In a time when the successful super-injunction may become a thing of the past, I have decided to out myself as a founding member of a secretive event that is South East London Egg Day (aka SELED).
SELED has been running for the past 6 years in various secret locations. Originally founded by two yolk loving eggstremists, it started as an alternative to the chocolate fest that is Easter. Two friends getting together and consuming a large number of eggs throughout the day. We would source hen eggs from a wide range of shops and covering a variety farming methods and taste test them - some involved experimentation with boiling methods and times and even, on the odd occasion, the invention of egg cooking contraptions. My favourite has been the coat hanger device for boiling an egg that has already been pre-“topped”. We do not keep our egg consumption to the humble hen; quail, duck and goose eggs have all been robustly consumed over the years and some SELEDS have resembled a certain scene from Cool Hand Luke in terms of sheer cal-horrific numbers digested.
This was how I came to meet a farmer named Shaun and an Ostrich named Bin Laden.
I found myself wending my way up a farm track near the village of Liss, in Hampshire, on Easter Bank Holiday Monday. I had found a website for Quarry Farm (http://www.quarryfarm.net), and, following a quick call to the farmer Shaun Liddiard, I was pleased to hear that his Ostriches had started laying only a few days before and it would not be a problem for me to pop in to collect an egg or two.
It turned out that Quarry Farm is very much in the vein of a simple small holding, with Shaun and his young family running everything themselves. This includes pigs, turkeys, chickens, horses and more. Despite only being there to purchase a couple of eggs, Shaun was more than happy to show me around some of his livestock. The ostriches were fascinating to see and hear about. It really is like looking at a link between the birds and dinosaurs when you see them up close. As the females were laying, I was told that it would not be advisable to enter the enclosure as the male “Bin Laden” would likely try to shred us with his impressive “velociraptor” style claws.
Shaun did have a 9 month old youngster called VW, that he said would be safe to go in with. I thought that this would be fine and easy to do until I found out that they grow about a foot a month from birth up until around 7 months. So as it was I stepped into a small enclosure with a bird that was not much smaller than myself height-wise, and we did not exactly hit it off. I put this down to these birds, despite their size, having brains around half the size of their eyes according to Shaun. This does tally with a story I read, of a farmer who observed one of his birds run full pelt (can get up to 40+mph) into a tree, only to do the very same thing again the following day!
I received a call from this year’s SELED hostess and was informed that numbers for this event could reach unprecedented double figures. Luckily Shaun still had three eggs put by and we struck a deal for me to take them all. Even with one ostrich egg being the equivalent of around 20 hens eggs, you can never have to many eggs in my view! I said my good-byes and, with my precious cargo safely stowed, I started the journey back to London for an egg dominated equivalent of La Grande Bouffe.
Other guests had been instructed to bring quail eggs and so with three Ostrich eggs and sixty quail eggs in total, it began to feel as though we participating in some medieval royal feast. We are all fans of runny eggs when they are boiled, and this led to much discussion about cooking times - how to cook an Ostrich egg?. All I really knew for sure was that about ninety minutes would ensure a hard boiled ostrich egg. We opted to boil two eggs together, and remove one after 50 mins or so, if it was ready, then fine, otherwise we would use it for scrambling and still have the second egg boiling away to try again. While we waited, some of the quails’ eggs were utilised to provide us with delicious mini fried egg appetizers.
Finally the moment of truth had arrived and the first ostrich egg was removed from the pan. A mortar was found to make the perfect ostrich egg cup. We cut into the top of the egg and……. it was cooked to perfection! Firm (but not rubbery) white surrounded the oozing, rich yolk. Seven inch bread soldiers descended from all angles as we all dived in. It was amazing, similar in flavour to hens’ eggs, but much much richer. Our thanks to which ever female laid it (Pompey, Delilah or Molly) - it was a beauty.
It took a good 10 minutes of dunking before the group had managed to do the egg justice. The second egg had still been boiling away almost forgotten - I decided to throw caution to the wind and flipped it onto its side and attacked it with a heavily serrated bread knife, right through the middle. My suspicions were proved correct as this egg was indeed hard boiled, but still a thing of beauty.
With a third egg still to contend with and those deceptively filling quail eggs appearing from the stove in both fried and boiled format now, we decided to wrap the two hard boiled halves in cling film and refrigerate for a later date. Perhaps an egg mayo to end all egg mayos?
Now to our third and final Ostrich egg. Some argued for scrambling but we felt that it would be a visual travesty not to try and instil in our memories the image of a giant fried egg. This would be no easy feat as the Ostrich shell is not easy to get into. I had read that drills are utilised in many cases but we were ill-equipped. With only a hammer and a screwdriver I delicately tried to form a smooth hole without damaging the yolk sack inside. With the tools and my lack of expertise it had none of the delicate finesse of advanced neurosurgery, indeed, I could not help but think back to history lessons at school that fascinated me with descriptions of Neanderthal trepanning. As the contents dropped into the pan there was a couple of seconds of absolute silence as we all crowded round to see if the yolk held its shape. It did, and not only that, it went on to form the most perfect of fried eggs that one can wish for. The white must have been about 3cm deep and was a meal in itself (particularly after we added a few quails eggs to fry within it). The yolk was wide and rounded, an almost a sun-like centre to a calorie filled, yet ever so tasty solar system mix of albumen and quail egg planets. There were only a few stalwarts still able and willing to consume by now. But it was worth the effort. We are already discussing which baker would able to supply as with a giant loaf next year for the fried egg sandwich to cure even the most monster of hangovers!
South East London Egg Day is not something to be recommended to everyone, especially those with high blood pressure, a history of heart trouble or ovophobics, but it is an enjoyable, sociable day and it never did Mr Strong any harm!