect most shop bought eggs are at least a week old)

So, now for some pictures of my girls. Next time I’ll give you my quick no fail method of poaching an egg.

Chickens on a mission

Chickens on a mission

Hector thinks someone might have a treat for her

Hector thinks someone might have a treat for her

Tommy doesn't lay eggs. She just chooks about and annoys Hector and Achilles

Tommy doesn’t lay eggs. She just chooks about and annoys Hector and Achilles

4 ordinary eggs and the FrankenEgg (it was a lovely double yolker)

4 ordinary eggs and the FrankenEgg (it was a lovely double yolker)

My girls, chooking about like chickens do

My girls, chooking about like chickens do


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