Food Journeys: A cracking tale of eggs

PUBLISHED: 17:25 25 February 2015

Andrew Webb with Simon Elam from Hempstead at Saffron Walden Market. Simon has been in the egg business for over 60 years.

Andrew Webb with Simon Elam from Hempstead at Saffron Walden Market. Simon has been in the egg business for over 60 years.

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'Go to work on an egg' went the old 1957 advert from the British Egg Marketing Board, and it's as good advice now as it was then.

Recipe for ‘Brunch Baked Eggs’ (serves 4)

This recipe uses hens’ eggs, but if you really want to push the boat out use duck eggs. If you’re veggie, leave out the bacon.

You need:

- Four extra-large eggs

- A large handful of spinach

- Three rashers of smoked streaky bacon or a small handful of smoked lardons

- Four tablespoons of cream

- A small handful of finely grated cheese

- Knob of butter

Instructions:

- Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Butter four ramekins.

- Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook in a frying pan until crispy, then set aside.

- Add a tablespoon of cold water to the same pan and add the spinach and cook until wilted. Transfer to a sieve and press out any remaining liquid and chop.

- Mix the bacon and spinach with most of the cream, season with salt and pepper and divide between the four ramekins.

- Crack an egg into each ramekin and mix the remaining cream with the cheese and sprinkle on top.

- Place on a baking tray and cook in the oven for about 20mins until the whites have set. Serve with toast.

Despite, that is, the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre banning the repeating of the adverts on the 50th anniversary in 2007, which ruffled a few feathers.

It’s not just advertising guidelines that have changed since then, egg production has too.

One person who’s seen it all is 78-year-old egg distributor, Simon Elam, from Hempstead. He’s been in the egg business since he was 16.

“Back then, 40 per cent of UK eggs were white, produced from caged Leghorn birds,” Simon says. “You couldn’t have them free-range as they’ll fly off!”

Today, nearly all UK eggs have brown shells, produced from a French breed that doesn’t fly. What’s more free-range is fast becoming the norm. “All medium sized producers have switched to free-range now,” added Simon.

As an egg distributor, he buys his eggs from three producers in the area, grades them into medium, large or extra-large, and sells them in Humphry’s, Burton’s, and Elder Street Farm shop. He also supplies the Mocha cafe with eggs for their breakfasts as well as other businesses in the area.

I ask if any of the extra-large eggs might contain a double yolker. “No, not at the moment, double yolkers only happen when birds are young and first beginning to lay,” Simon tells me.

He’s also got duck eggs for sale, which are superb to cook with. Having been on the market in Saffron Walden for nearly 40 years, the 78-year-old has seen a lot change in that time. “We used to sell 400 dozen in 1976, today, it’s more like 100 dozen,” he revealed.

And what can you make using the eggs Simon distributes? Have a go at my recipe (right) for some lovely ‘Brunch Baked Eggs’. You can even try it with duck eggs!

Follow Andrew Webb on Twitter @foodjournalist

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