One of the greatest advantages of living in the country is that you can become an unashamed egg snob. When visiting less fortunate friends in their elegant townhouses, you can casually offer a "few fresh eggs" from your own hens, safe in the knowledge that the eggs in question are only 24 hours old and were laid by happy hens.
Press home your advantage and insist that the lucky recipient cooks them immediately. When they are truly fresh, hens' eggs are magnificent – poach them and they hold together well; boil them and the yolks drip with richness; fry them and the firm white holds in "steps". However hard you try – shopping solely in farmers' markets or health food stores; only buying exotic eggs from rare breed hens; paying well over the odds – shop-bought eggs never quite measure up to the real thing.
In his Guide to Modern Cookery first published in 1907, Auguste Escoffier devotes a lengthy section to eggs; 143 different recipes to be precise, and setting aside the merits of obscurities such as "Eggs Permitaine" (baked egg in individual baba moulds, with some black truffle and chopped tongue) the great chef hits upon a great truth. When giving his recipe for scrambled eggs he wrote, "This dish is undoubtedly the finest of all egg preparations, provided the eggs be not over-cooked and they be kept soft and creamy". His method was simple: scramble the eggs gently in an indulgent amount of butter until they are on the point of setting, then arrest the cooking process by stirring in more cubes of butter and some cold double cream. Don't forget to taste and then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. This is a recipe that will bring out the best in any egg.
Setting aside the pre-eminence of home-produced eggs, the quality, choice and range of eggs available in the supermarkets has improved immensely over the past decade – you can now buy eggs from Burford Browns, Old Cotswold Legbars or Columbian Blacktails. The commercial supply chain means that they can be several days old before you cook them but in the bad old days of battery hens, eggs advertised as "farm fresh" would have been weeks rather than days old. Now, get cracking.
Lay lady lay
Some birds, such as geese, have resisted our attempts to get them to lay all the year round and their eggs are available only in spring. Now is a fine time to buy exotic eggs – at the Whole Foods Market London, in addition to various hens' eggs, they offer quails' eggs at 25p each, duck eggs at 35p each and more ambitiously ostrich eggs (£16.99 each) and emu eggs (£27.99 each). The ostrich eggs are surprisingly popular and sell out briskly. Each is the equivalent of two dozen large hens' eggs – just think of the scrambled egg ...
Whole Foods Market, 63-97 Kensington High Street, London W8 (020-7368 4500); www.wholefoodsmarket.co.ukReuse content